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My Chicago Tunnel Company
The Chicago Tunnel Motor in 3-3/4" scale (click
to view larger image)
Written by Bruce G. Moffat
a fan of electric traction and a live steamer in Chicago, I thought it would be
neat to model a train that had belonged to the Windy City’s most unusual
electric railroad – the Chicago Tunnel Company.
The Tunnel Company operated a
two-foot gauge electric railway in a 62-mile network of tunnels located forty
feet below Chicago’s famous downtown "Loop" district. At its peak, the system
had 149 four-wheel "motors" (electric locomotives) and over 3,000 freight cars.
Traffic largely consisted of parcels, coal, and heating ash. The railway
connected the city’s major department stores, large office buildings, some
factories, and the seemingly countless railroad freight houses and trucking
terminals that ringed the Loop.
Constructed largely between 1900 and 1906, the Tunnel Company’s promoters had
hoped to divert commercial freight traffic off of the congested streets and onto
their railway. These expectations were realized only to a limited extent,
resulting in operations ceasing in 1959.
Having little in the way of tools, and not having a home workshop, I was able
to enlist the help of several other members of the Milwaukee Light Engineering
Society. First I discussed my idea for building a 7-1/2" gauge model of one of
the Tunnel Company’s distinctive mine-style motors with Brad Smith. Intrigued,
he agreed to help out and we collaborated on the type of unit to be modeled and
made sketches based on my extensive file of information on the prototype. He
determined that the Class 30 "open gondola type" mine motors built by the
Columbus, Ohio-based Jeffrey Manufacturing Company would yield the best result.
Built in 1906, the Jeffrey’s were 4-wheelers that weighed in at about 6 tons and
measured about 10 feet long.
click to view larger image
|Because the prototype units ran on 24" gauge track
and the model would be sized to 7-1/2", the resulting scale was an impressive
sounding 3-3/4", but the actual length was a compact three feet.
model’s dimensions were determined, Brad made use of a local technical school
foundry to cast the motor’s raised side panels. Meanwhile, fellow MLES member
Tom Artzberger (Hartford Shops) lent his expertise and machine shop, cutting and
welding the half-inch thick steel plates that make up the motor’s side and end
panels, and providing the wheels, couplers, motors and control system that would
go in to the finished model. Assembly began in October 2006 in Tom’s shop. By
the end of the second day-long session, the bulk of the assembly and the control
system work had been completed.
The action then moved over to the garage workshop of a third MLES member,
David Gehrke (West Bend Shops) where completion of the motor, and construction
of the rolling stock took place. Given the motor’s tiny outline, it was
necessary to build a parcel car to hold the batteries, charger, and a rerailing
lever (necessary because the motor is HEAVY). For the motorman’s riding car, one
of the Tunnel Company’s stake and chain-sided merchandise car designs was
selected and modified.
The only surviving equipment from the Chicago Tunnel Train.
Located at the Illinois Railway
Museum in Union Illinois.
|Construction of the cars took place on a nearly one
day a week basis from late January through March. Sometimes we rhetorically
wondered "are we having fun yet" simply because of the fast pace on
construction. The answer: it was worth the effort because this was going to be a
very unique train.
In between assisting Dave who welded the car frames and
built-up the car bodies, I searched out some of the odd-parts that would be
needed to complete the train. One challenge was that machine tools were not
available at this point although we did have some metal fabrication equipment.
Some of the detail items that needed to be scrounged-up or cobbled-together out
of available materials included 406’s handbrake wheel (a brass water valve wheel
was found on E-bay) and the radial coupler pockets for the battery and riding
car. Perhaps the most challenging items to find was something – anything - that
could be readily modified to create the front headlight and rear flood light
reflector for #406. The front headlight was made using the kerosene reservoir
from an Adlake lantern, while the rear flood light housing was made from an iron
Marty Brown, a Chicago area HO model railroader then made various detail
parts, including the trolley pole and a dummy controller for the miniature
On March 25, 2007, the unfinished but complete train consist was placed on
Dave Gehrke’s home track to determine its tracking and riding qualities, and
then it was time to paint the consist in the company’s plain black livery. Work
was wrapped up a day before Easter. This was certainly a record of sorts.
click to view larger image
|Since that time, the "Tunnel Train"
has burnished the rails at tracks belonging to various clubs, including the
Illinois Live Steamers, Milwaukee Light Engineering Society, and Prairie State
For more information about the prototype, pick up a copy of
The Chicago Tunnel Story by Bruce Moffat.
cera-chicago.org for more information.
Written by Bruce G. Moffat
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