Thursday, June 22, 2017

An Interview with Bob Bruneau

Frank writes...

These are excerpts from a tape recorded interview I did with Bob Bruneau on March 2, 2004. I've edited out my questions and some content not relevant to the interview.

Robert Bruneau, talking about the last days of the North Shore: We didn’t steal from the railroad.  Well, I don’t think any of the museum guys did because stealing from the railroad helps put them out of business.  But once it was the junk man’s and he was nice enough to leave all the low-numbered cars out across the fence, then we helped ourselves.  One time I was there by myself, it was a weekday and we were already getting ready to move [to Union]… I would get a ride home Sunday night, and I’d recover Monday and get an oil change and all that stuff, make up a Care Package and take the North Western back to Downey’s, which was maybe a mile down the tracks, maybe not that far.  I’d walk down the right of way and into the gate, past all the cars – all the low-numbered cars, and even some of the low-numbered 700’s, were in Pettibone Yard.  And I’d go in that way. They had taken all the trolley wire down but they were cutting the span wire down, pulling poles and that.  So I was going to lunch, probably the next day or something – because after a while we had no electricity in back, so if you bought a quart of milk and a box of cereal, the milk would be spoiling by noon, you know, because it was not refrigerated.  So I’d have to glug the milk down in the morning.  It was a pain in the ass, it was probably a mile to walk in to breakfast, and I’d be too lazy to get up and you didn’t feel like walking a mile.  So I’d get Wheat Chex or something – you could just nibble on those all day and smoke cigars if you’d get too hungry.  So the [scrap] guy’s got all this stuff laying on the ground - west or north of North Chicago Junction station there was always stuff laying down.  They were cutting the span wire off from the insulators.  I went over and figured out who the boss was – the guy who wasn’t doing any work was the boss.  I says “I’m from the railroad museum, I’m kind of interested in some of this stuff.”  I says “Can I have it?”  He says “We’re not in the giving away business.”  He says “What did you have in mind?”  “Well, this glass.  You know, there’s no scrap metal for that.”  “Well, put it all in a pile.  And… when you coming this way again?”  So I’m going to eat, I’ll be back in an hour [or] forty-five minutes.  He says “Pile it up and I’ll tell you what it is.”  So they had about twenty things.  I had to go back to the museum to get a bucket for them, an empty bucket.  ...“Five bucks apiece for glass?  You ain’t gonna get nothing for it!”  “Well if you want it, that’s what it costs you.”  You son of a bitch, I’ll go out after you quit at six o’clock at night and steal them.  So he figured that out too, so they drove over it with a bulldozer and it was powdered glass.  

But they had some four-wheel speeder flats, you know, so there was one derailed on purpose down a ways.  We put it on the track and then we’d go steal switchstands.  All these Bethlehem – or [rather] New Bethlehem switchstands – what’s in [yards] five, six seven and eight.  So we’d go down and all the rail was sledded out and then the scraps were left – tie plates and spikes and switchstands.  So we’d go down with the speeder flat and load them on there and bring them back.  We had a lot of guys in those days so it was thrilling, you know.  There was a big pile of ties by the fence at the foundry.  We left a ladder on top of them.  They were real close to the barbed wire so we could slide the ladder off the pile of ties.  So we put two ladders down sometimes and a board, and then you could just tie a rope on these things and pull them up over the fence and back your truck up to them.  So they decided somebody was stealing all that stuff, so they fixed us.  They got the torch out and cut all the handles off right in the middle.  So we brought the handles back too!  Marked them with chalk, you know – one, one, two, two, three, three – and welded them back on. 

They had old, real ancient old air-operated gates.  The watchman’s shanty was about a story and a half high, if you can imagine that [with a] DH-16 pump under the floor in there.  So we decided we just gotta have these gates.  We’ll put gates up at Union someday, on the property.  We bought this [truck], a little bigger than a pickup truck, it had a crane on it.  So we’re out unbolting these gates from the ground, taking the unions off; there was a door you could open up or something.  “Oh, Jesus Christ, here comes the cops!”  Well we bought this truck for seven hundred bucks – it said “North Shore Line” on the door, you know – and we look like railroad guys, you know.  So we’re really nervous about the cops, then we’re REALLY getting nervous when the guy pulls up and stops.  “Oh… just keep working!”  And the guy flagged traffic until we got all four of them!  So then, by then it was the end of the day, so we figured next week we’ll go back with the truck and get the air compressor out of the base of the shanty.  It was gone. One of the neatest things that happened was – we had the two Commonwealth Edison engines, two cranes, and two gons full of parts.  They scrapped one engine and two cranes, both gons of parts, they scrapped brand new armatures.  [Bill] McGregor and I were throwing the field coils in the fire, taking all the mica and all that crap off so we’d get more money for the copper.  [Tom] Jervan says “We’ve got to get one of these roof assemblies off a pup [North Shore steeplecab]!”  And they had kind of like a dance floor on the top of their engines.  You could turn both poles around, and they were situated in such a way that you could put them both up so you wouldn’t burn the wire.  So Tommy’s a sailor and we found some ropes in the old engine house, which was two tracks.  So we go in there, and Sheridan Road’s – well, there’s the North Shore main line, which was [in] a cut, then you could see the North Western, and then you could see Sheridan Road cars going by.  And we go in there with a cutting torch.  We burn all the things off without setting the building on fire, because it was an old frame firetrap, full of grease and oil.  [We] burn this thing off, two trolley bases – it’s easier to take it out in one piece.  And I don’t know if you ever watch how cranes work on a ship.  If you look at old ships they have the masts where what they do is pick it up with one and then swing the other one out, pick up on one and let it go on the other and pretty soon it’s hanging off the one over the edge of the ship.  So we got two ropes rigged up, one on top of the engine near the outer end, near the door of the barn.  The door was not a door, it was boards going up about eight feet high.  There was a pole out there, we had all these ropes rigged up… We get this thing up and – there were some block and tackles we had, or we stole, or were in there somewhere – hoist this thing up and we’re going over and Jervan’s screaming like he always does, you know, and you’re letting out on this one and it’s swinging over heading to go out over this wall in front of the engine and all of a sudden the rope breaks and he rides the thing down.  Crash!  Horrible noise, you know, it was falling on the end – on the hood of the engine.  BONG, BONG, boom, crash, boom, bang!  Tommy’s all beat up and everything and cuts and bruises – no bones got broken.  And somebody always had to pick him up because he didn’t have a car in those days.  [We] left all this stuff – I guess we took the ropes down – and this thing’s laying against the wall up on the end of the engine.  Went back to the caboose, gave him some first aid and washed all this stuff off, loaded him in the car, rang the doorbell – “Here’s Tommy!”  His mother’s ready to have a heart attack! But we got the thing.  I don’t know how we got it.  And it came out here, sat in the field; well by the time we got around to using it, it was all rotten, you know – all the boards were used to laying in the mud.

[We were going to] put it right back on the Edison engine.  But that never happened.  Maybe the trolley bases are the same.  There’s a big wood fuse box and all kind of crap.  We used to go to a restaurant up there; it was a nice place, a small place.  We used to go to – when they [the North Shore] were running still, we’d go to this Mollinaro’s Tap which was kitty-corner from the Edison Court station, which was Waukegan.  It [the station] was on the southeast corner of the intersection between the street and the tracks and the saloon was on the northwest corner.  And all the guys lived in there, you know, all the trainmen – it was all full of North Shore guys.  We’d always go in there and drink, get pizzas and stuff.  Some of the guys that come out here liked it in there – they’d get the extra board job making up and breaking up trains.  I forget – they [trains] kind of met right there.  Between there and North Chicago they’d meet.  If it was a northbound train in the evening – let’s say nine o’clock – it was a two-car train.  But they didn’t need a two-car train past Waukegan so they’d cut a car off.  And soon thereafter the southbound train would come and they’d add a car.  And if it was late enough, you know, then they’d just put it in the yard.  But these guys were good – they’d know when the train was coming.  And they’d come out of the saloon and knock a car off, you know, and get it over by the crossover; the southbound train would pull in and they’d run it up and stick it on.  Now sometimes they got screwed – if the northbound train was late, they’d have to get a car out of the yard.  Well they always had one pumped up just in case.  But any distraction like that cut into their beer-drinking time! 

Well, after they were gone that bar was just about dead then.  Some of the railroad guys would still go there and meet their friends but…  We’d go there at – Sunday night after the Museum.  And they had a TV set; they usually had interesting things on.  And then sometimes we’d go over to Bill Kehoe’s house, after we had something to eat and a lot to drink sometimes…  He had a model railroad – not very good models.  It was a big dog-bone type of thing with a single track through part of it and a small loop – smaller loop at the other end.  The loop was eight cars long.  So we’d all start running cars because he had signals and stuff and [we’d] watch them.  It was just on plywood, nothing exciting.  But he’d say “F--- playing with these trains, I’ve got some serious drinking to do!”  We’d bring beer then after awhile he’d get out the Benedictine, which was really good.  And we’d be smoking these big fat cigars.  And the house would really be – this was before he was married.  As each guy got tired of playing with the trains, we’d couple it to the car in front of you or the car behind you would couple on to you to keep going, you know.  Pretty soon the thing would be running all by itself; he had an Electroliner out there and then this eight-car train.  He had a model of – an unpainted model of Jesus Wept and No Wonder 312, which was kind of like [Illinois Terminal] 101 with an open obs end on one end.

...Jesus Wept and No Wonder – Jamestown Westfield & North Western! And he had a rubber cow sitting on the back platform of the obs car, which had to be the last car of the train.  The cars would – when the thing would go around the loop the cars would clear by about a quarter of an inch, you know.  He had a Milwaukee streetcar seat in the basement.  I think we gave him on loan one of your baggage racks out of [Chicago Aurora & Elgin] 321 and he died on us.  The stuff’s still in the family, I guess.  Carl [Illwitzer] and I hauled two vans full of stuff out of there.  One day – actually, we went a third time – and there wasn’t a lot of stuff, but we were waiting for the headlights and stuff.  More so marker lights, because they all were stolen by then.  Bill got married after the North Shore quit, got a job with Commonwealth Edison.  Or maybe he got a job before they quit with Edison.  He knew the writing on the wall, and all the other electricians were going to be out of work.  Yeah, I think he got a job with Edison in ’55.  But we still went over there.  He was a good Catholic, and he had three or four kids.  At least four kids.  And they moved to a big house in Gurnee and he built a better model railroad.  So he died, and we went over there and hauled a ton of hardware out – that [lit-up] stop sign up front [in Barn 4] and everything.

And trolley poles, and – not much hardware, lots of oddball hardware.  And so the last time we went, she says “I’ve got some lights for you.  Go down in the basement and I’ll be right there.”  Nice lady.  Go down in this split-level house.  Jesus Christ, there’s switch lamps, and marker lights, and class lights, and headlights – stuff that was never on the North Shore even.  Some signs… we’re just licking our chops, you know.  We parked in the garage, and then you could just come out of the basement.  Going into the garage to take this stuff away; she pulled her car out.  [She says] “No, no, no, not those lights.  These go to Suzie, and these go to Carol, and these go to Jennifer-” you know.  So we had to wait, and they all start showing up about the same time, all but one.  And one gal, the oldest one, says “Ma, just give it to the guys at the museum,” you know.  “Oh, you’ve got to keep it to remember Dad.”  “Well I’ll never forget Dad.”  Well, so, we got eight or ten pieces, a switch lamp; actually I got some tin boxes.  They’re CTA things, and I forget what they said but…  Maybe one of them lit up when the train was coming.  They had CTA switch locks on them.  They were nothing we could really use and since he was dead, you know, it would be nice to say “well they came from Kostner Avenue,” or wherever.  But they had a lot of models too; we didn’t take the models just because what do you do with it?  You have to sell it.  No place to go with it in the meantime.  Well we got smarter as we got older.  Bill’s parents lived in, like, in Waukegan, I don’t know just where.  I think on the north side, but I don’t pay attention to that.  I just rode in the car.  And that’s where we used to play with his layout.  When he moved, he left this K-35 controller there.  And they still owned the house, and I guess they were renting it or something.  Or maybe she had lived there and bought her own house.  Bill would have been dead several years by then.  So she’s selling the house, she calls up.  “There’s some of Bill’s stuff down in the basement.  Why don’t you come over, and I’ll tell –” oh, she says “Come on over, I’ll show you what it is.”  So we go over, and oh f--- – narrow tiny stairway, just wide enough for a K-35 controller.  There was some stuff we took, there was some model stuff which was left.  We had to come back.  “Well, you’ve got to come back by so-and-so time.”  Well we couldn’t get the truck but we arranged for the new owners – we had to meet them when they got off of work.  It took an hour and a half, almost two hours because we were going against traffic going to Waukegan.  And of course it was a sleet storm and the driveway sloped down to the street.  We had to take the two-wheeler, try to get it up the skinny stairs and then turn.  The guy was alright, he wasn’t friendly but he talked, watching TV when we rang the doorbell – we actually got there fifteen minutes early.  We got there about six o’clock, we just ate some hamburgers, wasted time.  Got it outside – Carl and me – glazed ice on the g--d---- driveway and his truck is there; we’re trying to boost this thing up on the tailgate of the truck and sliding – you’d get it up partway and your legs start going backwards!  You know how heavy they are – well, maybe 300 pounds.  But we got it.

Then they finally scrapped the engines.  Well let’s see.  One day we were casing the place out.  We didn’t want to take a ladder over there because it was too obvious [so we] took a shovel over there and dug a ditch – it was all cinders so it was easy – so you could crawl under the wall.  So Jervan was a clerk for the North Shore – he worked at Highwood.  So we’re in there, we’re looking – yeah, we gotta get this, we gotta get that.  We got this – three great big twelve-by-twelves or something.  We needed them.  Or we needed one of them for some – to fix something, I forget what.  You know, to saw the end beam for a car or something.  We hear somebody drive up – Jesus Christ, and we’re quiet as mice, you know.  The engines are gone so it’s kind of a big empty room with stuff stored along one wall.  Mason and Sparky Shapler or somebody else walked in.  “What are you guys doing here?  Oh, YOU!”  “We’re just looking around to see what we want to buy…”  “Yeah, sure!  Well, tell you what you do.  When you guys leave, lock the door!”  There was nothing left to steal.  Well, he didn’t think so.

Finally we got 218 – well, let’s see, what happened?  What happened was that the Museum owned most of the stuff but [Frank] Sherwin bought three North Shore cabooses; he owned the three North Western baggage cars, you know, the storage car, the one up front and the one they junked; and the [North Shore] 218.  And he had this McGuire-Cummings box motor you could put snow plow attachments, or [rather] sweeper attachments [on].  So that thing had a Buda gasoline engine in there.  And so we figured out how to get it to run, and there was a generator in there, or we took the generator out of the generator shed and put it in the [car] – and it made electricity, 300 volts, but it made electricity.  So we coupled the two together, had a big alligator clip and reached out the window – grunk!  And it ran the 218!  This was an unmotorized sweeper, see.  So we’re running around switching with this thing, and you had this stupid crane chassis that was always derailing.  I think by now a lot of the stuff was gone at North Chicago.  And we had keys to the gate – you could come in either from the northeast or go out the Navy yard.  You were in the Navy yard for a thousand feet then you went onto the North Shore.  The trolley wire went outside the fence on the west side of the fence where we’d open the gate and go out.  Well, so we fooled around with this thing and did some switching.  It’s starting to get dark, the thing [is going] raarrr, raarrr, raarr, you know – as it’s getting darker we could see sparks coming out of the couplers and brake rigging and all – there was no ground.  So the next week we had to get another big alligator clip and ground the two cars together.  You know, you put this bus jumper from the frame of one car to the frame of the other car.

We got some hammers or something – the doors, the walls were off of the engine house.  We went into the engine house taking all kind of stuff, clipping light fixtures off the ceiling, all kind of crap.  Stealing little pieces of trolley wire and taking down barn hangers.  And the next day I had to go to the North Western to arrange another move.  The guy – his name was Mr. English.  This was Sunday night we were playing around over there and Monday morning I had to be – to see this guy at nine o’clock.  He says “I hear you were running on the old North Shore last night!”  I says “Well, to tell you the truth… we were!”  But I says, “We weren’t doing any harm.  How’d you find out?”  He says “There’s no secrets on a railroad.”  You know, a train must have gone by when they saw us over there, the train crew, you know, [of a] commuter train.

We stole this big log. It was a twelve-by-twelve, maybe ten feet long.  How do you move it?  So we took trolley ropes off the cars, out of the retrievers, you know, wrapped it around and you drag it down, two guys on each rope pulling the thing down the rails, kind of sliding it.  We’re doing this after dark; every now and then a police car would come around but they couldn’t go anywhere, they couldn’t drive down to the other end of the yard.  Get it over there, drag this thing up the fence – oh, they had a super wheelbarrow – big balloon tire and it was an aluminum frame, the handles come out and had loops on them.  It had an alemite gun on there for pressure greasing stuff.  We took the pot off and it was a super wheelbarrow, it could really move stuff, especially in the cinders.  Big balloon tire, bigger than what’s on our two-wheeler.  You could go places with it.  So we had borrowed that…  So we drag this thing up on the fence, over the fence, onto the tie pile, throw on the ground, get the two-wheeler over because we were always afraid someone was going to come and catch us – they’d catch us with stuff that didn’t belong to us.  Wheel it over, and of course it got flipped over many times.  In the morning the sun comes up, we go to breakfast and then we look at our stuff – thing’s rotten on the bottom!

But the [North Shore] 213 didn’t have cowcatchers, which it still doesn’t have – we took those off and dragged them down the tracks and over the fence and over the tie pile.  That’s why I’ve got so many cowcatchers, then we scrapped the [236] so there was another pair.  But we were young, and…  Across the way, maybe a quarter of a mile, was the provost’s office for Main Side on the Great Lakes Naval Training Station.  So there ain’t much left to go but we had just stolen a bunch of 80-40 rail, and here right by the corner of the fence in the weeds was all these 80-40 angle bars, maybe fifty of them.  Well, so everybody – they’re not that heavy, you know, maybe twenty pounds, maybe not that much – but now they’re having trouble.  Sailors are coming down with big lights and there was a lot of AWOLs.  In fact, they’d go over the fence and change their Navy clothes into civilian clothes and then walk out the gate or go over the fence.  AWOL, you know, the first eight weeks.  You weren’t supposed to have civilian clothes.  And I think from the time before we moved until after we were here about three or four years I was wearing Navy clothes, and I’d have somebody’s name stenciled over the – brand new, the most it could have been was eight weeks old.  You know, new chambray shirts and blue jeans.  But we decided okay – there was four of us, we were going to throw these angle bars over the fence.  Of course you throw one over – they’re all right together, so one’s throwing them over and the other guy’s picking one up.  After about the third one, clang!  One hits the other one on the other side of the fence, and then clang!  Bells are ringing, pretty soon five cell flashlights are coming down the tracks.  Over the fence, pull the ladder up.  Get real quiet back in the back of the Museum where we had all the lights on in the cars.  One morning I got up to take a leak.  There was three or four of us there, I don’t know if Jeff Brady was one – I get up and I hear something.  I look, and somebody runs away.  I look, and there was kind of an empty field, you know, the tracks kind of fanned out but they ran between the cars.  It was a girl with a blanket, and she threw her blanket over the barbed wire and went up over the fence like s--- through a tin horn.  She was working the sailors.  We stole the big electric switch machine at South Upton, dragged it down the rails with ropes.  But it’s shorter than two rails so one guy had to run along behind it pushing it, keeping it balanced because it gets off balance and then this end’s hitting the ties or that end’s hitting the ties.  I don’t know if we ever used it; it was painted silver, and I don’t remember seeing it.


Art said...

It sure is great to read stories like this. It's the history of the museum told through the eyes of a guy who was there. No longer available and if not for your records, gone forever.

I hope you are continuing this into a series. I know there are a few negatives, like the subject not wanting to be a subject because of the inevitable, but the positive values far outweigh the negative thoughts.

I'd hope people are lining up wanting to tell you (and thus us) their stories.


Anonymous said...

So what ever did become of the pneumatic crossing gate that Bob liberated?

C Kronenwetter
IRM member