Chapter III: The Third Rail Division (1906-1915)

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In 1901, when the Everett-Moore and Pomeroy-Mandelbaum syndicates were still acquiring right of way and constructing the line, the Pomeroy-Mandelbaum syndicate had also been busy buying up those original traction lines along the Fox River that had prompted the construction of the interurban line to Chicago. Once they were all under the same management, the four companies (the Aurora & Geneva Electric Railway, the Aurora Street Railway, the Elgin City, Carpentersville & Aurora Railway, and the Aurora Yorkville & Morris Railway) were merged on May 31, 1901,1 into a single entity: the Elgin Aurora & Southern Traction Company.

Geographic relationship of the Elgin, Aurora & Southern Traction Company (orange) and the Aurora Elgin & Chicago Railway (green).

When the Everett-Moore syndicate was forced to drop its involvement with the AE&C in mid 1902 the Pomeroy-Mandelbaum syndicate was left singly in control of both the Fox River and Third Rail lines. In 1906, shortly after the opening of the Mt. Carmel branch, they sought once again to consolidate their properties. On March 23, 1906 the Elgin Aurora & Southern Traction Company and the Aurora, Elgin & Chicago Railway were merged into the new Aurora Elgin & Chicago Railroad. The Elgin Aurora & Southern Traction Company became the Fox River Division of the new company and the former Aurora, Elgin & Chicago Railway became the Third Rail Division.

Not that the little (and technically separate) Cook County & Southern Railway, which had only been in operation for a few days at this point, was forgotten in all of this. It was, in fact, included as the third party in this merger and henceforth officially became a branch of the Third Rail Division of the Aurora Elgin & Chicago Railroad. Of course, the service that was being provided over the line (shuttles between Bellwood, Oak Ridge, and Mount Carmel Cemeteries) was not the full extent of the plan for the branch.

In March, the AE&C had announced that it was making preparations to operate a new funeral service in conjunction with the Metropolitan. The "new" service mentioned was actually the Metropolitan’s already existing operation of funeral trains to Waldheim and Concordia Cemeteries, however, under the new arrangement, the AE&C would become a partner in this operation and would add its new Mt. Carmel branch to the service area. The contract between the AE&C and the Metropolitan Elevated was signed on June 4th, officially creating an entity known as the Joint Funeral Bureau.


109 with solemn crew at the Fifth Avenue Terminal.

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In addition to supplying the Mt. Carmel branch to the Joint Funeral Bureau, the AE&C also made the contribution of a funeral car. The car, 109, had formerly been an AE&C passenger car, but when it was selected for funeral service it was rebuilt with special baggage doors to receive caskets and was painted black with the words "FUNERAL CAR" on the sides. Keeping in consideration that the majority of the funeral trains would be provided by the "L" company, the car was further rebuilt to be mechanically compatible with the Metropolitan’s cars even though this did cause it to become incompatible with the cars with the cars of its own fleet.

The extension of service into the Fifth Avenue Terminal and the overall good patronage since then had put the line in a situation where it found itself once again owning fewer cars than it needed. Yet the loss of car 109 to the Joint Funeral Bureau was probably not considered to be too much of a problem as the AE&C had already placed another order for the construction of ten new cars for the Third Rail Division with the Niles Car and Manufacturing Company in January. They arrived in the middle of September. Nine of these new cars were passenger cars (numbered 300-308). The last car in the order was the line’s second parlor car, Florence.

The Third Rail Division would later receive two more cars—this time from the Hicks Locomotive Works—in either late 1908 or early 1909 and then five more from the Kuhlman Car Company in March of 1909. Instead of being given a new number series as had previously been the case with new sets of cars, the Hicks cars followed the numbering of the most recent Niles cars and were numbered 309 and 310. The Kuhlman cars were treated in the same way, becoming 311-315.

Over the years, the AE&C repeatedly expressed desires to construct various branches and/or extensions to its line. Back in April of 1902 an official involved with the Cleveland stockholders was quoted as saying that the AE&C was considering building a branch to West Chicago and Geneva. This may be perceived as significant, however the AE&C made many such claims. That same April they also expressed interest in constructing a branch to Naperville (and then brought it up again in 1905) and in late 1906 considered a branch to Hinsdale. The branch to Geneva, like those to Naperville and Hinsdale, wouldn’t get beyond talk and initial planning. That is, until August 27, 1908. On that date the Chicago Wheaton & Western Railway Company was incorporated.

The Chicago Wheaton & Western apparently had no financial or corporate ties to the AE&C. Nevertheless, the intention of the company was to build a third rail interurban line from the city of West Chicago and make a connection with the Elgin branch of the AE&C for service into Chicago. The scope of the railway was then altered slightly on September 22nd when the stockholders of the Chicago Wheaton & Western decided that instead of only going as far as West Chicago, the line would be built all the way to the city of Geneva on the Fox River. On September 21, 1909—a little over a year after the railway was created—the first train left Wheaton bound for West Chicago. Service between Chicago and Geneva began in December.

1909 also saw work to expand the generating capacity of the Batavia Powerhouse. Almost from the start, the AE&C had set itself up as one of the earliest suppliers of electricity to the Fox River Valley. But, over time, the demand for electrical power from these communities, several nearby interurban lines, and the new Geneva branch, (in addition to the increasing amount of electricity required to operate its own trains) had begun to tax the capacity of the powerhouse.2

On June 10 of the following year, the stockholders of the Chicago Wheaton & Western decided once again to increase the extent of their line. The extension this time would be from Geneva north to the city of St. Charles. The extension into St. Charles opened on July 25 and was made possible by operating over two and a half miles of the Elgin-Aurora line of the Fox River Division which the Chicago Wheaton & Western already had track connections with in Geneva.

The service to St. Charles (and to Geneva and West Chicago before it) bore the name of the Chicago Wheaton & Western Railway on timetables and in various newspaper articles, however, in operation the line was essentially a branch of the Third Rail Division. The property from Geneva Junction on the Elgin branch west to Geneva was owned by the Chicago Wheaton & Western, however, all of the train crews, passenger cars, and even the line into Chicago were either provided by or owned by the Third Rail Division of the AE&C. Some believe that the company was organized by AE&C management for eventual takeover (like the Cook County & Southern) while others hold that the railway was a separate interurban that ran into financial trouble early on and ended up receiving substantial assistance from the AE&C. In either case, the end result was still the same. On October 28, 1910, the Chicago Wheaton & Western deeded its line to the AE&C and it officially became the Geneva branch of the Third Rail Division.

In response to the ever increasing amount of traffic, in 1911, a new station was built to replace the original Wheaton station which had been made out of wood. The new Wheaton station was larger, made of brick, and featured passenger amenities which the old station lacked.

The next year, in late 1912, ten cars were ordered from the Jewett Car Company, but at some point this order was reduced to just six cars. They arrived on the property between 1913 and 1914. In many respects these new cars (numbered 316-321) were quite similar to all of the earlier cars, even though the trends in car building were already turning away from wood boddied rail cars. The cars were brand new but were stylistically out dated.

As time would show, it was fortunate that the new, expanded Wheaton station was built when it was. On March 24, 1913, shortly before 4am, a fire erupted in the northeast portion of the general offices of the AE&C which was located in town. The fire department arrived on the scene but the flames spread quickly, destroying the building and many of the railroad’s early documents. Following the fire, most of the office staff was relocated into the new Wheaton station which was then quickly set up to function as the new office.

Possibly as a result of the fire, the Third Rail Division began making use of a new Aurora terminal on September 14, 1915. The new terminal was located in the Hotel Arthur, a six floor building on the corner of Main and Broadway in Aurora. The main offices were also moved into the new location, occupying the sixth floor and a portion of the fifth. Terminal facilities were located on the first floor, making for easy transfers between lines of the AE&C (including the Aurora city cars) and to and from the Joliet Plainfield & Aurora Railway and the Chicago Aurora & DeKalb Railroad who also used the building as a terminal.

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  1. The Great Third Rail vi
  2. Plachno, Sunset Lines - History 255