The northern end of Glenwood Avenue in Rogers Park can be a bit confusing. A railroad runs down the middle of it. That’s not unheard of, except that the railroad (the Chicago Transit Authority) is elevated above street level so as not to obstruct or collide with street traffic; it’s not obvious to a new visitor that the street number you may be looking for is on the other side of the tracks. The tracks were not always elevated, but growing traffic congestion and accidents moved the Chicago City Council to demand that railroads elevate their tracks. While the ordinance was passed in 1907, the project elevating what is now the Red Line was not completed until 1922.
Glenwood Avenue is also mildly unusual in that some of the original brick paving remains, albeit asphalt patched. Several other blocks of original brick paving exist elsewhere in Rogers Park. It hadn’t occurred to me until now that all of them that come to mind are North — South.
I once met a five year old boy who was absolutely smitten by garbage trucks. It’s a fascination that I find just barely comprehensible. It’s big. It’s noisy. It’s powerful. It has all manner of moving parts. Check all those boxes, fine, but still…
On the other hand, my cat Rainbow was always terrified of garbage trucks, even though (or maybe especially because) they were never visible from the apartment, just a terrifying roar with a ghastly stink. This makes far more sense: a monstrous predator with fetid breath. Even a cat’s imagination might be more alarming than reality… by a little bit.
In cold weather, even pigeons take the train. Sometimes they lurk in the subway or in the pedway. So far the Chicago subways haven’t developed their own ecology as I understand London has. Too small, too new. But I could see new species of rodents, perhaps.
South view from the Roosevelt Road overpass. Photo by Roman.
Nickel Plate 765 excursion from the Roosevelt Road Overpass in Chicago. Photo by Roman.
View southwestward from the Roosevelt Rd overpass. Photo by Roman.
Bridge decoration on the Roosevelt Road overpass. Photo by Roman.
Bridge decoration on the Roosevelt Road overpass. Photo by Roman
Click on any image to enlarge it.
Roosevelt Road between State Street and Canal Street in Chicago is an extended overpass. In 2018, it provides a prospect for train watching tracks into LaSalle Steet Station and Union Station, including the AMTRAK yards. But it also provides a view of a pretty amazing stretch of vacant land once occupied by the Rock Island railroad and sundry industry. The bridge is decorated with bronze (I think) sculpture. It’s a pretty busy place, with considerable auto and pedestrian traffic… during the day, at least.
Trainspotters won’t like it, but railroad photography has a lot in common with pornography. While trains ain’t sexual (for most of us, I assume), the photography is representing what is otherwise a sensual experience: the rumble and the roar of the Wabash Cannonball, as the song goes. The same for photographing sex. (Though if there’s a rumble and a roar, it’s probably theatre.) Likewise, there aren’t many camera angles that make sense for either trains or sex so the photography for both tends to be awfully repetitive. But there I was, along with a few dozen other enthusiasts and curious onlookers, on the Roosevelt Road overpass above the METRA tracks. We lined up on the south and north sides of the bridge, waiting in the sun for the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society’s restored steam engine, Nickel Plate #765, to come by on its fourth (and final for the season) “Joliet Rocket” excursion run between Joliet and Chicago on the old Rock Island tracks.
The camera most definitely got in the way of the experience. I’m almost sorry I brought it along.
For those who might be wondering, the old Nickel Plate railroad is now a part of the Norfolk Southern system. No. 765 is a member of the last generation of steam locomotives, built in 1944. It was designed for fast freight service, and performed well by all accounts, but diesel-electric locomotives proved more economical. Steam locomotives actually develop more power at higher speeds, diesel-electrics the opposite, making diesels more useful in more situations. By the time 765 passed under the Roosevelt Road bridge, it was probably travelling at around 10 miles per hour. You’ll note the METRA diesel at the tail end of the train. It provided electrical power for the passenger cars. I’m not sure if there’s any way of turning the train at LaSalle Street Station (probably not), so it may have piloted the train back to Joliet also.
765, incidentally, is a large piece of equipment, weighing over 400 tons. It’s big even by today’s standards. Back in 1944, freight cars were typically 30 or 40 feet long and carried… 50, 60 tons of cargo, IIRC. Imagining 765 at the head of fifty to a hundred of these smallish freight cars travelling at 60 miles per hour… Impressive. Plus back then freight cars were not equipped with roller bearings but had journal bearings lubricated with oil soaked rags. They were seriously noisy compared to rolling stock today. Talk about the “rumble and the roar” thundering by in a cloud of coal smoke and dust!
I’d recommend Roosevelt Road as a train watching location in Chicago: hardly a news flash for local trainspotters but maybe useful for outatowners. There are the METRA Rock Island tracks, and just a block or so west, you’ll find the AMTRAK yards and the south tracks into Union Station. In the distance to the south, there’s the St. Charles Air Line. It’s easily accessible and there’s always something going on. Since much of it is passenger trains, it’s also scheduled.
Said the schedule board:
No. 15… (ambiguously)… Delayed.
No “E.T.A.”, only “Delayed”.
Side-tracked on a digression
Or hidden in an air pocket
Or towed to Toledo?
An interrupted transmission,
An uncertain interval
This is a postcard that I ran across while reorganizing the hall closet. I’m not sure of the photo date, though my guess is sometime in the 1940s though maybe it could be as early as 1937 or as late as the very early 1950s. The Rock Island Railroad was fairly aggressive about changing from steam locomotives to diesel-electric, especially on passenger trains as early as 1937. The process was interrupted by World War II, but the Rock Island’s steam locomotives were all retired by 1954. There is a coaling tower and water tower in the background (behind the baggage carts).
The photo is of Bureau Junction, Illinois, where the old Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific railroad threw off a branch line to Peoria, Illinois. The photo looks southward down the Peoria branch, and the arriving train (note the blur) is probably the Peoria Rocket. (The Peoria Rocket made it’s first run in September of 1937, diesel-electric powered.) You’ll note a fellow standing beside the locomotive. He’s handing up train orders on a long pole to a crew member in the locomotive cab. On the near right, you’ll note a fellow standing next to a small shack. The shack was for a crossing guard, something that was common before automatic crossing gates and lights. I don’t know if the fellow alongside the shack is the guard but if you look closely, he’s wearing quite the hat. The Rock Island’s double track mainline is on the other side of the station, and it curves away west. For a while, there was also an interurban trolley line that entered Bureau Junction paralleling the Rock Island mainline. Even mainline passenger trains would stop at Bureau Junction as it was a transfer point for passengers for the Peoria branch and for the interurban. After the trolley line was abandoned, buses would arrive before train arrivals and depart after.
Bureau Junction was also the departure point for the Illinois — Mississippi Canal (aka Hennepin Canal) that provided a short cut between the Illinois River and the Mississippi River. Most folks no longer remember that the canal ever existed, but it was completed in December of 1907 and remained in operation until 1951. It still exists, mostly, as a small waterway and as an Illinois state park.
Incidentally, the photo makes Bureau Junction look Illinois flat, but the town is in the Illinois River valley. The Rock Island mainline wiggled more than a little both west and most especially east of Bureau Junction as a result. It is flatter, though, than I remembered it.
Even though it was multimodal transportation hub, Bureau Junction at its peak was always a small and mostly sleepy town: maximum census no more than 700 in the 1920s but less than half that now. The Rock Island went belly up in 1980 and its assets were sold to cover its debts. The lines through Bureau Junction were acquired by a new railroad, Iowa Interstate. Much of the Rock Island’s network is still operated by one railroad or another. Some of them, including Iowa Interstate, still play off the old Rock Island brand.
This is how the same location looked in 1993. The view is almost opposite from the postcard, looking north along the Peoria branch to where it joins the mainline. Most of the tracks have been removed. The red Ford Escort is approximately where the crossing guard’s shack stood. The station remains though there is no passenger service. From rail fan videos, I can tell you that in 2018 the derelict signal bridge has been long since removed and the tracks are in much better condition.
My mother’s parents retired to Bureau Junction. Grandpa had worked for the Rock Island as, I’m told, a coal-chute operator though I’m unclear what he did after the Rock Island retired their steam locomotives. Grandma and Grandpa’s house was just across the street from the Rock Island mainline. The time I spent there is basically why I became a trainspotter. It’s also probably how I came to possess the old postcard. When I was last in Bureau Junction for a nostalgic visit in 1993, their old house was still standing. It was probably one of the better houses in that town. Bureau Junction, alas, is a small village version of Detroit. (I’m sure the natives would object to the comparison, but it is.)