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Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • FRENCH BICYCLE GODDESS, c. 1898

Rolling Stock: 1943

Rolling Stock: 1943

May 1943. Bensenville, Illinois. "C. M. St. P. & P. R.R. [Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad], general view of part of the yard." 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information. View full size.

 

In 1976

I started working for the MK&T railroad as a switchman in the yard here in town. I was a young man and had been interested in railroads since a little boy.

Anyway, I only remember seeing one of those old type of reefers. Can't remember what road it belonged to, but we were rolling thru the yard one day in the switch engine and I was looking out the window and spotted the roof hatches open on this particular car, propped up with braces to keep them up.

Also stored in one of the tracks they kept derelict rail cars in was a wood sided boxcar. It had had its drawbar (coupler) torn out and would never be in a train again, destined to be dismantled. But, it stayed in that track for a long time. It was the only one of those cars I ever saw, too.

On the other side of the trees.

On the other side of the trees and on the east side of the newly completed Orchard Place/Douglas Field runways is the newly completed Douglas C-54 factory. It's hard to make it out for the trees but the building's shape is just visible. Either an aircraft is taking off at the airport, visible over the plant buildings, or there's a spot on the film. It might also be a large windsock but I can't tell.

A couple of months after your photo was taken, the first C-54 assembled there would take to the skies for the first time.

This period photo is looking SW over the aircraft factory and airport, back toward Bensenville ...

http://ohare.bensenville.lib.il.us/images/Douglas%20Field.jpg

... the Bensenville Yard should be in the distance, a bit left of runway 4L-22R (marked 22) in the Bensenville library photo.

Wooden Cars

By WW-II, most US railroads had figured out the maintenance and strength advantages of steel cars, and were well along in converting from wood to steel. The conversion was hampered significantly by the Depression, which put a damper on capital improvements.

The buildup to WW-II brought a need for many more cars and locomotives, but also restrictions on use of steel and chromium. As a result, the railroads built large numbers of steel framed wood sided cars, designed to be resided with steel at the end of the war. They also ordered a large number of locomotives, which came out heavier than their predecessors due to restrictions on lightweight alloys. Thus many railroads had programs to retrofit lightweight alloy siderods on locomotives after the war.

The government allocated diesel production and limited new locomotive designs, so many railroads that wanted diesels ended up with steamers that were copies of competing railroads' existing designs. Many of these were replaced by diesels after very short service lives.

Lumbering along

Amazing the amount of wooden rolling stock still in use at that time. If they survived WWII they must have been durable.

O'Hare expansion.

Unless I'm mistaken, this is looking NE across E Irving Park Road toward the SW corner of O'Hare.

Chicago bought up the Orchard Place-Douglas Field surrounding properties in 1949 for the new O'Hare airport and this is the SW corner of their purchases.

The church off in the distance is (probably) St. Johns, moved to a new site at Highway 83 and Foster in 1952 and still there. The only thing remaining here beyond the Bensenville Yard are a couple of cemeteries (that might be the monuments of one cemetery, Resthaven, visible in front of the white barn - the St. Johns cemetery is north of that a couple hundred yards) which Daly is trying to get moved for further expansions of O'Hare. Even the raised Chicago & North Western tracks off in the distance were moved to jog around the new airport.

1943 or today?

As you scan this photo, block out the old, wood-sided and 40 foot long rail cars. If you concentrate only on the rural background, it's hard to tell what year this might be.

Gone

Every identifiable railroad in this crowd has either gone belly up or has been merged away out of existence. Sad that a part of America has gone with them!

Quite a different background

Bensenville's rail yards are still there today, but the surroundings are quite different. They're almost next to O'Hare airport.

Lack of detail

It's kind of sad how we've sacrificed the astonishing clarity of the large-format glass negatives for the convenience of smaller format films. And this one is still 4x5 - but very grainy.

Reefer Madness

Notice the hatches on top of the refrigerator cars, which were used for loading ice in the days before mechanical refrigeration was practical for RR use. The cars were usually painted yellow for easy identification. Nowadays, the term "reefer" has taken an entirely different meaning in common vernacular!

 
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