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Big Four: 1940

May 1940. "Cairo, Illinois -- Big Four Cafe." 35mm nitrate negative by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.

May 1940. "Cairo, Illinois -- Big Four Cafe." 35mm nitrate negative by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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Not so long gone

The Big Four Cafe was, indeed, located next to the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St Louis RR terminal at the intersection of Commercial Avenue and 2nd Street in Cairo. The Tri-City Bus Company also had a stop there.

The CCC&SL is long gone, and the tracks were pulled up decades ago, but the derelict hulk of the station and attached buildings were only recently demolished. If you google map the address (200 Commercial Ave), the more recent satellite view will show that the buildings are gone; however, the slightly older steet view shows the buildings intact (if very much abandoned and derelict).

Revitalizing the glory of the Beanery Queens

More on Beanery Queens.

Railroad Beaneries

We had a cafe at the railroad yard at Champaign, Ill., complete with the requisite Beanery Queens ! It's long gone, as are the old yard office where I was a telegrapher.


Beanery Queen

Waitress? Chews gum and calls every guy "honey". Cocks hip while writing down order. Heart of gold.

Hoghead is going to beans.

I suspect what we’re looking at here is a Big Four railroad bunkhouse and beanery. From reading a few things on the web about the Big Four in Cairo, I get the impression it was what we would call today an ‘away from home terminal,’ for guys working out of Mt. Carmel, Illinois. The railroad provided bunks for the train crews while away from home, and had an obligation to provide a hot meal 24/7. The eateries became affectionately known as ‘beaneries,” and would serve meals to the public as well. Beaneries have long ago disappeared from the railroad landscape, but any self respecting rail still goes to beans, not lunch. Can anyone guess what a 'beanery queen' was?

Had the wonderful opportunity to work the Springhill interlocking at Terre Haute, Indiana, controlling train movements over some of the old Big Four track there. Met dozens of really nice rail fans who made it a point to come and see the old lever plant at Springhill. Today the signals and switches are controlled with a computer keyboard, and the tower is part of a museum. Somehow that just doesn’t seem right.

Big Four

The cafe was probably named for the New York Central's subsidiary, the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway, popularly called "The Big Four." The Big Four ran through Cairo and had a Cairo Division.

The Quartet of Hunger

With relative valuation of that 25 cents one has the buying power of just about $4 now; a nice bargain for a breakfast, if you could find it. It's amazing how little really changes in the end--we see ourselves everywhere & everywhen.

Just perfect

Almost TOO perfect; the electrical cable emerging from hands-in-the-lap gent number two.

Breakfast is on me

Obviously the big four are sitting right out there on the bench. Tell ya' what I'm gonna do fellas, I'm gonna treat you all to the most important meal of the day so you can have a good start. For just 8 bits, I can afford it and can even leave a big tip.

Shoe Shine

I reckon one of those guys was waiting for his first shoe shine customer of the day so he could go in and get his 25c breakfast. It was probably 90 degrees in the cafe.


Bacon, ham, eggs and coffee only 25 cents. I could go for that right about now.

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