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Midwest Rail Rangers Visit the CTA Heritage Fleet

Midwest Rail Rangers Visit the CTA Heritage Fleet

A Ride on Historic 1920's "El" Cars on Various Chicago Elevated Lines of Today


By Robert Tabern - President, Midwest Rail Rangers &
Kandace Tabern - Educational Officer, Midwest Rail Rangers

Published: May 17, 2019

On Saturday, May 11, 2019 we had the very rare opportunity to ride on a 1920’s CTA car on various main lines of the CTA… it was part of a special fundraiser excursion for the Fox River Trolley Museum in the western suburbs of Chicago.

The morning began around 7:15am when we arrived at the grade crossing south of the Linden Avenue Purple Line Station. Our hopes were to get some video of the historic CTA cars coming in. The only thing posted about their arrival time was a mention on the excursion website that said boarding would begin at 8:00am. So, we figured a safe time to get some photos of it coming in from the Skokie Shops was 7:15am. We hung around the grade crossing, along with several other folks also hoping to get photos.  8:00am rolled around and NOTHING. Apparently it was delayed... and a track crew near the crossing told us that it wouldn't be coming until 8:25am now. That was pretty much right on the money and we go our video of the two cars coming in. A lot of people might not know that there are indeed several grade crossings on the CTA --- including the Brown, Yellow, and Purple Lines.  Linden... were we were headed... was a stop on the old North Shore Line. This is the last point northbound passengers could transfer between the CTA and the North Shore Line to Milwaukee.

After getting our video, we headed to the station to get special media access to the train before all of the passengers boarded. TrainWeb and WLS, the ABC station in Chicago, were the only two outlets to show up to cover the train departure!  We had about 20 minutes to get whatever photos and interviews before passengers boarded the excursion at around 8:45am.

While most of those who bought tickets were from the Chicagoland area, some people came in as far away as Boston, MA to ride the trip we found out when chatting with those waiting in line to take the group photo.

The two cars that we rode in… #4271 and #4272… were built between 1922 and 1924. In some ways, many of the functional attributes of these cars were not much different than that of the earliest 'L' cars and electric streetcars in Chicago. One improvement these cars had over their predecessors was added safety; these came with a body of steel where older cars were made of wood. These also features more common of rapid transit cars of their era… wooden interior floors, cushioned plush seats, and electrically-controlled pocket doors (like cars have today). A keen eye might notice the trolley poles mounted on top --- this was so they could run in areas where the CTA had overhead trolley wires instead of third rail, such as in Evanston.







The cars were outfitted with sash windows passengers could open for air, a collapsible cab the motorman would operate from, and originally had plush seats (later replaced with cushioned vinyl that was on our excursion train).

Initially, these cars would have a conductor who would stand outside, between each car and open the doors immediately adjacent him at every stop…rain or shine… or yes, even in a good ol’ Chicago blizzard. Later, the cars were upgraded to allow for all the doors to be open from one place, but conductors still generally did this from outside the cars.

These cars tended to max out around 45mph… about 10mph less than the modern-day cars.






The 4000-series cars… including the two that were used for the May 11, 2019 excursion were retired in 1973… and either sold off or scrapped. These are the only two maintained by CTA, today… and remain on the “active roster” of cars now… even though they are only used a few times every year for special charters or promotional events.

On the excursion we learned that George Krambles was one of the main people responsible for saving the #4271 and #4272.  He brought the cars to the CTA Skokie Shops for restoration. Krambles chose these two cars out of all the other cars they were bring retired because they happened to be the last pair to receive a full overhaul… and thus would need the least amount of work to be brought to good operating condition. The cars were also a good choice because they didn't have any of the modernized side or end windows (other than the windows on the vestibule doors, of course) that many of the other 4000’s had received. The cars received an ATC system (so they could run on the modern "L" safely for excursions like the one we went on this weekend), the burnt orange and brown CRT paint scheme, and historic pictures and memorabilia inside.














The May 11, 2019 excursion that we took ran on various lines of the CTA… including the Purple Line, Red Line, Green Line, and Orange Line. None of the regular stops were made, however there were some very brief photo stops at regular stops made… such as at the downtown Washington/Wabash Station. A lot of people were excited to ride the Orange Line, as the crews aboard the train mentioned this was only the second time in the cars' history that they were ever taken to the end of the Orange Line at Midway Airport.

The evening concluded around 5:00pm with the train's arrival into Howard Street on the Chicago/Evanston Border (and the end of the Red Line). Passengers who boarded at Linden had to take a regular Purple Line Train to their cars... as the historic cars would be dead-heading back to the CTA Skokie Shops, which is on the Yellow Line, halfway between Howard and Dempster Street.

What a fun day on some historic cars!  If you didn't get the chance to ride --- rumors is the CTA and Fox Valley Trolley Museum might be planning a repeat of this excursion either in late 2019 or in 2020 --- especially since this trip sold out so fast.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider learning more about the Midwest Rail Rangers. We are an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides on-board educational programs on private and public rail excursions across the Upper Midwest -- including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Did you know that Midwest Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides ride aboard the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana two to three weekends per month year-round?  It's a great program that you can attend for no more than the cost of a regular ticket to learn about all of the people, places and history passing by outside your window. Our Guides are occasionally part of various Amtrak Coach Charters (with the 20th Century Railroad Club) and private rail excursions on historic rail cars from the 40's and 50's.  Check out for more information... or drop our Board of Directors an e-mail at is a proud supporter of the Midwest Rail Rangers.

The Midwest Rail Rangers have also researched, written, and published a large series of railroad route guidebooks. Books are available for both train lines in the Upper Midwest and across the United States.  Your purchase of our route guidebooks is the number one source of funding for our non-profit organization --- plus they're very popular for passengers looking to enhance their experience aboard their train ride. We also have our guidebooks now available in E-Book PDF format and MP3 podcast format for immediate download on to your electronic device.  Check out for more on our guidebooks, e-books, and MP3 guides.


WGN News Report on CTA Heritage Fleet


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