Sunday, February 1, 2009

South Shore

Though it has been 44 years since we lived in Chicago, I have maintained a strange fascination with the South Shore Train, that runs from downtown Chicago, east to South Bend.

Growing up in a farming community in central Ohio, I had always heard and read about these “commuter trains”, that bring “suburban” residents into the “City”. Most ride those trains, I think, to get from home to work. But, not only workers ride them - housewives, students, visiting relatives and a lot of other types of folk do also. (As well as inquisitive Senior Citizens like me.)

Since I’m an avid reader, I recall MANY instances where the author refers to one of his characters as “taking the 6:17”, or having the character’s wife meet him at the “5:49” with the car to take him home.

Many of these stories were located in the New York and suburban area, but there are sizable numbers of “commuters” to London, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Paris and other “large” metropolitan areas as well.

When we first moved to Chicago in 1954, my sister and her family lived in West Chicago, a “suburban wannabe” west of Wheaton - though just a short driving distance from the Chicago Northwestern train station there.

Occasionally, we stayed over several nights with them (they had two boys near our kids’ ages.) When we did so, I still had to be at “work” (a term I hate when referring to my participation in the ministry), so I drove to Wheaton, got on the CNW train at about 6 AM, and rode to Chicago, then took the EL to Moody - arriving before 8:00.

At maybe 5 PM, it was back to the train again, arriving at West Chicago at nearly 7:00.

What a waste of time! But………..not for everyone!

I’m told that, on the “commute” back and forth between Chicago and Wheaton in those days, Ken Taylor, Director of Moody Press, translated the New Testament into what was eventually the “Good News for Modern Man” I remember seeing him on that train. ( So, THAT’S what he was doing!)

When we lived in Chicago, it was on the North Side. We had no contact with any train that ran from the “Loop”, south past the suburbs, then east along the southern edge of Lake Michigan, to South Bend, IN.

I KNEW some folk who rode the South Shore. Some of my fellow workers, in fact. They also had to take the EL to Moody, a mile or so north, or else walk the whole distance.

In fact, after we moved to Ohio, but visited family in Chicago, I heard that one of the on-air personalities on WMBI lived “way down” in Northern Indiana, and of all things, took the South Shore every day. When driving back to Ohio, we would drive along that track for some time, and I always marveled at the fact that he took that train, EVERY DAY.

But, such is “suburban living”.

Wonder of wonders - I discovered that it was an ELECTRIC train. Memories of my childhood and my “Lionel” Electric Train. (No third rail, though. It ran like a “trolley”. Still does.)

The South Shore is properly called the “Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District” (NICTD, for short), and though I always assumed their offices were in Chicago, in fact, they are a short distance from a scenic little town - with offices at one of the “stops” on the South Shore, called “Dune Park”.

When we moved in 2007 to a spot not many miles from the South Shore, I regained my interest and enthusiasm for it. Though my wife Jean was in a wheel chair, I wanted us to ride that train just once, for the first time since my early knowledge of it. I even drove with her along US 12 to watch the train go by, and once, stopped at a station called “Beverly Shores”,
to again observe the train, and go into the station. Since we both grew up in a small town, we were enthralled. (Does that make us “hicks”?

The train does have facilities for wheel chairs, but before I could arrange for her and me to ride the train together, she entered a Nursing Home, never to return. She went to be with the Lord on October 19, 2008. What a love we had for each other!

My first ride on the South Shore was to South Bend, to then take a plane to Florida in order to visit our granddaughters, whom we hadn’t seen for five years. Thrill!

Coming back, though, I ALMOST got stuck on the train at our station, since I didn’t know which door would open to get out. There are sometimes as many as eight cars. I looked out the window and saw my son searching for me. Finally, I had enough presence of mind to ask the Conductor (It’s a “guy” thing not to) which door was open. Since then, when I surrender my ticket, or pay my fare, I ask which door will open at my stop. I sit near that one! (I did that today!)

An official at Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District has supplied me with some historic, and other interesting material. Actually, it’s a large, 3-column, small type document, on and 8 ½ X 11 sheet. I think I can condense it, giving the gist of the history.

What is now called the South Shore, began in 1903 as “The Chicago & Indiana Air Line Railway” - consisting of basically a “street car” between Indiana Harbor and East Chicago - all in Indiana, of course.

Then, in 1908, the name shortened to Lake Shore, it ran 68.9 miles from Hammond to South Bend. It included trains every two hours from Michigan City to SB. By 1909 they provided service to Pullman, Illinois, with a chance to change trains for downtown Chicago.

In reading the history, one can see several financial difficulties, including some bankruptcies.

In June 1925, Samuel Insull bought the railroad at an auction, and began modernizing and updating the system - moving from an AC power system, to the current 1500 volt DC system. This permitted the South Shore trains to “operate directly and continuously over the trackage of the Illinois Central Railroad from Kensington to downtown Chicago, helping assure the South Shore’s long term survival.” (South Shore history) Freight business was added for additional revenue.

Financial reversals continued, however, until 1938, when it began operating profitably.

During World War II, heady days arrived - including defense workers like “Rosie the Riveter” riding the South Shore to their necessary jobs.

Urban development after the war, brought out more automobiles, and fewer folk “riding the train” to work. “Each new highway in the area led to additional drops in ridership”. Losses were such, that in 1976, “the South Shore asked the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) for a total discontinuance of the passenger service.”

Thankfullly, the “ICC delayed approving the cessation of service to allow the State of Indiana to develop a solution to the problem of the South Shore passenger service.” The state acted and “created the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD)” to help. It provided annual grants. But by 1988, bankruptcy came up again.

In 1990, NICTD actually “purchased passenger assets from the bankruptcy court” and “with the help of the State of Indiana and the Federal Government, NICTD was able to purchase the track and right-of-way.”

NICTD now operates the South Shore as a public service for the residents of Northwest Indiana. It provides “an alternative, reliable form of transportation to get to jobs, schools, museums, and recreational opportunities found in the City of Chicago.” (And, an easy way for me to get to South Bend to take a plane or bus - without driving.)

Know more than you did before? I’ll bet - whether you wanted to or not. Right?

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