Sunday, February 23, 2020

Otto, IL: Junction Tower: IC vs. IC and Glass Insulators

(3D Satellite, Street View)

Karl Zumwait posted
Otto tower circa 1947
Rich Westerman Still there. No stairs, windows boarded up. I've heard that it contains signal electronics which is why its not been razed.
Jon Roma Yes, it still stands. Until both the Otto and Ashkum control points were upgraded a couple years ago by CN, the structures housed the signal hardware to run the plants. This may affect their future now that they no longer contain equipment.
Jon RomaBoth Otto and Ashkum ceased to be manned towers when the CTC machine controlling Otto-Gilman was installed in Gilman in 1950.
Trent Blasco Jon Roma what exactly did OTTO control. it does not look like a busy branch that connects to the main....
Erik Coleman Otto was the Junction of the Chicago District with the Bloomington District or "Bloomer" as it's called locally. The namesake shortline operates a large remnant of that branch, though CN still operates (for now) a small stretch from Otto to Herscher.
Nikki Burgess The Bloomington District also provided access to the Pontiac line at Saxony, south of Kempton. So when the tower was constructed there was far more traffic on and off the main at that point.
Jon Roma Otto's importance as an interlocking went far beyond the connection to the Bloomington District. It was the south end of three main tracks which happened to be the busiest stretch of the entire IC system. On the two-track portion to the south, IC instituted an early (1920s) example of bidirectional running on signal indication instead of train orders to handle the heavy traffic, which included everything from local freights and coal drags to banana trains and fast passenger trains.
Skip Luke Trent Blasco .... I have train sheets from the 1920s ..... Lot of trains back then. ..... Just figuring it in my head, though, in the 60s we had about 35 or 40 trains a day through there, depending somewhat on whether the lakes were iced over or not. That includes 13 passenger trains, 2 locals on the Bloomer, local roundtrip KKK to Gilman and back, 6 freights to and from Gilman Line (including hot auto parts,) through frts to and fro m down south, and coal trains and coal empties....
Of course, that was before W. B. Johnson, Illinois Central Goof and HamTrak.
If I feel.motivated I might drag out those old trainsheets.
Jon Roma I have digitized some old IC train sheets, and they can be found on my website at These files are downloadable high-resolution PDFs.
Sadly, I have not yet gotten around to digitizing a lot of Chicago District sheets, but there are a couple old ones featured there. The oldest one is from 1919, and lists 74 trains in 24 hour's time.
Jon Roma Trent Blasco, it's important to remember that today's trains are longer and carry more tonnage than the 80-car standard of yesteryear. It's absolutely true that the IC and other railroads lost a lot of traffic over the years, but comparing number of trains does not tell the whole story. The measure that matters is tonnage.
Trent Blasco Jon Roma yes very true however i suspect dispatching back then was much harder with all the traffic and no radios or computers to assist
Jon Roma Trent Blasco, a good dispatcher in that era didn't need a radio or computer or even a CTC board. All they needed was a train sheet, the block telephone or telegraph, and a lot of nicotine and caffeine.
Bear in mind that on double track with automatic block signals and passing tracks, the rule book and timetable pre-ordained that inferior trains got in the clear for superior ones, so the dispatcher didn't have to spoon-feed instructions to these trains. On top of that, the dispatcher had telegraphers in every depot five or ten miles apart (at least on day trick) giving "OS" reports.
So the dispatcher in the old days had plenty of eyes and ears from one end of his territory to the other, but he also had less technology (like CTC and radio) to help him out. So it's hard to compare then vs. now either.
One thing I can add is that old-time dispatchers had a relatively short life expectancy after retirement. The heavy smoking may have had a part, but the stress of the job was probably the most significant factor. Not only did we not understand the causes back then, the treatment options were pretty primitive too.
Trent Blasco Jon Roma oh i can see that. i move oversized equipment for a living and i am stressed just about all day. you dont feel it until you realize you are gripping things hard and not breathing right. holding your breath....etc

Jon Roma commented on  Karl's post
Here's a builder's photo of northernmost portion of the CTC machine that replaced the interlocking machines at Otto, Chebanse, Cifton, Ashkum, and North Gilman. This photo was taken on July 21, 1950 in the Union Switch & Signal factory at Swissvale, PA before being shipped to the IC. From paperwork in my files, the territory controlled by the individual towers mentioned was cut over to the new machines in stages.
Skip Luke Jon Roma ...... I spent a lot of time looking at that board.
Jon Roma I remember hearing a story about a CTC operator at Gilman who accidentally ran No. 53 through the Ashkum pass because he'd forgotten to check the switch before giving a lineup. He said that, when the delayed train was rolling through Gilman, he avoided going out to the platform to accept the nasty glares from the engine crew.
Skip Luke Jon Roma ..... Can't verify that one, but could happen. Would have to have been pre-radio or they'd have been turning the airwaves blue when they got that diverging signal.
Jon Roma Oh, the operator himself admitted to me his error (long after the "statute of limitations"). He didn't wind up in the doghouse because 53 made up all the lost time between Gilman and Champaign, back when speed limits were winked at more than they are today.

Jon Roma commented on  Karl's post
This scene is from the camera of railroad executive John W. Barriger III, and depicts a view looking north at Otto from the rear observation car of a southbound train.

The presence of the old depot/tower on the west (left) side of the track suggests an early date, but appears to me to be at odds with the vintage of automobile parked at the tower on the right, which is the one that still stands.

The Barriger library can be accessed at

Paul Jaenicke Jon Roma Road to the right of the tower must of been a local county or township road. Route 45 and 54 was further east from here. I 57 didn't come till late 1960's.
Mark Weg they call the road next to the tower Old 45....runs between Chebanse to the north and Clifton to the south ....and further.
Mark Rickert One on the left looks to be wood and the one on the right brick.
Skip Luke Mark Rickert ... Seems I remember the wooden structure was a combination tower/depot and survived for a while as a section house.
Jon Roma Mark, yes. Brick towers did not become a thing for the IC till the big modernization during the Markham presidency in the Twenties.

Sam Carlson posted
Death Stars through Otto, IL in June, 1997. Strange to say, 20 years later, the tower still stood.
I've seen this tower many times from I-55. I know it was at the north end of a small yard. What I did not know, until I looked on the SPV Map to find Otto, is that there was a branch that went west to Buckingham, IL, where it met a north/south branch. Tracks still go west to Herscher because of a grain elevator.

When driving south down I-57, I normally see at least some cars parked in the yard. Sometimes I would even see the CN caboose that is in the area. Of course, it is easier to see what is in the yard during the Winter.
Street View
You can tell the area is rather inaccessible because there are still glass insulators on the crossbars. Some collectors view taking them as "saving" rather than "stealing."
Street View, note the code poll still standing on the left side of this capture.
Street View

Sam Carlson commented on his post
Brian Voss I have to wonder how many hundred times NS wished they had never disposed of the Wabash main...
Sam Carlson When I was hauling crews, sometimes I'd have to go down to Otto (from Chicago) to dogcatch NS crews. Yeah, most of them bitched up a storm. But some liked it, because they could collect tow-in time, extra hours, final terminal time, and a host of other paycheck enhancing add ons. "If I was on the Wabash, I'd be running an engine now. Instead I'm getting paid big-time to sleep in the back of this van!"
Mark Egebrecht Sam Carlson
You mean Otto Junction where the IC Bloomer Line merged up with the IC New Orleans Main?
Sam Carlson Yup. Sometimes the NS trains just parked on the siding; other times they'd shove around the wye to get in the clear.
[Wabash got trackage rights to Decatur over the IC and then tore up their tracks.]
Harold J. Krewer Wasn't a branch, this was the Wabash's Chicago-Decatur main line. Crossed the Tip-Up at Forrest, then ran trackage rights over TP&W to Fairbury to reach the branch up to Pontiac and Streator.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Wilton, IL: Grain elevator with some wood buildings still standing


This is another town along the Grey Line where not much besides the grain elevator has survived. Whitaker is another.

Kevin Piper posted
Wilton, IL, 8-28-77
Corey Brandau What year were the tracks taken out of service or removed?
Junior Hill Corey Brandau Around 1977 I think.
Evie N Bob Bruns By mid 70's they stopped shipping anything out of there. Today it looks like they would be quite busy as would be Andres and Whitaker. Shame they shut it down so soon. We did bring in a lot of 90ft cars with wood and steel poles for Commonwealth Edison when they were building through there.
Bill Molony shared
Since 1977 they have added more legs and some big galvanized steel bins. But the old wood elevators are still standing.
Street View

Dennis DeBruler commented on Kevin's post
That town never was much more than the grain elevator. This is a 1939 aerial photo.
Kipp Meyers I count 14 cars in the siding

John Eagan commented on Kevin's post

John Eagan commented on Kevin's post
Junior Hill This would still be a healthy shipper to this day.
John Eagan Especially if it was on the KB&S...
John Eagan The Norfolk & Western was approached by this elevator, one at Andres, one at Manhattan, Commonwealth Edison (a power substation) and a tank farm around 1980 to continue service over the Milwaukee. Transaction Associates (Erie Western) was also interested in operating the entire CM&G plus the Milwaukee line from Chicago Heights to Danville. Nothing came of any of this except the N&W did provide service to the tank farm, and NS continues to do so to this day.
Kevin Piper There was talk of an NS intermodal facility south of Manhattan on old arsenal land, but nothing became of it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Peoria, IL: Union Stockyards


What amazed me about this stockyard was how late it was open. This yard opened in 1878 and closed in 2017.

Roger Kujawa posted
Peoria Union Stock Yard Postcard. 1920’s era.
David Jordan Most of it was torn down in 1997 to make room for a Freesen asphalt plant. The stockyards closed in December 2017.

Unlike most stockyards that were built by railroads, this one was built by a distillery so that the animals could consume the grain mash. Since Peoria became the "Whisky Capital of the World," it had a lot of grain mash to dispose of. Its longevity was probably because it never was dependent on the railroads. It served a more local environment. "By 1928, Peoria was the third largest truck market in the United States, and by 1935, 97 percent of hog receipts were transported by truck." [PeoriaMagazines]

Glen Snodgrass, Jun 2016

Mike Wettstein, Jan 2017

Digitally Zoomed

Peoria Historical Society posted
Bird's Eye View of the Stock Yards, Peoria, IL (ca. 1920)

One of several photos posted by pjstar in an article about the closing
The Peoria terminal hosted as many as 7,000 hogs per day and up to 2,000 head of cattle on days those animals were accepted when Swalve started working on the yard in 1974. More recently, the Peoria Stock Yards accepted cattle only on Mondays and would receive 10 to 15 animals. Hog numbers dwindled to low triple digits.
“The profit margin just became so small in the farming industry....You have to be so big and limit your expenses so much to be profitable,” Swalve said. “The big companies are raising and producing a lot of their own product. They’d be large enough that they didn’t need a middle guy like us.”

Monday, February 10, 2020

Joliet, IL: Joliet Army Ammunition (Elwood Ordnance) Plant

The oldest image I could find in Google Earth was 12-30-1984. The black lines are today's railroads superimposed on the old image. I kept them because they provide a "landmark" for comparing images of the area.
Google Earth, 12-30-1984
I zoomed in on the upper-left (below) because that obviously is where the buildings that made the ammunition were. The rows of roads south of the buildings would have been storage bunkers. It would be a bunch of little buildings covered with dirt with a minimum space between each building. That was so that if one of them blew up, there would not be a chain reaction to blow up the rest of the stored ammunition. I included quite a bit of land to the east because it looks like they built additional rows of storage bunkers over the years.  I confirmed with a 1939 aerial photo that this whole area was just farmland and trees before WWII.

Google Earth, 12-30-1984
BNSF tore all of the buildings down and built a big intermodal yard to compete with UP's Global 4 yard in the area. I don't know how much BNSF had to clean up the area before it used it because railyards themselves are considered "brownland."

Unfortunately, neither railroad helped widen I-80 to help handle all of the additional truck traffic they dump in the area. When I visit Brandon Road Lock and Dam, I avoid I-80 and IL-53 because I have seen them both at a standstill even when it is not rush hour. At least the stop-and-go traffic of the side streets has some "go." Even as far away as River Road, I saw more container trucks than cars on the road.

Some of the land was used to make the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery because the Chicagoland area did not have a National Cemetery option before that was made.

The southern part was repurposed as the Midewin National Tallgrass Prarie. The fact that it includes the land east to the former Wabash railroad indicates they did use that area for additional storage. In fact, the bunkers are still standing in some places. It looks like they quit covering them with dirt by the end of the war. Note that the buildings are staggered so that the brunt of a blast to the sides will miss the adjacent buildings.

The Joliet Army Training Area must be new because there currently is just farmland on the Satellite image.
Forgotten Railways posted
The sheer complexity and size of the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant is mesmerizing. Used in World War II and closed in the 80's, it became a superfund site and eventually the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. The ruins are still viewable on maps and most likely in person as well, although I'm not sure it's the best area to trespass, given it's owned by the government. A small part of the rail line is walkable as the Henslow Trail, which uses the bridge over IL-53, which was the original route of US-66. Lots and lots of history in quite a small area!
Source: USGS 1954 Wilmington 1:62500 map.
Patrick Finn Parts of the old bunker areas are open as part of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. I've done some exploring out there... lots of old storage bunkers and a WW2 "Bailey Bridge" but I did not come across any traces of the old rail network.
Ted Fisk I too have walked around Midewin and seen many bunkers, but almost no evidence of the railroad. But you might see the herd of bison.

AJ Grigg shared

Michael Buckley Bnsf bought most of it and made the LPC rail yard and they made a National Cemetary on other . I don't know how much the Goverment still ownes yet . To the west end of LPC there were still cement ammo bunkers left yet . I had heard there were 400 miles track at on tile there . Santa Fe switched the north side and IC switched the east dont know if GMO did anything there . We would pick up at Blogett by old rt 66 and empty s on so tk across from Mobile oil .
Patrick Finn commented on the above posting
One of the bunkers
The following two photos and captions are from AbandonedRaillines shared by AJ Grigg

From the Chicago Tribune, "Jan. 20, 1958: A fully-automated shell-filling line designed and built by Mechanics Research Department of American Machine & Foundry Company for the Joliet Arsenal. Key stations along the assembly line were observed on five television monitors by a single-operator seated at a remote console. — Tribune Archive photo / Chicago Tribune, July 29, 2014"
From the Chicago Tribune:"Jan. 24, 1994: An aerial view shows part of the 19,000 acres of the former Joliet Arsenal that eventually became the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie." — Tribune Archive photo / Chicago Tribune, July 29, 2014

Richard Mead posted
Internet download...running down the Joliet Arsenal spur, 1969
John George Where is the exact location of this photo Richard Mead?
Richard Mead Alongside the Wabash, south of the junction.
Mark Stoeckel Didn’t realize the “Gary Line” served the arsenal as well as the Alton/GM&O and the Wabash.
Brian Skrabutenas Mark Stoeckel the Gary line also interchange the GM&O Plaines yard in Joliet.
John Petit At one time someone fill the switch points full of concrete for the arsenal lead, was 71 or 72.
Midewin Heritage Association posted two photos with the comment: "Stumbled across these photos, thought I'd share."
Bill Molony shared.


Dennis DeBruler commented on Bill's share
 The land has been reused as the BNSF intermodal yard, Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, and the Midewin National Tall Grass Prairie.

Dennis DeBruler commented on Bill's share
On topo maps, the railroad is labeled U S GOVERNMENT. It connected to the Santa Fe on the west side and the Wabash on the east side.
1953 Symerton, 1954 Wilmington, 1954 Channahan and 1953 Elwood Quadrangles @ 1:24,000

A share of an album of 32 photos
Erick Schroeder This place is huge!! I’ve been in there several times for work before they tore down most of it. What an incredible place. It covered 35 square miles!

A Flickr album

Friday, February 7, 2020

Kankakee, IL: Tower KX: CN/IC vs. NS/NYC vs. KB&S/Big Four

(3D Satellite)
NorthAmericanInterlockings:   photo   diagram

KB&S = Kankakee, Beaverville & Southern Railroad

Steve Drassler posted
Just came across this photo of KX Tower in Kankakee, ICRR and NYC RR crossing. The low brick building still stands, watching over the same diamond, the same steel, just different railroad names—CN and NS.
Dennis DeBruler This higher resolution photo shows that the tower controlled traffic for the Big Four as well as the NYC Kankakee Belt.
Dennis DeBruler This is where the Big Four from Indianapolis connected with the IC for access to the Chicago market.

Steve Drassler posted
Charlie DeWeese I worked third trick there in the summer of 1958 or 1959, in the brick building, not the two-story building; it was gone.

Steve Drassler posted
Dick Bidwell shared
Rich Westerman Right behind the cameraman in this photo is the 'wye' interchange track from the NYC. When I worked swing shift pickle clerk I had to walk the wye to confirm deliveries from the NYC and I would stop by for a cuppa with the operator. Can't recall his name now. factoid: somebody once took a shot at me from the east side of the tracks one night. they missed but put a hole in a boxcar full of dogfood from GF. From then on I walked the west side of the wye.
Billy Irvin Rich Westerman I remember my first trip to East St Louis as a student conductor. We were getting ready to climb off the engine and tie the train down, So I naturally flipped my lantern on. The guy I was training with asked what the hell I was doing turning that light on. He told me the locals liked to take pot shots at the lights. I happily set handbrakes in the dark!
Charlie DeWeese When I worked third trick at KX the summer of 1958 or 1959, the office was in the one-story brick building and the tower was gone, except for the foundation as I recall.
Jon Roma I have heard that an employee at "KX" was held up at gunpoint during third trick in the Seventies or Eighties. I think that led to the railroad putting up a locked chain link fence around the brick "tower".
"KX" was closed and the plant converted to remote control in the mid Eighties. Its demise came before the single-tracking project that preceded the closing of the rest of IC's string of towers in central Illinois.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Fort Wayne, IN: Canal Feeder Dam and Robison Amusement Park, 1896-1919

Park: (Satellite, ''the back-half of today’s North Pointe Woods housing addition")
Feeder Dam: (Satellite, it is long gone)

Like Dellwood Park near Chicago, Robison Park was built by an interurban railroad. In this case it was the Fort Wayne Consolidated Railway Company. But what caught my eye is the feeder canal lake that this park reused. Since the park closed in 1919 when the interurban was killed by the automobile and paved roads, it is hard to find the location of the dam. Actually, the dam itself was destroyed by a flood in 1905. The oldest topos and aerials I found were in the 1950s. Fortunately, I found this map because my speculation of where it was based on topo map contour lines was wrong.

OOcities-dam via an archive


Becky Osbun commented on a post
Open electric trolley which ran to Robison Park, Fort Wayne 1896-1918. - ACPL Community Album

Noting that river boating proved very successful at Centlivre Park, the trolley company bought what was known as the Swift Farm - a 250-acre spread just north of the old "feeder canal" dam near present-day Shoaff Park. It had been a popular rural picnic spot since Fort Wayne's canal days.
A 230-foot-long dam of heavy timbers and debris had been built there in 1834 to maintain proper water levels in the main channel of the great Wabash & Erie Canal. The 17-foot-deep dam also created a lagoon behind it and deepened the St. Joseph River for boating.
Even though the canal (1843-1876) was closed, much of what is now Riverbend Golf Course was still under water when the park was built along the west side of the river. [FortWayneReader] But, like the Wabash & Erie Canal, the park never paid for itself. [OOcities-park; This page has details concerning the dates of the amusement rides and the replacement of the dam that was destroyed in 1905 by a flood. Unfortunately, the nine Allen County Library photos are broken.]

Robison Park at night, Fort Wayne, Indiana, circa 1911

Dance Pavilion, Robinson Park, Fort Wayne, Indiana, circa 1930


Monday, February 3, 2020

Chicago, IL: GTW Chicago Lawn Depot

(Satellite, the satellite must have caught it after it was torn down in 2017 and before it was back filled with dirt.)

r_bitunjac Flickr
Unfortunately , due to a small fire inside of the old Gran Trunk Railway depot during Aug of 2016 the railway finally decided to start demolishing the old railway way depot Aug 8, 9. 10 th of 2017.

Really looked neat inside , there was a tavern named Traxx during the 90 s and once the wood paneling came down you can see marking on the walls for Grand Trunk Passengers.

Cement stairs were still in tact and lead to the platform .

Near the back a sign G.T.W along with markings B O RR PAMA OHIO, KANOSHA, ENGINE MEN ONLY , Leads to an elevator that goes up past the platform and above the platform to a tower where a large round spotlight faces the South .

There was always a debate over the address but I did find original number to match 3601 W 63 Street above the front original doors looking in from the inside.

Mark Kocol shared
Grew up by Midway Airport in the 70s and 80s, drove past this building ( hundreds of times. When the Orange Line went in, that was what I believed was the first commuter line through the Chicago Lawn neighborhood. I was wrong, obviously. Stumbled on a YouTube video ( showing a commuter train approaching 63rd & Halsted, did some poking around, and found that this station at 63rd & Central Park was part of the GTW commuter line, I believe, just like the video at 63rd/Halsted. According to a Forgotten Chicago URL (,13884), this structure replaced the original commuter station that had been on the West side of these tracks, at street level, until sometime in the 1930s. Any history of this commuter line, and this station in particular? Living in the far SW suburbs now and cross the tracks through Glenwood daily - looks like this same line through Chicago Lawn came through Glenwood, too?
Chuck Roth Grand Trunk did have commuter service to Valparaiso in the early 1900s it was all over by the early 30s But this station served the inter city trains mainly to Michigan into the early 70s.
Alan Follett Two different stations are shown. The still photo is the Grand Trunk Western’s Chicago Lawn station, around 3600 west on 63rd. The video, however, is farther east, at the Chicago & Western Indiana’s Englewood Station (called “Little Englewood,” to distinguish it from the larger Englewood Union Station used by PRR, NYC, Rock Island, and Nickel Plate).
Ron Hull In the mid 70’s after the passenger trains were gone, the ground floor of this station (63rd and St. Louis in Chicago Lawn) became a railroad themed restaurant. We’d eaten there a few times - it was a nice place with a good menu and really good food. Sorry to have seen it shut down in the 80’s.
Mitch Markovitz Just think. Until 1971 you could catch either the day train (Maple Leaf) or the overnight train (The International) to Toronto, and the evening train to Detroit from this station on the Grand Trunk.
Rotwang Manteuffel I found this out about the GTW line... "Until 1935, this route had commuter service from Chicago to Harvey. And prior to then, some commuter trains went beyond, to Valparaiso. Between Chicago/Dearborn Station and 47th St., trains operated over the Chicago & Western Indiana, which had its own local commuter trains. Intercity trains operated until the formation of Amtrak in 1971, with Chicago Lawn, Valparaiso and South Bend the only surviving stations when passenger service was discontinued." The station had an elevator for baggage and freight.

Dennis DeBruler commented on Mark's post
A 2015 street view still shows the building.!3m6!1e1!3m4...

Dennis DeBruler commented on Mark's post
But a 2018 view shows the building has been replaced with dirt.!3m6!1e1!3m4...

1938 Aerial Photo from ILHAP