Chapter II: Up and Running (1902-1906)

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Even though the Aurora terminal wasn't yet completed and the railroad only has six passenger cars to its name, by August everything was deemed ready enough to roll. A temporary terminal had been set up a few blocks north of the ultimate destination, the washed out portions of the right of way were restored, and the power distribution system appeared ready. With these things now in hand a date was set once again for the start of service. This time it was August 25.

As scheduled, on Monday, August 25, the first train finally pulled out of Wheaton bound for Chicago at 5:53am.

The terminal in Chicago wasn't downtown like it was for the neighboring steam railroads, but rather it was at 52nd Avenue (Laramie) on the outskirts of the city. Yet downtown passengers weren't completely at a loss. As per the franchise agreement with Cicero Township, the 52nd Avenue Terminal was shared with the Metropolitan West Side Elevated. All AE&C passengers who were heading downtown had to do was to get off at 52nd and catch a Garfield Park “L” train to complete their trip. Though somewhat of a convenient setup, the connection was not free. “L” fare was still required.

About six weeks later, the Batavia branch opened.1 Unlike trains heading to or from Aurora, trains from Batavia did not go to Chicago. Instead, Batavia trains ran as shuttles between the Batavia terminal and the station at Eola Junction where transfers were made to and from Aurora-Chicago trains.

The additional rolling stock on order started to come in, bringing the total number of cars on the railroad to ten. The twenty cars ordered from Stephenson arrived in early 1903.

Then, on May 1, 1903, the AE&C took its first step into the freight handling business. On that day it began operating milk trains. Small platforms were built near road crossings where local farmers could leave cans of milk for the morning pick up. These cans would be picked up by an AE&C car and dropped off at a small yard located near 52nd Avenue. From there the milk would be taken to a city dairy to be processed and the empty milk cans would be returned to the platforms later on in the day to be picked up and refilled by the farmers.2 Though new for the AE&C, the concept of hauling milk and the method by which it was accomplished mirrored that of many interurbans across the country.3

According to the timetable published in August 1902, the Elgin branch was supposed to be completed and in service by “about December 15, 1902.” Like it had been with the rest of the railroad, the appointed day came and went but the branch was still not ready. It wouldn't enter service until Tuesday, May 26, 1903.4

But when the start of Elgin service finally began, trains began departing and arriving in Chicago every fifteen minutes, alternating between Aurora and Elgin trains. This provided fifteen minute headways on the main line and thirty minutes headways on the Aurora and Elgin branches.

newselevator.jpg newsloading.jpg

Newspapers were recieved at an unloading platform in the back of the Fifth Avenue Terminal. They were taken off of wagons and placed into a hoist which brought them to a small platform at track level. From there they were loaded into the interurban cars.

Electric Traction Weekly

Then, in late October, the AE&C began tapping into another source of non-passenger traffic common to interurbans: newspapers. They began to distribute the city edition of the Chicago Record Herald to the western suburbs and the Fox River Valley. Between the hours of 3 and 4 a.m. bundles of newspapers were loaded onto a special newspaper train at one of the Metropolitan’s downtown stations and carried west. (It should be noted that the newspaper trains were loaded downtown even though the AE&C’s passenger trains still terminated at 52nd Avenue.)5

Even without direct service to downtown Chicago, passenger traffic was good. Patronage on the line was so good that in 1904, it was decided to initiate parlor car service.6 Concurrent with the delivery of the railroad’s next series of cars in July, was the delivery of a new parlor-buffet car. Instead of being given a number, the car was named. The name given: Carolyn. Parlor-buffet service started August 30, 1904, and proved to be popular enough (particularly among those who patronized the various golf clubs along the line) that another parlor car, Florence, was ordered in 1906.

The one major problem the AE&C still had was that its trains still terminated on the outskirts of the city at 52nd Avenue. Direct service to downtown Chicago over the “L” lines had always been the intention, but at the start of service, the possession of only six railcars was simply too small of a number to be able handle a schedule between downtown Aurora and downtown Chicago. The arrival of additional cars between 1902 and 1904 had solved this problem but, for the time being, there was another problem: the AE&C needed a downtown terminal.

At this time, the Metropolitan, like all of the “L” companies, was using the Union Loop Elevated as its downtown terminal, but the Loop elevated wasn't suitable for the AE&C's needs. It needed a place to store its trains for the layover between trips and the Union Loop had none; it wasn't designed for that. In fact, as early as late 1900, the Loop was beginning to fail the needs of the Metropolitan.

The extreme amount of traffic from the “L” companies was bringing travel around the Loop to a crawl and, as a stopgap measure, the Metropolitan began having some of their inbound trains terminate their runs at Canal.

While relieving some of the congestion on the Loop, this situation was less than ideal. It became clear that they would need a dedicated terminal to supplement the Loop so they constructed a four-track terminal at Fifth Avenue (Wells Street) just south of Jackson Boulevard. The Metropolitan’s new Fifth Avenue Terminal opened October 3, 1904.7

This new terminal not only solved the Metropolitan’s problem, but was also perfectly suited to serve as that downtown station the AE&C had been waiting for. With a terminal now available, the two roads began working to get the Metropolitan’s franchise changed. The Chicago City Council went ahead and modified the Metropolitan’s franchise to allow it to carry AE&C trains on February 23, 1905.


The Fifth Avenue Terminal. By the time of this photo, 1913, the terminal not only carried the name of the Metropolitan, but also that of the Aurora Elgin & Chicago.

DN-0061194, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society.

With the Metropolitan’s franchise agreement now altered to permit the passage of AE&C trains, a reciprocal trackage agreement between the AE&C and the Metropolitan was soon created. The agreement stated that in exchange for using the Metropolitan’s “L” tracks and terminal, the AE&C would give the Metropolitan the use of its tracks as far west as the Des Planes River. On March 11, 1905, the reciprocal trackage agreement went into effect. On that day the AE&C began terminating at the Fifth Avenue Terminal and the Metropolitan extended their rapid transit service west to the Desplanes Avenue station on the AE&C, becoming the provider of service to the local stations between 52nd and Desplanes Avenues.8

The interesting wording of the reciprocal trackage agreement (naming the Des Planes River as the boundary of their trackage rights as opposed to nearby Desplanes Avenue) allowed the “L” company to set up a unique service: providing funeral trains to Waldheim and Concordia Cemeteries (both of which were on the east side of the river). The operation of these funeral trains quickly turned out to be a rather profitable venture.

Of course, the success of the Metropolitan’s funeral service didn't go unnoticed and it didn't take long for the AE&C to decide that it too should get into the business. On November 23, 1905, several AE&C officials got together and organized the Cook County & Southern Railway Company.9 The purpose of this new company—which was technically not a part of the AE&C since it wasn't incorporated as a subsidiary—was to build a branch off of the main line to the nearby Oak Ridge and Mt Carmel Cemeteries.

Construction of the branch took place during the January and February of 1906. On March 18th, the Cook County & Southern (the Mount Carmel branch) opened for business.

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  1. "INCREASE IN "L" TRAFFIC." Chicago Daily Tribune 5 Apr. 1903: 63.
  2. Plachno, Sunset Lines - History 209
  3. Benedict, Not Only Passengers 14
  4. "Open New Suburban Line Today." Chicago Daily Tribune 26 May 1903: 2.
  5. Plachno, Sunset Lines - History 216
  6. "To Run Trolley Dining Car." New York Times 6 Aug. 1904: 3.
  7. "YEAR OF METROPOLITAN L." Chicago Daily Tribune 6 Apr. 1905: 10.
  8. "Elgin to Fifth Avenue Trains Start Tomorrow." Chicago Daily Tribune 10 Mar. 1905: 8.
  9. "New Incorporations." Chicago Daily Tribune 24 Nov. 1905: 12.