“The Mysterious Train” A Vintage Approach to “Motion” Graphics (with some brandi

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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”.

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!

Photos of Electroliner coach and Tavern Lounge car interiors seen in illustrations above – January 1941. The festive animal murals and designs painted in the Tavern Lounge car were designed by Eleanor Wilkins, wife of Ken Wilkins Jr. who was 1st Assistant to the North Shore Line’s Master Mechanic Henry Cordell. Eleanor was also responsible for exterior paint schemes used on the Electroliner and the railway’s signature “Silverliners” from 1950 – simulating fluted aluminum siding. (Original Kodachrome transparency photo by Charles E. Keevil from the Walter R. Keevil collection)

In service careers of only 22 years, the twin trains each ran more than 3 million miles, carrying millio
ns 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