Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fox River 304

Tuesday, 11/3/2009, will long be remembered as a VERY special day at the Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin, Illinois. After a 74 year absence, Aurora Elgin & Fox River Electric #304 was delivered by Silk Road Transport and returned to home rails.

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cars are unique in many ways, one of the more obvious is the arch window design, a design feature that was definitely outdated by 1923.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 AE&FRE gave up on interurban passenger service in 1935, and all seven cars were sold to the Cleveland Interurban Railroad (later Shaker Hts Rapid Transit)All seven were refurbished and several cosmetic changes occurred (whistles moved from the roof to the upper dash, trolley retrievers moved from the lower dash to a center window mount, roof vents/ventilation changed, interior lights changed, etc. )

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.

Over the years, the four remaining cars in Ohio dwindled to 3, then 2. The 306 was sold to IRM, and the 302 was scrapped for parts (some of which went to IRM as well) The 306 operated briefly at IRM, and was taken apart starting in 1982 in an effort to restore/backdate the car to it's Fox River days. That project unfortunately was never completed and the car remains today in a half complete/half dismantled condition at the back of IRM's Barn 4. That left the 303 and 304 in Ohio.

A couple years back, the Trolleyville museum had to move from it's home in Olmstead Falls, Ohio (a Cleveland suburb) Many options were looked at, and eventually they decided on what was (in my opinion) a very ambitious option, to move the entire collection to the downtown Cleveland lakefront and open a trolley museum there. This option had the backing of the city of Cleveland, and was envisioned as a lakefront attraction that would add to those that already existed, including the Science Museum, Cleveland Browns Stadium, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame/Museum. Excursion trips were planned on the Cleveland RTA. As I noted, a very ambitious plan. As part of this move, they were reorganized as the Lake Shore Electric Railway.

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.

Getting one or more of the last remaining Fox River cars was not easy. The Northern Ohio Rwy Museum (amongst others) also had an interest in one or more of these cars. Ultimately, the 303 went to NORM where it will be restored as a Shaker Hts car (and in the short term operated sans-overhead with a generator car), and FRTM got the 304.

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.

The video is on YouTube...

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

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