"The Mysterious Train" A Vintage Approach to "Motion" Graphics (with some branding thrown in for good measure)

This is my first posting for Imprint and I couldn’t be more thrilled to join these prestigious ranks! There will be no rhyme or reason to any of these posts other than trying to find fun visual stuff you might not have seen before. I suspect I’ll also be presenting things with some sort of a personal story attached. The majority of the material you’ll see is from the collection I’ve amassed since I was a kid. Up to this point I’ve used Facebook to share this stuff—it’ll be terrific to expand my reach even more with Imprint!

I’ve been told “Welcome Aboard!” by my gracious editor Aaron Kenedi, so I figured that something concerning trains would be apropos as my first entry!

When I was 5-6 years old my Mom and I would take the “L” to church every Sunday between suburban Evanston, Illinois and Chicago. The trains of the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) were colorful yet hardly eye-popping, but each Sunday I used to see one train that was the exception to the normal livery. It was deep turquoise with salmon red stripes and get this – silver lightening bolts on its sides. It would zip up to the station platform, and after a very brief stop it would disappear from the terminal and down a distant curve. My mom and uncle had dubbed it “The Mysterious Train”. To a kid of my age, the existence of this outrageous looking train was pure magic!

Turns out “The Mysterious Train” was actually an “Electroliner”. These trains ran on the tracks of the Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee Ry (The North Shore Line) and the CRT (Chicago Rapid Transit — later the CTA) between 1941 and the railway’s abandonment in 1963. The “World’s First All Electric Streamliners” traveled the round-trip between the downtown Chicago “Loop” and the heart of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, about 85 miles away. There were two 4 car articulated sets built and they routinely hit 90 miles per hour during their “5 trips each way daily”.

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By the late 1930′s, the North Shore Line’s business had been decimated by the Great Depression, leading to receivership and a dip in employee morale. It was the era of “Streamlining” and it was time for the North Shore to get up to date. The modern, aerodynamic styling of the Burlington Route’s 1934 stainless-steel “Pioneer Zephyr” diesel streamliner appealed to the imagination of the North Shore’s management. In 1939 they took a huge financial risk and ordered the production of the two trains. The North Shore could now compete on a Chicago/Milwaukee schedule with the new “400”, and Otto Kuhler designed “Hiawatha”steam-streamliners which travelled on the paralleling Chicago & North Western and Milwaukee Road railroads.

The Electroliners were designed by the architectural/design firm James F. Eppenstein Associates. I can’t think of any train with such a distinctive (and labor-intensive) paint scheme. Each stripe had to be hand-masked and painted. Within a year’s time the Electroliners had evolved into being the defining image of The North Shore Line – they had become the railway’s branding tool!

In service careers of only 22 years, the twin trains each ran more than 3 million miles, carrying millions of riders who enjoyed the comforts of air-conditioning, plus the luxury offered by a tidy, compact tavern-lounge car.

Upon the North Shore Line’s demise, the Electroliners were purchased by Philadephia’s “Red Arrow Lines” where they ran from 1964 to approximately 1976 as “Liberty Liners”.

One set now resides at the Rockhill Trolley Museum in Orbisonia, Pennsylvania, awaiting restoration.

The other is lovingly attended to in beautifully restored condition at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois.

Special thanks to Walter Keevil, John Horachek, Mitch Markovitz, and Corrie Lebens for their help!

*All images courtesy of the author

27 thoughts on “"The Mysterious Train" A Vintage Approach to "Motion" Graphics (with some branding thrown in for good measure)

  1. Woody Massara

    Only rode them once, in 1958 with Howard Odinius as motorman. Can’t remeber the speed we attained, but it was substantial. Great piece of rolling stock–glad they are both preserved. The North Shore was a real joy.

  2. Neal Millman

    When I was 9 or 10 years old, I remember taking the “L” back home from downtown Chicago.  I took an A or B train to the Belmont station to change for the Ravenswood.  While I was waiting at the Belmont station, a northbound Electroliner pulled up along side me and stopped at the station.  I remember looking into the dining car and seeing a rose in a vase on one of the tables.  What a cool looking train!!  I never did get to ride an Electroliner or any other train on the North Shore Line.  But when I got a little older, me and some friends rode the SOUTH Shore Line from downtown Chicago to the end of the line at South Bend and back.

  3. Lou Gerard

    Great article on the ‘Liners J.J.! I used to see them go by on the’L’ when I was growing up in Rogers Park near the Morse stop. I took a couple of box camera shots of them and rode them a few times including on the last full day of sevice Jan. 20, 1963. My dream really came true when we got the 801-802 at the Illinois Railway Museum. I helped work on her from the beginning to getting her painted and bodywork and partcipating in the 50th anniversary run in Feb. 1991. Getting to run the ‘Liner on many occations was something I had only dreamed of. Thanks for the memories!!!!

  4. Tony Burba

    I just want to second Post No. 11 about the amazing speed of the Liners, which I experienced many times. When I was at the University of Illinois in Urbana in the early ’60s, my trips home to Waukegan, Ill. started with an Illinois Central mail train that left Champaign at 4:30 a.m. and arrived at Central Station in Chicago at about 7:30,  just enough time to walk the couple of blocks over to the North Shore Roosevelt Road terminal and be first in line for the “railfan seat” on the first northbound Liner of the day. I, too, saw the speedometer read well over 90 on the Skokie Valley mainliine. And whether it had been jiggered or not, you can’t argue with the fact that these trains went from the Chicago city limits to the Milwaukee city limits in just about an hour, making four stops along the way (North Chicago Junction, Waukegan, Kenosha, and Racine). I once made an audio tape of the whole ride from Roosevelt Road into Waukegan, which I may still have somewhere. Many happy memories!

  5. Walter Keevil

    Great piece!  Like all the objects, too.  They complement the photos.  Liked the exhibition ticket, especially.  Didn’t know the exact time of the Liner at Wells St. Terminal, though have photos of same.  It was a dark and cold day!

  6. Graham

    Thanks for putting this together, JJ! I’ve always loved the streamlined Deco styling of those units. The graphics are so visually rich — from the trains themselves to the promotional materials. I love that style. The Keevil shots were a great addition. Fantastic photos, and to see some of those details (like in the interior of the lounge car) in color — whoo-ee!

  7. Creyes

    I’m not a train buff by any means, but have taken the modern-day Haiwatha from Milwaukee to Chicago, and I enjoy seeing the history of things. Thank you for posting this article. It was really fun to see and learn how it evolved… and of course I enjoyed the vintage graphics and color palettes!!! Thank you!

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  9. Frank Shoop Jr

    I have a up date for this site
    The Liner stored at the Rockhill Trolley Museum is stored inside and it has been for 12- 15 years the photo you have is of one of the days we had it out for the member to play some and by the way it runs yes we ran the car to the end of our trolley line

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  11. trolleychai

    I remember riding these as a small child on the North Shore.   Later, I rode them on the Red Arrow as Liberty Liners, but my fondest memories are from the run to Milwaukee and having an Electroburger in the tavern car.

  12. J. J. Sedelmaier

    From Hank Raudenbush:
    Just a few comments. You’ll undoubtedly get much more, (and perhaps more accurate) from Chicago fans!    Re Speed:  The Electroliners made Chicago-Milwaukee in 1:55.  Of that time, about 40minutes was spent on the Chicago L from Roosevelt Rd to Howard St; another 20 minutes was spent in the streets of Milwaukee.  So the rest of the 85 miles had to be covered in about an hour!    I once sat in the railfan seat on the head end, when the motorman had the cab door open, and I could see the speedometer.  For a solid ten miles between N.Chicago Jct and Lake Bluff, the needle jiggled between 92 and 94.   That was routine on the CNS&M.   Even the old heavyweight cars generally ran at 80 or a little better; those cars made Chicago-Milwaukee in 2 hours even, on the hourly expresses between ‘Liners.       All three of those Insull-owned interurbans ran like that.  I have seen 80+ on the speedometers on the South Shore and on the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin.  On the CA&E, one of the 1946-vintage cars arrived at Wheaton coming from Aurora; another one of the same type arrived from Elgin, and these were coupled with two of the 1920 vintage steel cars.  The train then continued into Chicago as an express.  Got up to 70 pretty quickly, then slowed to about 60 going through Glen Ellen, but after that, up to 80.   Now, of course the speedometers might not be calibrated exactly correct, but I doubt that they’d be too far off.   The two Electroliners covered 5 round trips every day, so each one ran 425 miles per day.   Each was at the Harrison St carbarn in Milwaukee on alternate nights.       Great memories!

  13. Russ Jackson

    Nicely done piece of work.
    The trains were designed for 100 mph operation, and did it on test.  Because of concerns with grade crossings and the later ICC/FRA imposed speed limit of 79 mph for operations that do not employ a signal system that initiates emergency braking when a red signal is passed, the motor control circuitry was modified to produce a maximum speed of about 80 mph.  (these regulations are still in force on all US railroads.) When the operating people complained that a train seemed a bit slow, the maintenance staff would “tweak” the speedometer.  So readings of near 90 mph were observed at times, usually on a downgrade.

  14. Jim Currie

    Thanks J.J. – Very cool.  I don’t remember seeing these trains myself, but they’re very cool.  And to think that here’s another idea of an idea both right for its time and then slightly ahead of its time – all electric and (at least relatively – in deference to Howard’s concerns) high speed.  And a document of its time with the advertising card for the service – the riders and servers.

  15. Ray Cosyn

    What a wonderful piece of work. I too remember the Electroliners and thier speed and color. As a youngster , my mother and I would take the shore line to Wilmette and I remember we couldn’t take the Electroliners as they ran on the Skokie Valley line. I understand that in the 1950s on a test run they had the train running at speeds approaching 120MPH, in full parallel operation. That must have been quite a rush.

  16. Tom

    Nice stuff–  I’ll be at the Illinois Railroad Museum next weekend.  Wish me luck getting the kids to turn their attention from Thomas the Tank Engine.   Look at the great graphics on this one, boys!

  17. Ron Crawford

    I regularly peddaled just above Wilmette steering onto the bike path straight as an arrow and smooth as can be that goes all the way to Lake Forest. This is the old bed for the Northshore rails. As I remember I often hit 90 mph.

  18. Howard

    Thanks, JJ.  I too grew up in Chicago and was facsinated by trains.  My favorite was the red Ravenswood El train.  I do not recall ever seeing the North Shore Electroliner.  Where’s the citation that you can prove that the trains routinely hit 90 mph?  It sounds a little wishful thinking on the part of avid enthusiasts like yourself.  Perhaps in your next post you can give us the schedules in case anyone wants to time travel.

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