Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Cable Trailer

Chicago at one time had the largest system of cable cars in the country.  This may seem surprising in view of the total lack of hills to climb, but in the early and middle 1880's a cable was the best way to replace animal power on high-density streetcar lines.  The cable lines were all electrified by 1907.

In 1934, CSL built some replicas of cable car equipment for the World's Fair.  The grip car wound up at MSI, and the cable trailer is in our possession.  Because the underground cable can provide almost unlimited force, it was easy for a small grip car to pull one or two trailers, and this was often done in Chicago.  Our replica, however, doesn't appear to have the structural integrity of the original, and the body is slowly collapsing.  Gerry wants to at least install some beams to hold it up, and he asked me to take some pictures of it first.  The car can't move, so lighting and sight lines are not the best.

The car basically has no underframe.  The body rests on two axles; the pedestals support a cross beam at each end, but that's about it.  Otherwise, when you look under the car, you see just the bottom of the floor.  The ends of the car are drooping; the walls are bowed out at the level of the letterboard, and the roof is sagging in the middle, forcing the walls out.

 But the car has a lot of nice features, and we certainly want to preserve it.

In the picture below, the window frame is at an angle because the body is sagging at the ends. 

The car has a complete set of drop sash, and about half the windows have these wooden slats that drop into the body, and can be raised in place of the windows.

The clerestory has an unusual two-stage design.  The smaller window at the top can open.

And here's the wood which Gerry plans to use to stabilize the structure.  I believe those rubber tire wheelsets came with the horsecar, so that it could be pulled on the street.

The brake rigging.  Actually, the provision of brakes at all is rather surprising.

The trailer has couplers at both ends.  This end is coupled to the single-truck motor car.

Since this is a replica, it really doesn't have a service history like the rest of our collection.  It was built for display at the Century of Progress, probably making use of parts lying around from previously scrapped cars.  After the fair was over, it was put into storage, and was acquired by IRM with the rest of the CSL collection in 1985.  If we can keep it from collapsing, it will continue to illustrate a brief but important part of Chicago's transit history.


Anonymous said...

I would imagine that this trailer is officially part of the Electric Car department (as well as the horse car?). Is there a restricted fund set up to help acquire the beams, etc?

Cliff McKay

Anonymous said...

Yes, the trailer is part of the Electric Car Dept. We already have the timbers that will be used to support the car. Randy posted a picture showing the timbers. We are going to use ordinary 4x4's and we are simply going to brace the roof so the car doesn't collapse. The point to remember, is that this car is not historic. It is really just a "stage prop" that was built for a show. It's just an interesting object.
Gerry Dettloff
Curator, Electric Car Dept