Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Grand Trunk Western Freight Houses

Ted Ellis 1964 Photo from Facebook
The comment for this photo was "A crowd of Santa Fe Warbonnets have gathered at Chicago's Dearborn Station in a bustling scene so common during the pre-Amtrak era."

You can see the end of the Dearborn Station platforms on the left side of the photo. But what also caught my eye was the possibility of a freight house in the background. You can clearly see the two story part that is the office for the people needed to keep track of the less-than-carload-lots (LCL) freight before computers were invented. You can also see the roof and glimpses of the wall of the one-story part were the freight was sorted.

A map of the area depicted by the photo indicates the freight house was owned by Grand Trunk Western for outbound freight. When I saw the "Outbound" qualifier, I looked for an inbound freight house.
It was located just south of the outbound house with Roosevelt Road between the two houses. The fact that a relatively small Class I railroad would have two freight houses emphasizes the importance of railroad freight in the 1800s and early 1900s when the only other alternative was horse-and-wagon. I find it interesting that the inbound house is smaller than the outbound house. There must have been other companies that had additional freight houses that received freight from the various railroads, sorted it, and delivered it to the customers.

Donald Haskel 1965 Photo from Facebook
Ramon Rhodes posted another photo of this view. Both of these pictures would have been taken from the Roosevelt Road Viaduct.

1938 Photo
A 1938 aerial photo of the outbound house shows how they packed many boxcars next to the loading dock by using three tracks. They would place boards between the boxcars so that freight could be rolled through the closer cars to get to the further cars.

Each boxcar would be to a different destination in a manner similar to what UPS does today with piggy back trailers.


All of this railroad infrastructure has been replaced by housing, shopping, dining, and (fortunately) a couple of parks.
Bill Molony posted
Erie Lackawanna Railroad EMD E8A #823 and its mate are shown here in May of 1965 easing into Dearborn Station, ready to couple on to EL train #2, the Phoebe Snow.
The 823 was one of 14 E8A passenger locomotives built for the Erie Railroad in the first three months of 1951.
In the background to the right can be seen an Erie Lackawanna steel caboose coupled to two Pennsylvania Railroad express cars.
Phil Hosier 823 and sister units were always a please to run. When 4 of them were hooked together, no freight train was ever too heavy not to maintain speed.The last freight train that came into Huntington, IN. on the old Erie RR was pulled by an E-8 and I had the pleasure of bringing it home along with Pod Millner. We went onto Conrail, but it never had the sense of family like the Erie had.
Dennis DeBruler commented on Bill's posting
 The Grand Trunk Western outbound freight house is in the middle of the photo.
Robert Daley posted
Grand Trunk Western freight house near Dearborn Station, July 1970. As I recall this was located between State and Dearborn at about Taylor St.
Bill Molony shared
Railroad Images of Bygone Days post
Dearborn St. station 1967 Chicago, GTW. John Fostick photographer.
Mitch Markovitz Those GT Geeps were indeed fast.
Dennis DeBruler commented on Bill's share
The two story office-building part of the outbound freight house for GTW is easy to see. We can see just the roof of the freight handling part that is south of the office.
Bill Molony posted
An A-A-B-B set of Santa Fe F-units, departing from Dearborn Station in Chicago with a westbound passenger train, most likely #17, on January 16, 1971.
Dennis DeBruler Looking at a map, in the first photo the two-story building just to the right of the train shed was the Mail Building. The two-story building to the right of it was the office part of the GTW Outbound Freight House. We can see the one-story GTW freight handling part of their freight house through the canopy of a platform that is on this side of Plymouth Court. The map is an excerpt from C&EI1964ChicagoDearborn-300lg.pdf in the Files section.
[I shared it with a Santa Fe group.]


  1. C&EI had three freight houses in the vicinity of Dearborn Station. By the 1950s and 60s, most of the houses were run in conjunction with a freight forwarder. The scale drawings above date from 1964 when the throat tracks were simplified and interlocked. Prior to that, there were a number of hand-thrown double slip switches. A new interlocking tower was built east of the throat, as seen in the drawings.

    1. Thanks for the info. I've been giving some more thought as to how incoming LCL freight in a big city must have been handled and the term "freight forwarder" is good to know. I have fixed the date in all of my postings that used that diagram. Knowing what to look for, I found C&EI outbound along Clark north of Roosevelt, inbound is southeast of the outbound, and the third was along Dearborn south of 14th Street. Wabash had an inbound house between C&EI and GTW. Sante Fe had inbound along State south of 14th. And Erie had a couple of houses off Clark south of 14th. I can't find Monon's houses. Santa Fe's outgoing house would be back at Corwith because they built a big freight house as part of the reconstruction to remove the old steam engine facilities,

    2. I can't figure out show to edit my reply. I should have been explicit about the concentration of incoming freight houses in the area between Roosevelt to 14th and Clark to State.

    3. Great discussion! Be really great to see more of those drawings, or even better, to get a source for them. I'm trying to model all the buildings in the Dearborn Station area, and would like to get an accurate fix on building dimensions. Can anyone help?

  2. Monon's freight house was immediately west of Dearborn station, however they built a brand new house at South Hammond Yard in the mid-50s. Afterward, the downtown freight house was sold or leased to Railway Express and a mail platform was erected along the lead tracks, extending south between Taylor St and Roosevelt Road.

    Here is a photo from my collection which shows the Monon freight house in the late 1940s. At the time, the F3s from their passenger trains laid over and their steam generators refilled on one of the freight house lead tracks. This avoided charges from the C&WI to service the locomotives at 51st St.