Wednesday, July 29, 2015

MJ: Manufacturers' Junction Railway

(Satellite, just the foundation is left)

Photo of roundhouse

Update: (Shortlines, FixedFlickr photo of treated telephone poles leaving the plant in 1925. The MJ locomotive is a 0-4-0 steam engine.
The Manufacturers junction Railway Company was incorporated in Illinois, January, 1903 to provide rail connections linking the Hawthorne Works with all major railroad systems entering Chicago. There are about 13 miles of track in and about Hawthorne and a small but adequate rolling stock. The railway delivers all of Hawthorne’s inbound rail freight (mostly raw materials) to required locations within the Works area and all outbound finished communications equipment shipped as railroad freight. The railroad also serves some of Hawthorne’s industrial neighbors. [TheBellSystem, pdf page 75] 
Manufacturers' Junction Railway (MJ) was originally incorporated in 1903 to serve the Hawthorn Works of Western Electric, which was the manufacturing arm of the Bell System. It began operation in 1906. AT&T closed Hawthorn Works and sold MJ to a subsidiary of OmniTRAX in May, 1986. (UP) According to their web site, MJ interchanges with BRC, which in turn interchanges with BNSF, CN, and CSXT (B&OCT). Even though some of the Hawthorn Works land was redeveloped as retail space, enough land was supposed to be redeveloped as industry to make MJ viable. And in 1998 it sounds like the plan was working:
"Our two locomotives were built in 1947, but they still run like tops," said Turk, a 30-year veteran of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway before taking over the MJ four years ago. Its age aside, the MJ is a busy little railroad that keeps Turk and his colleagues hustling from 6:30 a.m. till whenever quitting time occurs. "We already moved 60 cars this morning and have another 27 coming off the Belt (Belt Railroad of Chicago) later today," Turk said. 
The little railroad, which serves seven industries and connects them with some of the city's major railroads and belt lines, has benefited from Chicago's booming economy as well as the efforts of its parent, OmniTRAX Inc., in redeveloping the sprawling but abandoned Western Electric Co. Hawthorne Works as a logistics center specializing in transferring commodities between trucks and railroads. "OmniTRAX bought Hawthorne and is turning it into a warehouse transloading facility," Turk said. (ChicagoTribune)
During its hayday, it had 200 employees and 600 miles of track. In 1998, it had four employees and 5.5 miles of track with 1.78 route miles. (ChicagoTribune) But we have had two recessions since then, and it seems they have taken a toll. A TrainOrders posting in Nov. 2012 indicates there had been no freight customers for a few years. A Nov. 2012 photo of the remaining two engines indicates they are to be scrapped. I wonder if the Menards replaced the industries they did have.

20140928 0059rc
It appears the rail car is on the blue overpass, which would be the MJ route. (The wider overpass behind the blue overpass is the Belt Railway of Chicago.) So I assume that CSX's B&OCT route has been extended south to include the old MJ route.
Google Earth, Mar 2012
The last image with the "armstrong" turntable

Google Earth, Jul 2016
The last image with the roundhouse

Marc Malnekoff posted
MJ RY 23 at Cicero, IL 3/23/2007
Bryan Howell No. The locomotives were scrapped a few years ago [written in 2020] after copper thieves stripped them.
Dennis DeBruler MJ = Manufacturers' Junction
It was created by Western Electric in 1903 to serve its Hawthorne Works. When the works was closed in 1986, MJ was sold to OmniTRAX.
The turntable still appears in a Google Earth 2012 image and the roundhouse still appears in 2016.

Marc Malnekoff posted
Going through my archives today and found this shot.
Looking back I am glad I asked and was allowed to shoot some photos here.
MJ 23 Cicero, IL. March ,23,2007

Junior Hill commented on Marc's post
This warms my soul seeing this beauty in such nice shape here in your photo, as she should be .. Last time I saw her, she was being ripped apart by scrappers...

Steven Kakoczki commented on Marc's post
June 1980

Brian Krotzman posted to Off the Beaten Track Branchline
Brian Krotzman caught a picture of an MJ locomotive running light around 2005. He took the shot while sitting on the BRC at 31st Street. The lower track is the BNSF connection from the BRC to the Aurora line.

Facebook has a closeup of this color scheme and Marty caught a different color scheme. From the Facebook comments we learn that bums broke into the roundhouse and set both well-maintained SW1s on fire. The fire was bad enough that neither unit could be salvaged.

In addition to several pictures of the locomotives, Paul Rome has pictures of the interior of the roundhouse and a crane. David Parker posted a 1982 picture of an engine on the turntable in a blue livery. And a shot that includes the roundhouse. Larry Meyer posted a sequence of five pictures of the roundhouse and turntable. (Click on the pictures to go through the sequence.)

Scott Griffith posted five photos with the comment:
Any of you OLD HEADS remember delivering or interchanging with this railroad off the Cicero branch? Manufacturers Junction Railway If so could you explain the move or give details.
Earl Wacker I guess I qualify. It was a very short, steep connection near 16th St. Early 70s we only had one car at a time.

Ray Weart commented on a posting
The MJ was a very hard railroad to get photos of as it ran behind fences for the most part. I work for a Class 1 railroad which allowed me to be legally "Inside the fence" so to speak to get some rare MJ photos. This shot was taken May 1, 2009 on what we believe was one of the very last MJ runs

John DeWit Woodlock II posted
UTAH 2959; MJ 7;6 @ MJ shops/Ogden Ave-Cicero,IL 16 DEC 97.
3D Satellite
WE 100th Anniversary
If the smile looks a little strained, it's probably because the wrench was heavy. Irene Kramer of the Hawthorne Works donned an oversized pair of coveralls and engineer's cap and posed in front of a Manufacturer's Junction Railway engine. The year? 1931.

Junior Hill posted
In 2011 I was able to "access" the dormant roundhouse of the Manufacturer's Junction Railway at Cicero, IL. What I found inside wasn't nice, the RY's vintage SW1's were being picked apart by scrappers and bums who were living inside the roundhouse. Sadly, a couple years later the SW1's were pulled outside and scrapped onsite by contractors. Later the 100 year old roundhouse was demolished, ending the MJRR forever.
Charlie Benoit Do you have any other photos of the MJ? I am researching for a book on Chicago industrial railroading
Junior Hill Charlie Benoit I have 100+ photos of the MJ from 2 visits to the roundhouse from around the same time. All photos show the interior in decay such as above. The book sounds very interesting! I'd be happy to let you use any of my photos for the project. 

Rob Olewinski Cmraseye posted three photos with the comment: "revisiting the former MJ before it was all torn down...Cicero, IL. 2/2010"
[There are a lot of informative comments on this post.]



Not many railroads are small enough that the whole thing can be captured by a screen grab of a topo map.
1929 Englewood Quad @ 24,000

John Smith posted several pictures of the roundhouse and turntable from 2006 in a group that is now public.

Marty Bernard posted a nice shot of engine #6 taken in 1991.

Gary Talsky posted three interior shots.

Edward Kwiatkowski posted a 2007 photo of #23 pulling a train through Hawthorn Junction. The comments provide the history that the last train ran in 2009, the switchers have been scrapped because the copper was stolen out of them, and the roundhouse was torn down in 2016.

Gary Talsky posted a couple of pictures he took March 1, 2015.
Gary Talsky posted 12 photos he took Feb. 25, 2012.
Gary Talsky posted 3 photos of the interior that he took March 1, 2015.

John Smith collected 30 of Gary's photos into one "Part 1" posting.
John Smith collected 38 of Gary's photos into one "Part 2"  posting, some of them are different.

Bob Lalich Flickr 1986 Photo, MJ #6 passing a neat looking steel storage yard.
Now a intermodal container storage yard for JB Hunt. How sad indeed.

Additional photos, including a steam locomotive, are available in this Facebook posting.

Photo of orange caboose #101  (posting)
Jon Roma Western Electric's Hawthorne Works there in the background ... my grandmother and many of her siblings worked there.
Jeff Delhaye That caboose sits in a yard in Crystal Lake, Il, these days.
Bob Lalich I've never seen an MJ caboose before! It is striking! There are interesting details in the background as well - the Hawthorn Works tower, the rise of the MJ tracks to the Cermak Road bridge, the light tower of the BRC yard, and the smoke. It is coming from a stack; possibly on a caboose, but that is a lot of smoke to be coming from a stove.
Arturo Gross I noticed the smoke too, it appears to be coming from a smokestack beyond the BRC tracks, but can't tell for sure.
Earl Camembert Water Tower is still standing, but the MJ RR roundhouse was demolished just last year.

William Foamer posted eight photos of the interior from 2003 and 2016. Some comments add two interior shots from 2015.


  1. My dad worked for Western Electric for over 30 years, starting his career with the company at the "Hawthorn Works". I remember going with him to see the M.J.R.R. when I was a young boy, probably around 1950. I took a picture of one of their locomotives during that visit which was actually published in Western Electric's employee newspaper. What a proud moment that was for this boy, seeing my photo in print and my very own name in the newspaper! I've never forgotten that and never will

  2. Omnitrax still lists the MJ on their website as a customer. And I heard they still have one customer. The map for the MJ on the Omnitrax site is confusing as it seems to show an MJ long spur circling to the east also to access Charter Steel just south of 16th Street. What is the real story on the MJ today?

  3. In July 2022 the ROW, including some rail and all bridges, still exists from Cermak Ave. south and Google Maps satellite view appears accurate. Only the lead west to the BNSF ends at a new Cicero Ave. alignment. Although you can get to the ROW in several places it is so overgrown with weeds that you can’t really walk it. Some rail is left but you can’t see how much. None is in service.

    On Cicero Ave between Cermak and Ogden you can get to the roundhouse site thru the Menard’s lot, all the way to the south side then east. Along the south side of the wall is a nice paved road that goes to the roundhouse site and stops. This area is cool but very rough.

    The water tower, just north of Menard’s, behind the AMC, looks nice from a distance but when you get close it rises out of a ruin. The tracks run right behind (east) of it, over a dangerous viaduct.

    South of Ogden/BNSF/26th you can get very close behind Food 4 Less, just north of 31st St., but it is just so overgrown.

    This is what “abandoned” looks like, I’m not sure if they even scrapped the rails.

    1. No, they didn't. In April 2008 the USGS satellite shows the place almost empty but everything looks intact, including the roundhouse and turntable. In October 2009, (5 months after Ray Weart's picture of #23) the USDA satellite shows about 20 empty gondola cars on the main track behind Menards, in June 2010 Google shows couple of them had moved south of the roundhouse. If that was a scrap train it probably left empty, in March 2018 Google showed the railroad just like it looks today. Most, maybe all, of the rail between Ogden and Cermak is in place. I can't see the south embankment, but a siding from the Western Electric days still has rails that run into the bottom of a fill hill.

      A ghost railroad that only graffiti artists, a few homeless people, and the occasional tourist use.

  4. Thanks for collecting all of this info! I made it out to the roundhouse ~1 month before they tore it down and it was in a sad state. I can share pictures if anyone is interested but there's quite a few photos of it in its abandoned state already.
    I'm currently building a model railway layout based on the MJRY, and the photos here have been quite helpful!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. If I had your email address, I lost it. So please email me at

    3. If you want to brag about your layout email me at

  5. 1929 was a good year for maps, the @24,000 days were here. Like the 1929 Englewood Quad shown above. For scale, from Cermak Rd./22nd St. (I'm using "22nd" for the addresses) south to 31st. St. is one mile. Almost all of MJ's work as inside one mile (there was a little north of Cermak/22nd.

    It needs to zoom out or re-center a little. The area south of the BNSF and 26th. St. down to 31th St. was Western Electric's telephone pole factory. There is a picture of an 0-4-0 floating around, it must be there.

    Very little of the track shown is MJ. Very little. They had one "mainline"??? track from 14th. Street (connection with B&OCT) south over the rickety looking bridges and down to a mystery around 31st. St. Almost everything was on the west side of it.

    At Cermak Rd./22nd. St. two tracks split off and ran south, parallel with the "main", down to the roundhouse area. There is a yard and, of course, Western Electric, on the west. Rob Olewinski Cmraseye's photo #3 is looking north at that (uphill) yard.

    From the roundhouse track ran west to a bridge over Cicero Ave. to the Burlington (the bridge is gone now). Another track ran east, under the rickety bridge "main" line and the Belt Ry., to the Cable Building and other stuff on the east of the Belt Ry. You can see it in the right background on Marc Malnekoff's MJ RY 23 at Cicero, IL 3/23/2007. JB Hunt is south of the Cable building, which is still there, today. That area is in Chicago, the Belt Ry. is the city limits. Everything else is in Cicero.

    There are two levels, the MJ and Belt Railway are elevated on embankments from north of Cermak/22nd south to 31st St. Rob Olewinski Cmraseye's photo #3 shows the embankment in the background, the yard goes up to it. Brian Krotzman posted to Off the Beaten Track Branchline a shot of #23 on the south embankment (the tracks in the foreground go to the BNSF). That was the telephone pole factory behind it, Home Depot (in the background on the right) is on fill.

    To the north there was some industry between 16th and 18th
    Sts. (the tracks along 16th St. are not theirs). To the south, from about 30th St. south everything has changed and I haven't found maps are detailed enough.

    Hmmm, I wonder what it looks like from the 31st. St. bridge. Maybe I should get Joon and...