For those of you who follow me on this blog, you may not know that I’m a train and history buff. Ever since a kid, I’ve been fascinated with trains and the local history that surrounds them. Spent many hours at the Illinois Railway Museum and even a few years volunteering.
Most train buffs are fans because they grew up around a particular train line with fond memories of operating trains. I wish I had that connection but for the small town that I grew up in, the only railroad tracks to ever exist were converted into a bike path when I was just a baby.
Not going to lie, I’m a bit jealous when I hear stories of how someone grew up along a busy train interchange or something similar. It was to my surprise when I visited a small railway museum in Ohio I would find a piece of railroad history from Carpentersville sitting in suburban Cleveland. Albeit a piece of history that dates way before my time in C’ville, after reading the museum placard it was like meeting someone new and finding a common interest.
After a bit of research, I found that at one point the railroads and interurban rail service played a huge role in the formation and early growth of Carpentersville, Illinois. Freight railroads such as the Chicago & Northwestern (C&NW) serviced local industries such as Star Manufacturing (Now Otto Engineering) and Haeger Potteries, which produced bricks that would be used to rebuild Chicago after the Great Chicago Fire. These industries required workers and those workers used trains as a way to commute to their jobs very much how we use mass transport today. The Chicagoland area was blanketed by local interurban service that connected communities by transporting passengers, mail and small freight. Several Interurban routes would pop up along the Fox River Valley until the Great Depression and then really bite the dust when automobiles would drive them into bankruptcy. (Pun intended)
Long before my time in C’ville, there was a small interurban railroad that serviced Carpentersville, Dundee, Elgin and further south to Aurora. The Aurora, Elgin, and Fox River Electric Company (AE&FRE) ran service up until 1935 and allowed for passengers to commute between communities and transfer to larger railroads for service to Downtown Chicago on either the Milwaukee Road in Elgin or C&NW out of Geneva, etc.
While trains are known for transporting people over long distances, it was to my surprise when I found one of those AE&FRE interurbans about 400 miles from “home”.
Stored away at the Northern Ohio Railway Museum was AE&FRE Car #303, which was sold to the Cleveland Interurban Railroad in 1935 and would be rebranded into their paint and color scheme and used for light duty service on the Shaker Heights Branch. While this might not seem like a big deal to most, to me it’s an important piece of Fox River Valley history and I wanted to share it on this post to capture a lost relic in Ohio. Probably not going to ever make it back to Carpentersville, but at least I know it’s being restored and protected by the museum volunteers.
Update: Now I’m on the hunt, found that sister car #304 was formally part of the Fox River Trolly Museum collection but was also sold to a real estate developer in Cleveland and then auction off again after a failed attempt to start a new museum. Looks like car #306 is under restoration at IRM.
Update 2: Car 304 is back at the FR Trolly Museum. I’ll have to get out there this summer to take a ride.
Great story, and awesome find. It would be so cool to bring this relic back to Cville/Dundee. Dundee still has the old Train Depot in their downtown area. I’m a life time resident of C’ville. This was a great blog, and very interesting.
Interesting enough Wikipedia states that Car #303 is located at a museum in Connecticut, not Ohio. Maybe it recently moved. Go to this link and click on the preservation tab. It has a list of many of the Cars that operated on this line.
Thanks, Brad for the comment and sharing that article. We visited the Northern Ohio Railway Museum in July ’17 so I would assume it is still at the museum. I’ll probably check again when I head back this summer to visit with my wife’s family. Also, that car listed on the Wikipedia article is for the AE&C, which is a bit different I think…
While I would LOVE to see Car 303 again in C’ville or Dundee, heck even Elgin, I feel the volunteers of the Northern Ohio museum are doing what they can to restore it and it will maybe even operate on their tracks at some point in the future.
Now, when I strike it rich someday, I will maybe build my own train tracks down the Fox River and bring Car 303 back to it’s original service. 🙂
304 was recently badly vandalized and had to be restored. She was out of commission from early July until just recently, within the last couple weeks.
The museum is accepting donations to help with the restoration of all the cars that were vandalized. All the glass for 304 was donated but there is still a lot of damage to other train cars that were in storage at the time of the vandalism. Story and pictures on the museums website. https://www.foxtrolley.org/
Donna, Thanks for posting this to this article. I was saddened by the news of this, I hope to see the car back in shape soon.