The 304, was one of 7 double truck, lightweight interurban cars built by St Louis Car Company in 1923 for the Aurora Elgin & Fox River Electric. The cars are unique in many ways, one of the more obvious is the arch window design, a design feature that was definitely outdated by 1923.
The cars served in Cleveland until 1950 when they were retired. Two cars, the 300 and 301 came back to the midwest in 1950 being sold to Milwaukee's Speedrail operation. They only lasted a year (not long enough to lose their Shaker Hts blue/grey paint scheme) and were scrapped in 1951. Car 305 was destroyed, but in 1954the remaining 4 cars were acquired by Gerald Brookins and formed part of the foundation for what became the Trolleyville museum.
Ultimately the economic downturn of the past couple years doomed the LSE. Cleveland, part of the so-called "Rust Belt", an area that relied heavily on steel production and the auto industry has seen hard times, harder than some of the rest of the US. Certainly no extra money (personal or government dollars) for "luxuries" like trolley museums. Facing a mounting debt and no chance for any relief in the immediate/near term future, LSE made the difficult decision to close their operations and auction off all assets, including their collection of 30 trolleys, streetcars and interurbans.
One man's mis-fortune is often another man's gain. Such is the case here in Illinois. Both FRTM and IRM (Illinois Rwy Museum) successfully bid on several Chicago area interurbans which will be returning to their home state. IRM was successful in getting a Vera Cruz Mexico single truck open car, 5 CA&E interurbans, and in late breaking news, an ex-Twin Cities Rapid Transit PCC car (More on these acquisitions in later postings as the cars are delivered, currently only the Vera Cruz car is at IRM, having arrived 11/1/09)
The demise of the LSE operation was a chance for FRTM to finally realize a long held dream, to return a Fox River car to home rails. The Fox River Trolley Museum operates the majority of it's mainline over former AE&FRE right-of-way.
FRTM 304 loaded and passing the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame/Museum, heading west back to Chicago (Photo courtesy of Steven Heister, Northern Ohio Railway Museum)
Local ABC News station Channel 7 in Chicago was on-hand when the car was off-loaded, and the emotion in the voice of lorignal ong-time FRTM member Ralph Taylor is very evident. This is a special event, many people don't realize just how rare an event it is to have a museum operation where a "home" car returns to home rails.
Of special interest is the fact that the car was unloaded using AE&FRE #5, a GE center cab diesel locomotive that was bought by the Fox River Line in 1945, long after the passenger cars were gone. This unit served the line until the early 1970's, and when the Fox River Line's freight service ultimately went away like the passenger operations, it was sold to a local quarry operation. After roughly 30 years of service there, FRTM managed to get the diesel back to home rails as well, and it was only fitting that AE&FRE 5 helped to unload AE&FRE 304.
Fox River 5 and Fox River 304 pose together,
something that was never possible until this week
While the car looks to be in relatively good shape, there is still much to be done to preserve this car and keep in in good condition for future generations. A later report will detail some of the restoration efforts. In the interim, the Fox River Trolley Museum needs our support to pay for this car, transport back to South Elgin, storage, restoration, and ongoing maintenance
You can contact FRTM directly through their website http://www.foxtrolley.org/