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Proviso Yard, Chicago: 1942

Proviso Yard, Chicago: 1942

December 1942. Classification yard at the Chicago & Northwestern Proviso Yard, Chicago. View full size. 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by Jack Delano.


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Burned Down Bridge

When I was a child, my dad used to take us for a walk the two blocks from our house to the old Wolf Road bridge over the Proviso Yard. The old wooden bridge had burned down in the late '50s but the ramp on the north side was still there. We used to walk up to the barricades and watch the train cars coming down from the hump and going through the ladders. He may have originally taken us there to answer our question about where the screeching and big bangs were coming from (the sounds of the cars being assembled into trains) but we often asked to go to the "burned down bridge" just for something to do with Dad.

Fire on the Wolf Road Bridge

As a small child in the early 1940's, I remember crossing the Proviso Yards on the Wolf Road Bridge, listening to all those boards rumble and wondering if we would make it across. One winter night, I recall a switch engine was belching flames from its stack as it approached the bridge just as we crossed overhead. I thought for sure we would all be cooked and remember commenting that the engine would burn the bridge down. I have a vague recollection a short time later of the adults talking about how the bridge caught fire. Does anyone have any details on this and how it came to pass that the bridge was closed? Incidentally, for a child, it was awesome watching all those steam locos working in the yard.


Proviso yard(s) actually starts farther east than Mannheim Road. Entry tracks started right at 25th avenue in either Bellwood or Melrose Park, depending on where the line was drawn. JN was the entry tower. It was located west of 25th a short distance. It handled traffic from the Vail, which was just east of the Des Plaines River in River Forest, IL where the tracks went from 4 to 2 (now 3 tracks). I assisted in operating the tower in the 50's as a high school youth. it was all unofficial, of course. I knew the tower quite well and could operate it and did under the watchful eye of various railroad men. If memory is correct there were 9 yards. I did go over the hump in an engine a time or two both there and at the Milwaukee Road hump in Bensenville. Proviso was then said to be the largest in the world. In time some of the yards were pulled up and the complex dramatically changed. The Mannheim bridge is 4 lanes. At one time, and it would have been in 1942, there was a two lane timber bridge over Proviso at Wolf Road. I remember going over that many times in wonderment. Would we make it without that rickety thing falling down? Finally it was closed off and eventually torn down. It has not been replaced. The mainline run around track that bypassed the yards was used for three things as I remember. First the locals or commuters, intercity or streamliners, and cattle trains. Since the cattle trains were on a strict time limit before having to water/fed, etc., the cattle, they didn't go into the yard but bypassed the yard and went down to the slaughter houses in Chicago. When I was hanging around there were not that many cattle trains and the streamliners were getting fewer and fewer. I think we finally got down to the Kate Shelley 400 and that was it.

one more thing

This railyard used to be a Chicago and Northwestern Railway yard, but a few years ago Union Pacific took over with the purchase of C&NW.

In the mid-80s there was a large fight over the land next to the yard, as a German chemical company wished to put a plant there (the name of the company escapes me at the moment.) Local opposition killed the plant, and a strip mall was built on the lot. This mall was demolished in the late 90s and is now container storage for the yard.


Technically this railyard is not in Chicago. The Proviso Railyard is in Melrose Park at the corner of Lake St. and Mannheim Rd., about 4 to 5 miles west of the Chicago city limits.

Beautiful picture, though. Can't tell what angle this was shot from, but currently there is a large bridge with 2 lanes of traffic that goes over the railyard just south of Lake on Mannheim.

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