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Pontiac Depot: 1905

Pontiac Depot: 1905

Circa 1905. "Railway station at Pontiac, Illinois." Next stop: Hooterville. 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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Looks like a new street is in order

I see some large piles of what looks like street pavers in the background. Of course, now we use concrete or asphalt, neither of which holds up a well as brick.

Different Perspective

I was a resident of Pontiac for 15 years (1992-2007) and loved living there. I recognized this building right away, but there is a brick addition to it now on either side. It has had several businesses in it as well as the train stop, which is still in use today. I've used it before when taking Amtrak up to Chicago. It's so much fun to see the backgrounds and compare it to what is there now.

Thanks for posting this photo!

Not Illinois Central

I worked as Agent and Operator for Illinois Central and worked at Pontiac once or twice in the 1960s. Pontiac was on IC's Otto-Minonk branchline, The Pontiac District only had one telegraph wire when I was there. Also, the train order semaphore is not an IC-style. It is Alton (later Gulf Mobile & Ohio) style and this looks very "mainline." The IC depots on the branch used flags rather than semaphores for train orders.

As a side note, I also was sent to fill in at the Flanagan and Greymont stations just up the line from Pontiac. It was a "traveling" agency (mornings one depot, afternoons at the other one) and the town had the last ringer (not dial) phone system in the state. Had to hold down the hanger and rapidly turn the crank to get the operator. It was like stepping back 75 years. Almost none of our country depots had electricity, either. The Bloomington-Pontiac Districts had no railroad telephones. It was Morse code only.

Great photo ... thanks!

Skip Luke
Retired Railroader

More on the signals, etc.

It appears there are no roundels (lenses) in the "clear" aspect of the train signals. This was probably near the end of the time when instead of a green light, there was a white light indicating there was no reason to stop for orders. It was also the case on the mainline signals to use white to indicate a clear track. This practice was changed to using green roundels after a number of false clear indications occurred, causing a number of accidents because the red roundel had fallen out, leaving a clear or white indication to the train crew that the track was clear when in deed it was not! I believe green was made the standard by WW I.

The little building at the extreme left of the picture was almost certainly either the "outhouse" or a small storage building for the section crew. I vote for the the former use as it has a nice sidewalk to it and it is close enough to the building so that the agent who had to deal with several telegraph companies in addition to his regular duties, would have time to get in, out and back to company business!

Please keep these great pictures coming!

The Chicago & Alton Railroad

I'm fairly certain this is the Chicago & Alton Railroad depot, the C&A from Chicago to Alton to St. Louis and they had a division that crossed Northern Missouri to Kansas City with a branch line to Jefferson City.

The C&A was quite a progressive road, they introduced Pullman cars and had the fastest schedule between Chicago and St. Louis. The line was later controlled by the Baltimore & Ohio after World War I and were bought by the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio in 1947 (the GM&O was a new line itself, it was created in 1940 with the merger of the Gulf, Mobile, & Northern and the Mobile & Ohio, the M&O being a pre-Civil War line that had been allowed to languish by the Southern, the GM&N had very progressive and aggressive management who managed to turn the entire system into a profitable, modern railroad to compete with the Illinois Central despite the GM&O's longer route and less than stellar grade profiles in the Deep South.).

The Illinois Central merged with the GM&O in 1972, becoming the Illinois Central Gulf. In 1987 the bankrupt ICG spun off almost all of the GM&O to a handful of short lines. The Chicago & Alton became the Chicago, Missouri & Western, which was then split between the Southern Pacific from Chicago to St. Louis and a Santa Fe holding company between St. Louis and Kansas City. The Kansas City branch is now owned by the Kansas City Southern. Today, the C&A's main line is owned by the Union Pacific and VERY busy, there's even talk of it being upgraded for high speed passenger rail, including electrification. Who in 1905 would have imagined ~40 mile-long freight trains barreling through town at 60 mph?

And I must say that I could be completely wrong and this could actually be the Toledo, Peoria, and Western depot in Pontiac. Either way, now you all know a bit more about Pontiac's "main line."

Semaphore Signal

There were two types of semaphore signals. This one is a "two-position," i.e., it could only display "proceed" (down) or "stop" (horizontal). To display a signal for "19" orders (to be handed up without stopping), the operator would climb the ladder seen leaning against the signal post, and place a yellow flag in a bracket, one of which is visible.

Route 66

I worked on the Pontiac newspaper in 1952. The town was as quiet as Lake Woebegon. A major source of news was Route 66. Whenever there was an accident, traffic would back up and police often would find a stolen car in the line. Thief would escape into a cornfield. Next morning somebody's car would be missing as the thief found new transportation. Pontiac had a prison for young offenders, often car thieves. Prison's main morale problem was disparity in sentencing. Stealing a car in Chicago was no big deal. Downstate it was a big deal. Downstaters viewed Chicago as a cesspool of corruption and no doubt still do.

Signals and stuff

The semaphore in front of the depot is a train order signal. If a train needed to have its running orders changed, the division superintendent would telegraph the new orders to a station with an "operator." Not all stations had an operator, and not all stations with an operator had one on duty 24/7.

When the new orders were "copied" by the operator, two sets were made, one for the head end crew, one for the conductor in the caboose. The operator at the depot would set the train order signal to either caution or stop. If caution, the train would slow down and the new orders were "hooped up" to the crew. Certain orders required the crew to sign for them. In this case the train was stopped.

Pontiac depot must have been a telegraph agency office. The large number of telegraph lines going into the depot would indicate that it handled the telegraph service of a few independent companies -- Western Union, etc. Telegraph companies had their own wires, the railway provided space on its poles.

The twin tanks indicate a busy line with many locomotives needing water. Yet the rail is light and spiked directly into the tie without the steel tie plate that you would expect to find between the tie and rail.

The depot is still there

My husband grew up in Pontiac and recognized the building from the picture.

Gulp. Too close to home.

That looks like the depot in the town I went to school in. That was in the 1960s. Perhaps the similarity indicates the age of the building I knew, and the diligence of its maintenance. Perhaps it indicates a truly long-term trend in depot design.

What would a modern small depot look like nowadays? When, and why, did that architectural style disappear?

My great-grandfather

was a station agent for a small depot in Oklahoma around this time. He and his wife lived in the depot and my grandmother was born there.

Hooterville? Not likely!

If this is the same railway I am thinking of, it is the mainline of the Illinois Central RR, connecting Chicago to St. Louis and eventually, New Orleans.

29 years later the famous Route 66 will follow alongside this railroad track from Chicago to St. Louis.

What got me hooked on shorpy

That's quite a collection of insulators above the door on those crossarms. I just love these old RR pics!

Thanks again for all your efforts!

Claim to fame

"Pontiac is home to the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame. It was previously located at Dixie Truckers Home in McLean, Illinois, but was moved to a new, larger location in Pontiac when Dixie changed ownership." -Wikipedia

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