From Third Rail to Bike Trail
A short history written by Jeffrey S. Obarek
|Next time you enjoy the Illinois Prairie Path let your mind think of another time in our not so distant past. This path that we use for riding our bikes and for walking was the domain of the Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railway. Clintonville Station is located along the Elgin branch which is on the north part of the wishbone extending from Wheaton. The southern part of the wishbone runs from Wheaton to Aurora. The mainline ran east from Wheaton to Wells Street Terminal in downtown Chicago. Part of this run went into the city via the Garfield Park elevated line. In September of 1953 the railroad’s new east end terminal was located at Des Plaines Ave. in Forest Park. At Forest Park riders transferred to CTA rapid transit cars for the trip into Chicago. The trains of this high speed interurban line first incorporated as the Aurora Elgin and Chicago in 1902 began operating past this building on May 29,1903. The name of the railway was changed to the Chicago Aurora & Elgin Railroad under the reorganization of 1925.
Clintonville Substation was built in 1902 and put into service as a power distribution center to convert AC power to 600 volt DC needed to operate the trains which received this electric current via a third rail. Chicago Transit Authority “L” trains use this same electrical pick-up system to power their trains today. Electric power converted at this facility was also sold to several of the electric railroads in the area such as the Fox River Electric and the Elgin & Belvedere. Located on a lot south of the station was a small bungalow which served as the home for the station operator, who was responsible for making out train orders and maintaining the substation. A portion of the substation also served as a passenger waiting room from May of 1903 to the end of passenger service on July 3,1957. The electric generating equipment was located in the area now occupied by the club layout. The lower level of the building also housed electrical equipment. The passenger waiting area was located along the south wall and the doors onto the boarding platform were located on the east wall in the area now occupied by the club office. In 1949 the electrical generating equipment was relocated from Clintonville to a new facility in downtown Elgin along the CA&E right of way near the terminal at Chicago Ave. This left much of the main floor vacant. The Valley Model Railroaders moved into this building in 1953 leasing from the CA&E the portion which once housed the power generating equipment. Installation and enlarging of the layout that was started in 1949 at a smaller location in Elgin continued at Clintonville.
Resources: Sunset Lines; The story of the Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad: vol. I-Trackage (1986) and vol. 2- History (1989) by Larry Plachno, Published by Transportation Trails, Polo, Illinois 61864
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