Pre Amtrak: Handling of through sleepers in the Chicago hub

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Thogo

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Looking at Official Guides of the 1940s and 1950s, one can find several through sleepers from coast to coast, many of which were going through Chicago. Now, Chicago had multiple termini for the various railroads... For example, in 1947 the New York Central handed over sleepers (all from New York City) to 4 different railroads in Chicago, only one of which left from the same terminus as the arriving train (La Salle Street):

Train no./name NYCArrival at La Salle Street Sta.Handed off to train no./nameTerminusDestinationDeparture time from terminus
NYC 19 (Lake Shore Limited)11:50 amCNW 27 (San Francisco Overland)C&NW TerminalSan Francisco3:00 pm
NYC 67 (Commodore Vanderbilt)7:40 am (every other day)CBQ 39 (Exposition Flyer)Union Sta.San Francisco12:45 pm
NYC 25 (20th Century Ltd.)8:00 amATSF 19 (Chief)Dearborn Sta.Los Angeles12:01 pm
NYC 63 (Water Level)9:20 amCNW 1 (Los Angeles Ltd.)C&NW TerminalLos Angeles12:01 pm
NYC 59 (Chicagoan)3:20 pm (every other day)CRIP 3 (Golden State)La Salle St Sta.Los Angeles9:30 pm

I have several questions arising from this:

1 - How were the sleepers transferred from one terminus to the other? (Like for the transfer to the C&NW, did they use the through track through Union Station, if that even existed back then, or did they run on (otherwise) freight-only trackage around the city?)
2 - Who operated these transfer trips? Was there a sleeper crew on board and from which company? Which train symbols were used for the transfer trip?
3 - What was the modus operandi on such trips? Did the train arrive at the terminus, and then the through sleepers got pulled out, or was the train unloaded, then moved to the yard and only then the sleepers got cut off? Or anything totally different?
4 - Was the sleeper to the Rock Island, which didn't change termini in Chicago, parked in the station, so the passengers could get off and on during the 6 hour layover, or was it parked on some yard track?

Any help on this is much appreciated!
 
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Did they actually transfer the car or was it sneaky marketing of a through-ticket? The livery company that handled the transferring passengers was notorious for lobbying against rail or transit connections (or I think consolidation into one station) for fear of losing business (I want to say Willits, but I don't feel like searching this morning). There certainly were plenty of tracks to transfer cars around though - there were a lot of weird commuter services in the city as well, but probably discontinued by this point (there is an article about abandoned commuter stations within the city on what are now freight only lines somewhere).
 

ehbowen

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Looking at Official Guides of the 1940s and 1950s, one can find several through sleepers from coast to coast, many of which were going through Chicago. Now, Chicago had multiple termini for the various railroads... For example, in 1947 the New York Central handed over sleepers (all from New York City) to 4 different railroads in Chicago, only one of which left from the same terminus as the arriving train (La Salle Street):

Train no./name NYCArrival at La Salle Street Sta.Handed off to train no./nameTerminusDestinationDeparture time from terminus
NYC 19 (Lake Shore Limited)11:50 amCNW 27 (San Francisco Overland)C&NW TerminalSan Francisco3:00 pm
NYC 67 (Commodore Vanderbilt)7:40 am (every other day)CBQ 39 (Exposition Flyer)Union Sta.San Francisco12:45 pm
NYC 25 (20th Century Ltd.)8:00 amATSF 19 (Chief)Dearborn Sta.Los Angeles12:01 pm
NYC 63 (Water Level)9:20 amCNW 1 (Los Angeles Ltd.)C&NW TerminalLos Angeles12:01 pm
NYC 59 (Chicagoan)3:20 pm (every other day)CRIP 3 (Golden State)La Salle St Sta.Los Angeles9:30 pm

I have several questions arising from this:

1 - How were the sleepers transferred from one terminus to the other? (Like for the transfer to the C&NW, did they use the through track through Union Station, if that even existed back then, or did they run on (otherwise) freight-only trackage around the city?)
2 - Who operated these transfer trips? Was there a sleeper crew on board and from which company? Which train symbols were used for the transfer trip?
3 - What was the modus operandi on such trips? Did the train arrive at the terminus, and then the through sleepers got pulled out, or was the train unloaded, then moved to the yard and only then the sleepers got cut off? Or anything totally different?
4 - Was the sleeper to the Rock Island, which didn't change termini in Chicago, parked in the station, so the passengers could get off and on during the 6 hour layover, or was it parked on some yard track?

Any help on this is much appreciated!
  1. The through track through Union Station was always part of the station design. In addition, though, there was an extensive network of trackage connecting the major terminals in Chicago. Remember, these tracks handled not only passengers at that time but also freight, mail, express, and even livestock for part of the period. I can't possibly go into all of the various interconnections and I don't know the local vernacular for these tracks, but for the three connections you mention: La Salle St. Station to North Western Station would most likely back out of La Salle, and then cross the river on the St. Charles Air Line (present track used by the City of New Orleans and other trains headed to/from the former Illinois Central main line). From there it would travel around the Chicago Loop on tracks owned by the C. & N. W. to Kedzie, where it would join the CNW main line west to Omaha and be switched into North Western Station. Headed to Union Station, the through car from the Commodore Vanderbilt would start out on the same route over the St. Charles Air Line but would then be switched off it back into Union Station, exactly as the City of New Orleans is today. La Salle Street to Dearborn Station was even easier; a transfer track from Santa Fe's Archer Street Yard connected directly with the throat leading into La Salle Street Station. (Reference here is A Railroad Atlas of the United States in 1946, Volume 4: Illinois, Wisconsin, & Upper Michigan, maps 117, 117C, 117E, 117L, and 117M.)
  2. I don't know exactly which company was responsible for which transfer, but unless I miss my guess they were most likely shared between the various railroads on a rotating basis. If not, they were probably operated by the railroad which owned the greater part of the tracks (such as North Western for its line encircling the Loop). Yes, there was a Pullman porter on board the car, although the incoming porter may have been relieved in Chicago. Passengers were permitted to occupy the car for the transfer but few did; see answers below.
  3. I'm not entirely certain of the operational scheme; I know that the railroads did want to service the cars as much as opportunity permitted (washing, etc.). Generally, though, when the train arrived at the station the through passengers detrained. They were given Parmelee Transfer coupons for a ride to the station from which their journey would resume. However, they didn't have to use these coupons; they had the option of remaining in the car and seeing the scenic industrial grit and grime of the Chicago Loop, or (much more likely) taking a cab to Marshall Field's or one of the museums to spend their layover between trains, then arranging their own transportation (i.e., take another cab) to the station from which their car would leave Chicago.
  4. If the car was to remain in the station it would be switched out of the incoming consist at some point, but unless actually being switched it would be parked on some track where passengers had access to it from the station at all times. There were tracks in all major stations (usually more than one) with shore steam and shore power connections to keep the cars comfortable during the layover.
I hope this helps!
 

ehbowen

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Did they actually transfer the car or was it sneaky marketing of a through-ticket? The livery company that handled the transferring passengers was notorious for lobbying against rail or transit connections (or I think consolidation into one station) for fear of losing business (I want to say Willits, but I don't feel like searching this morning). There certainly were plenty of tracks to transfer cars around though - there were a lot of weird commuter services in the city as well, but probably discontinued by this point (there is an article about abandoned commuter stations within the city on what are now freight only lines somewhere).
True enough in the years before WWII...but, for about ten years immediately following WWII, they did indeed transfer the actual cars, carry-on bags and (rarely, but possibly) passengers included. Some writer (I'm too lazy to look it up) had written a scathing article noting that a hog could make the trip from New York to California without changing cars, but he could not. Some time after that, the through transcontinental service started. However, when passenger service began to fall apart in the mid-to-late 1950s, the through cars were an early sacrifice.

Your idea was, in fact, used in New Orleans for a time, when there was a connection between the Crescent and the Sunset Limited...but no suitable trackage existed for transferring cars between the stations used by the Southern Pacific and the Louisville & Nashville (Edit To Add, in the years before the present New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal was completed in 1954). The way this worked (and it was advertised as such; no tricks) was that identical cars were assigned to each of the trains. When a westbound passenger arrived in New Orleans they would detrain at the L. & N. station on Canal Street and then go out into town to enjoy their layover. Meanwhile, their carry-on luggage and any other belongings were transferred by motor truck to Union Station and set into the corresponding rooms in that sleeping car. The passengers (assuming they didn't have too jolly a time!) would arrive at Union Station to find a room in the new sleeper identical to the one they had just left, with all of their luggage and belongings waiting for them.
 
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I think it Chicago it was more of a bus service between stations (don't know how luggage was handled).

I do remember the comment about the hog, but wouldn't most of them have changed phase in Chicago? Along with cows and such...

Long story short, back in those days people stopped to shop and see the sights that you couldn't see on Broadway. My downstairs neighbors growing up were one of the casualties of that - a romance from visits while changing trains & stations.
 

ehbowen

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I think it Chicago it was more of a bus service between stations (don't know how luggage was handled).

I do remember the comment about the hog, but wouldn't most of them have changed phase in Chicago? Along with cows and such...

Long story short, back in those days people stopped to shop and see the sights that you couldn't see on Broadway. My downstairs neighbors growing up were one of the casualties of that - a romance from visits while changing trains & stations.
The usual method of transfer between stations was by Parmelee Transfer. Parmelee had a City of Chicago monopoly (probably, knowing Chicago, obtained by liberally spreading $$$ around City Hall) on transfer services between railroad stations. When you bought your through tickets, along with the rail coupons you would get a Parmelee coupon. This would cover transfer of yourself and your hand baggage to the next station. Checked baggage, I believe, was normally transferred by truck (or wagon, in the really old days).

I understand that at some point the railroads attempted to break Parmelee's (very expensive) monopoly and started their own transfer service. I'd have to look it up, but apparently it was an epic battle.

Edit To Add: I don't believe that Parmelee used what we would consider "buses" today (kind of awkward in Chicago's cramped streets, and there usually weren't that many passengers connecting between stations), but I understand that they were very fond of vehicles like this Checker Aerobus, with a rack on the roof for hand luggage: (Source: Wikipedia)

800px-Checker_Aerobus_Glacier_MT1.jpg
 
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railiner

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Fascinating topic...thanks ehbowen, for all that info.
I can add to it, that Parmalee Transportation, which started in the horse and buggy era, evolved into Continental Air Transport, (no relation to CAL), which ran Chicago airport to Loop hotel service later.
And they sold the interstation franchise to Keeshin Charter Service, marketed as "Railroad Transfer Service" some time in the '50's or early '60's
 

Dakota 400

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I don't believe that Parmelee used what we would consider "buses"
I had several experiences using the Parmalee service between Union Station and C&NW Station. I recall a sedan type transfer; not a bus; not an elongated type of vehicle. We were transferring from/to a PRR train and a C&NW train (obviously). Transfer coupons were included with our rail tickets that my Mother purchased from PRR.

As a young person, I remember thinking that this transfer was done as a courtesy, i.e. free. Probably, the cost was part of our rail trip costs?
 
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Parmalee, that's the one! I think they still run buses for schools or did until relatively recently. I remember Continental - I can't remember the name of the van service from my area to the airport but I think it's the successor to that.
 

Thogo

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Thank you for the responses, that's fascinating! Is there any good book on the Chicago railroad hub (in pre-Amtrak times), describing the operations?

The passengers (assuming they didn't have too jolly a time!) would arrive at Union Station to find a room in the new sleeper identical to the one they had just left, with all of their luggage and belongings waiting for them.
Ha! A little bit of cheating. But I love that idea. 😂
 

jiml

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The way this worked (and it was advertised as such; no tricks) was that identical cars were assigned to each of the trains. When a westbound passenger arrived in New Orleans they would detrain at the L. & N. station on Canal Street and then go out into town to enjoy their layover. Meanwhile, their carry-on luggage and any other belongings were transferred by motor truck to Union Station and set into the corresponding rooms in that sleeping car. The passengers (assuming they didn't have too jolly a time!) would arrive at Union Station to find a room in the new sleeper identical to the one they had just left, with all of their luggage and belongings waiting for them.
VIA Rail used to pull this exact same stunt in Winnipeg when first merging the passenger operations of the two freight railroads. The main consist of The Canadian would come from Montreal, with a much shorter "feeder" train from Toronto meeting it in Winnipeg. The Toronto consist would be turned around for its return trip while passengers were sent off to a local hotel to freshen up. Staying on the train was not permitted, nor were most passengers aware of what was happening. Their belongings were moved to the same compartment on an identical sleeper in the main consist. (And I do mean identical - whether you came in on a former CN blue or black and white car or CP stainless, you got exactly the same leaving.) It happened to us on our first trip west in 1980. We don't know about the reverse trip since we returned on the Super Continental, which stayed intact for the entire trip.

By the next time the process had changed and the same car was physically transferred, but by then the inventory of rolling stock was being pruned leaving fewer identical cars.
 

railiner

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That 'stunt' was also employed by Continental Trailways bus line, on some "thru routes"....
Trailways was an association of sometimes independent smaller lines, that pooled equipment to provide no-change-of-bus on longer thru routes, where the bus was handed off from company to company. Each company contributed their proportionate share of equipment, which were all painted to look identical. Only the "fine print", also known as "the legal's", were lettered down below. Each of these pools, had a "home shop". Sometimes, the home shop happened to be in the middle of the thru route. In some cases, if there was another schedule from the home shop to one end of the thru route, they would employ those to get the pool equipment home for servicing. However, that was not always the case.

For example, Continental Trailways ran three daily New York to Los Angeles thru buses via Oklahoma and Amarillo. Continental Panhandle Lines, happened to be the "home shop" in Amarillo, for that pool. All of the other companies that contributed to that pool had their equipment maintained by Amarillo. They reciprocated on other pools, to balance mileage and costs. Since there were no other schedules on that route that could be used as 'service runs', they were forced to "cut" the thru bus from NY to LA in one direction. There were other periodic service points along the route...such as Pittsburgh, St. Lous, etc., where all passengers had to leave the bus for a rest and meal stop, and the bus was taken from the terminal over to the garage for servicing...usually about an hour or so.
Passenger's were allowed to leave there personal belongings on board, during this time. They reboarded after the stops, onto the same bus to continue on.

However, in this case at Amarillo, unbeknownst to them, unless they happened to remember the fleet number or sometimes different 'legals', they reboarded an identical bus. The service crews at the garage were trained to replace personal items, in the exact way they were left, if possible. If you left your sweater in the overhead rack, with a sleeve dangling over the edge...you would find it the same way when you reboarded. Remarkably, the illusion worked...:)
 

Palmland

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While this topic has strayed from Chicago connections, it is fascinating information about bus operations. Who knew? I was a frequent bus rider in college. My trips were usually a bus ride to catch a train. I remember one was Columbia, SC to Chattanooga to catch the train to Nashville and another was after an overnight ride on Southern's Birmingham Special with a bus ride Lynchburg to Richmond. I really preferred Continental buses as they seemed more comfortable and the front seat beside the door was great for 'helping' the driver.

I suppose there is someone who is as knowledgeable about airline operations in those days. For instance, my last ride on a prop plane (not counting commuter turbo props) was on an AA DC-6 substituted for the regular jet Washington to Memphis. The steak dinner they served was really good and I was paying only the student half fare rate. I guess it means that most of us enjoy using and discussing any kind of transportation. Although enjoying air travel is a bit of a stretch these days.
 

jiml

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So what happened if you had spread all your stuff out all over the compartment?
Fortunately we were aware of the stopover in advance, which included a day room at the nearby hotel to freshen up (no showers on trains then), so had thrown toiletries and loose items into a shoulder bag to take to the hotel. The few personal items still in the room were collected in a standard brown paper bag and were deposited with our luggage in the same compartment on the substitute sleeper. It was only on re-boarding we figured out what had happened. I do have to say my wife was not impressed with the "invasion of privacy", but fortunately she overcame it and we've been travelling by train ever since. ;)
 

railiner

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While this topic has strayed from Chicago connections, it is fascinating information about bus operations. Who knew? I was a frequent bus rider in college. My trips were usually a bus ride to catch a train. I remember one was Columbia, SC to Chattanooga to catch the train to Nashville and another was after an overnight ride on Southern's Birmingham Special with a bus ride Lynchburg to Richmond. I really preferred Continental buses as they seemed more comfortable and the front seat beside the door was great for 'helping' the driver.

I suppose there is someone who is as knowledgeable about airline operations in those days. For instance, my last ride on a prop plane (not counting commuter turbo props) was on an AA DC-6 substituted for the regular jet Washington to Memphis. The steak dinner they served was really good and I was paying only the student half fare rate. I guess it means that most of us enjoy using and discussing any kind of transportation. Although enjoying air travel is a bit of a stretch these days.
When you say you sat in "the front seat beside the door"...did you actually mean the seats right behind the stepwell? The reason I ask, is going back into the '50's, Trailways still operated some ACF-Brill's, that had a pair of seats in front (!) of the stepwell, right beside the driver....:cool:
 

Dakota 400

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When you say you sat in "the front seat beside the door"...did you actually mean the seats right behind the stepwell? The reason I ask, is going back into the '50's, Trailways still operated some ACF-Brill's, that had a pair of seats in front (!) of the stepwell, right beside the driver....:cool:
I remember there were 4 seats just in front of the steps leading to the upper level on the Greyhound buses that I rode when I was in college.
 

Bob Dylan

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[QUODakota 400, post: 840090, member: 8062"]
I remember there were 4 seats just in front of the steps leading to the upper level on the Greyhound buses that I rode when I was in college.
[/QUOTE]
Wasn't that a "Vista Cruiser" with the Bi-Level???
 

Palmland

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No, Railiner, this was the late 60’s and the bus seemed new. As you entered there were several steps to the driver and then a left turn and a couple steps to the seating area that seemed as high as the greyhound scenic cruiser. I liked that first seat on the left.
 

ehbowen

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No, Railiner, this was the late 60’s and the bus seemed new. As you entered there were several steps to the driver and then a left turn and a couple steps to the seating area that seemed as high as the greyhound scenic cruiser. I liked that first seat on the left.
Probably an early Eagle, then; sounds like it. I did see one of those ACF/Brills one time; it had been abandoned in a campground by an owner who had given up on converting it to a motorhome. If I'd had $3000 (scrap value) I could have bought it...but then what would I do with it?
 

railiner

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I remember there were 4 seats just in front of the steps leading to the upper level on the Greyhound buses that I rode when I was in college.
That was a Scenicruiser....built by General Motor's exclusively for Greyhound. It in fact had 10 seats and the restroom on the lower level, and 33 seats on the upper level.
 

railiner

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No, Railiner, this was the late 60’s and the bus seemed new. As you entered there were several steps to the driver and then a left turn and a couple steps to the seating area that seemed as high as the greyhound scenic cruiser. I liked that first seat on the left.
That was an Eagle. It was overall, the same height (11'2") as the Scenicruiser in the rear, but if you were seated on the upper level of the Scenicruiser, you actually were seated a little higher, as the seats were on elevated platforms, with a step down to the aisle. They also had upper deck windshields, that gave you a full view forward over the lower level, reminiscent of a Budd Vista-Dome, which inspired their design.
 

Willbridge

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VIA Rail used to pull this exact same stunt in Winnipeg when first merging the passenger operations of the two freight railroads. The main consist of The Canadian would come from Montreal, with a much shorter "feeder" train from Toronto meeting it in Winnipeg. The Toronto consist would be turned around for its return trip while passengers were sent off to a local hotel to freshen up. Staying on the train was not permitted, nor were most passengers aware of what was happening. Their belongings were moved to the same compartment on an identical sleeper in the main consist. (And I do mean identical - whether you came in on a former CN blue or black and white car or CP stainless, you got exactly the same leaving.) It happened to us on our first trip west in 1980. We don't know about the reverse trip since we returned on the Super Continental, which stayed intact for the entire trip.

By the next time the process had changed and the same car was physically transferred, but by then the inventory of rolling stock was being pruned leaving fewer identical cars.
I just found my trip report from Ottawa to Edmonton in 1977. Our E-series sleeper was pulled out as Bad Order in Winnipeg and replaced with another E-series car. My wife had remained on the train while our toddler son and I went into the station. She got a rare mileage trip out to the coach yard and back. All of our belongings were correctly transferred.
 

jiml

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I just found my trip report from Ottawa to Edmonton in 1977. Our E-series sleeper was pulled out as Bad Order in Winnipeg and replaced with another E-series car. My wife had remained on the train while our toddler son and I went into the station. She got a rare mileage trip out to the coach yard and back. All of our belongings were correctly transferred.
That's too funny! The incident I'm describing involved two E-series sleepers as well. One was the Ethelbert and other was Ell-something (Ellerslie, Ellsbury or similar). Don't remember which was which. Back then we didn't document everything on our smartphones, but I did keep notes. Staying on the train wasn't an option; you either paid the small premium (like $30) to add a Hotel Fort Garry coupon to your ticket or were required to wait in the station. "Everybody out!" The hotel was pretty nice and the voucher included a light lunch.
 
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