Wednesday, August 9, 2017

PRR's Freight Houses

(WHOOPS, I did not mean to publish this. But I don't see having the time to clean it up in the foreseeable years, so I'll let it be. (I learn about subject matter when I write. The only thing I learn during editing is how many mistakes I make. Also, the early part of this writing is in a style that is now obsolete.) It was torn down for an electrical switchyard, so a satellite image is only of interest to provide the location of where it was. Back then, Polk Street had a bridge over the river.)

(Update: see Bypass Channel for photos of the old Pennsy freight house back when Pennsy was using the Old Union Station.)

Now that I have the missing link of the location of the Panhandle freight house (375 N. Morgan St.), I need to up the priority for rewriting these notes.
Street View

The freight house dominates the background of an American-Rails photo. I believe this was considered the worlds largest freight house. It was also called the Western Warehouse.

Ryerson-Burnham Digital Archives, SAIC, Forgotten Chicago

David Daruszka updated

Chicago, Ill.
Freight house, with molded keystone. West end has been added onto since railroad ownership. Constructed 1920? On Peoria St. [Richard Wallis]Older (1884), curved, brick freight house is still standing, and is now offices of Braun Bottle Co. Inside curve of approach tracks to CUS, between Clinton and Canal Sts., partially under C&NW viaduct. [Richard Wallis]

The above photo is also used to illustrate an extensive article about the freight house. (source: "Info on the Pennsylvania railroads Polk street freight warehouse in Chicago, it was the largest railroad freight house in the world.")


David M Laz posted
GULF MOBILE AND OHIO passenger train leaving Union station, 1960's
Turk Meyers Damn. That 312 W. Polk building or whatever it's called is really cool!

Bill Molony posted
Pennsylvania Railroad EMD E7A's, easing an eastbound PRR passenger train out of Union Station on the afternoon of June29, 1957.
Bill Molony posted again
Pennsylvania Railroad EMD E7's on the Chicago Union Station south leads on the afternoon of June 29, 1957.
These locomotives had been delivered from EMD in the late 1940's in Brunswick Green, but were later repainted in Tuscan Red to match the road's passenger cars.
The PRR classified their E7's at EP20's.
My interest in this picture is not the trains, but the building in the background --- it is a Pennsy freight house.
David Daruszka posted
Another postcard image of the area south of Union Station. The massive Pennsylvania freight house in the background was demolished.
I include David's copy as well because it looks a little better. And more comments give me more insight.]
Marty Bernard Fantastic picture. Obviously shot from the Roosevelt Road Viaduct with at least 5 PRR E7As and Bs before they had radio antenna on their roofs. Green REA cars. Wonder what those tanks by the closest E7A are?
Bob Lalich I believe those cylinders are air resevoirs. The interlocking was electro-pneumatic.
David Daruszka The postcard is listed as the 1960's.
James Nelson I'm in agreement those are air tanks; no apparent filling/pumping equipment around them, and most of CUSCo was electro-pneumatic. 

William Brown posted
The BN's Afternoon Zephyrs last run April 30, 1971. Leaving Chicago Union Station. An EBay postcard.
MWRD posted
Historical Photo of the Week: The Pennsylvania Company property on the west side of the South Branch of the Chicago River looking south from Madison Street on September 29, 1903. Construction to widen and deepen the river in this area began in 1906. #TBT Chicago River Friends of the Chicago River
[This must have been their PFW&C freight house before they built the big one.]
Alexander Spiewak commented on Allan Zirlin's  post
[Note that the dotted lines are the "40' under freight tunnels" (also DailyMail) and that they had a shaft that gave them a direct connection to the tunnels.]

Sean Gulden shared
A Pennsylvania Railroad publicity photo featuring train #48, the "General" (Chicago - New York), departing Chicago Union Station. The Pennsy's massive freight terminal can be seen in the background (gone today).
[But evidently a poor scan of the photo.]
Jim Arvites also posted
A postcard view around 1960 of the Pennsylvania Railroad's passenger train the "General", that ran between Chicago and New York, just outside of Chicago Union Station at the Pennsy coach yard.
Jim Arvites also posted with the same comment
David DaruszkaDavid is an administrator in this group. That building is the Western Warehousing Company, the Pennsy's freight house in Chicago.
I Love Trains posted
photo courtesy of Timothy Taylor - Pennsylvania Railroad

David Daruszka commented on Jim's posting
And being Chicago we treat our significant structures with great respect.

Bill Molony posted
GM&O train #2, the Abraham Lincoln, arriving at Chicago Union Station.
Bill Molony also posted with the same comment
Bill Molony posted
An A-B-A set of Burlington EMD F3's, departing from Chicago Union Station with CB&Q train #17, the 11-car California Zephyr, on the afternoon of April 1, 1949.
Brandon McShane If I'm counting the days right, this was the 12th westbound run of the CZ.

Tom Bedwell posted
Chicago - 1950s
Dennis DeBrulerYou and 1 other manage the membership, moderators, settings, and posts for Chicago Railroad Historians. On another posting, David Daruszka identified the skyscraper to the right of the old post office as part of the Civic Opera House.

Tom Bedwell posted
As a kid, I had a fascination with double-slip switches.
Craig Sanders When I first saw slip switches, my brain sent out nothing but a busy signal as I tried to figure out not only how they worked but how Towermen could make them work.
For me, slip switches rank tight up there with the SpaceX rockets that land on barges.

Mitch Markovitz Now that's The Broadway on the left. We can tell by the lettering on the back of the observation car.
Dennis DeBruler These double-slip switches showed up in a MoW group:

Tom Bedwell commented on Mitch's comment on Tom's post
I think this is a shot I took just a little sooner than the [one above].

An American Rails photo of a B&O train leaving Grand Central Station has a view of the PRR freight house on the left side.
> Apparently there are/were 2 Pennsylvania
> freight houses in Chicago, an 1884 and one
> from the 1920's. The one you refer to would
> be the older of the two. A brief description
> of each is here:
> ... ml#freight
> A picture of one of the freight houses is
> here:
The PRR had more than one freight house prior to 1920. The Panhandle and the Ft. Wayne both had in-bound and out-bound houses. The Ft. Wayne had several of each since traffic grew, but the available land didn't. The house on the curve was the Panhandle's, which operated into the north side of Union Station. An 1884 date would be about right for this structure, as Union Depot was built in 1881 and the Panhandle managed to kick out the C&EI, which then had a small depot on the curve. That depot had no tracks and C&EI trains loaded on the Panhandle main. The C&EI helped form the C&WI and moved its trains to Dearborn Station.
After about 1900, most Panhandle passenger trains used the south end of the Union Depot by running over the Bernice cutoff. The north side was still used by commuter trains to the Union Stock Yards until the Depression, but in addition to the use of the tracks by the Milwaukee, the line was convenient to the PRR for receiving the trap cars which ran between the various railroads' freight houses. The erection of the giant Polk Street house eliminated the need for all of the PRR's prior facilities.

Bill Molony posted
A Pennsylvania Railroad A-B-A set of Baldwin DR 6-4-20 sharks in Chicago on January 25, 1953.
Each unit was powered by two Baldwin 608NA 8-cylinder diesel engines rated at 1,000 horsepower each. 
These PRR units were the first shark-nose Baldwins, and the only A1A-A1A sharks ever produced.
Biill posted again
Bill Molony The PRR bought nine A-B-A sets of these - 18 A-units and 9 B-units - from Baldwin in 1948. Yes they were very distinctive-looking locomotives, but mechanically, they were a flop.

1939 Aerial Photo from ILHAP

David also supplied this HubPages link in another posting.

Redo this with the "Tracks South of Union Station" content

Ted Lemen posted
Two CB&Q commuter trains rush south from Union Station, or perhaps one is backing in to load, while Amtrak languishes in the background.
Mike Daniels posted
My K64 original
[Torn down after 333 Wacker built?!]

Bill Molony posted
Pennsylvania Railroad class E7s 4-4-2 Atlantic-type #8588, leaving Chicago Union Station with the local to Valparaiso, Indiana on the afternoon of August 4, 1929.
Bill posted again
Brandon McShane Amazing how little the tracks and buildings in this photo changed from then till the early '70s.
Mitch Markovitz P-54 coaches in the consist. Complete with porthole windows.
Mitch Markovitz Valparaiso, Indiana. "The Dummie." (Not you, that's the name of the train, informally.)
Rod Truszkowski They used that term on the rock island too.
David Daruska updated

Bill Molony posted
Amtrak train #5, the westbound San Francisco Zephyr, departing from Chicago Union Station in September of 1973. 
This train operated just three days a week, and it was routed over the Burlington Northern between Chicago and Denver, the Union Pacific between Denver and Ogden, and over the Southern Pacific between Ogden and Oakland.
Patrick McNamara The Pennsylvania RR Warehouse - a.k.a. Western Warehousing Company, was built in 1915, completed 1918, demolished 1973.
This is also a nice view of the Chicago skyline. I see the tall bank building is now owned by Chase.]
ATSF, Chicago, Illinois, 1971
Santa Fe Railway switcher backing Amtrak passenger train no. 15, the Texas Chief, into Union Station in Chicago, Illinois, on July 4, 1971. Photograph by John F. Bjorklund, © 2015, Center for Railroad Photography and Art. Bjorklund-04-05-03
John Morris posted
GM&O's "Abraham Lincoln" is snaking it's way out of Union Station as it starts the ritual early evening trip to St. Louis. Based on the three heavyweight coaches up front, it looks like an extra heavy passenger load on this trip. As an aside, I never paid much attention to the massive Pennsylvania Railroad freight house building in the background...until it was gone of course. This photo dates from the mid-1960s and was taken from the Roosevelt Road overpass...always a favorite spot for rail buffs.
Tim M. Hickernell Agreed. That PRR freight house must have been one of the largest warehouse buildings of its time. I always wished I could have seen it before it was torn down.
Randy James yep, I believe it was a combination pennsy & railway express agency freight house, I read somewhere that it was the largest rr freight house in the country.
Brandon McShane Actually, Railway Express had its own terminal along Canal Street out of the frame to the left.
Randy James notice the grey baggage car, it was one of a handful of Delaware & Hudson baggage car that was acquired by the gm&o in the late 50's for increasing need for baggage express cars, with associated head end traffic via the mopac connection at st Louis that was coming out of Dallas ft. worth, they were re lettered but never painted into gm&o paint scheme.
[I'm not the only one that noticed the freight house.]
The fourth photo posted by Marty Bernard
6 CB&Q from Roosevelt Road, South of Union Station -- 1960s
Bill Howes took these from the Roosevelt Road Viaduct south of Chicago Union Station. Captions are with the photos.

CB&Q Train 32, :"The Empire Builder", arriving on August 18, 1969. Bill Howes photo
Rodney D Zona: Old CB&Q RR Aurora, IL and La Crosse, WI passenger train crews worked between Chicago and La Crosse, WI. Lacrosse, WI based engine crews worked to and from Chicago.

Phil Gosney commented on the fourth photo of Marty's post
Here is GN Dining Car 1254, named Lake Minnetonka, also in the green Pre Merger livery, on the Empire Builder in Chicago on Sept 28, 1968. Photo by Gary Zeitler. In addition, I have found 3 other GN cars painted in this livery in advance of the actual BN merger effective date. They are: 1099 Coach ex CNW car, 1320 Vista Dome Coach, and 1391, named OCEAN VIEW, a full length dome lounge. That is four GN cars in this livery. Does anyone know of others? I am not aware of any NP or CBQ cars painted in this livery, only GN cars. You will note cars still have GN name and Rocky the goat logo on them. The Burlington had some Freight units delivered in Green paint, but no passenger E units painted green until actual March 1970 merger.
Phil Gosney The wide white stripe was not adopted, but made smaller by BN date..

Marty Bernard Flickr

Burlington Northern NW2 524 (ex-CB&Q 9227) working the North Coast Limited and Empire Builder cars on Chicago Union Station leads

Photo taken from the Roosevelt Road Viaduct, Chicago, IL on March 30, 1971 (a month before Amtrak Day).

The beginning of a chain of shares of a Marty Bernard photo
4. GM&O F3A 883A with the commuter train to Joliet, Train 17, fondly called the "Plug", departing Chicago Union Station on March 30, 1971.
[Some comments discuss the last two cars were Pullman Sleepers.]

George W Lane posted
This 20x24 is of the Pennsylvania #5251, 4-6-2, leaving Chicago in 1945. Picture by Paul Slager.
[The fright house is in the middle background. The building on the right is the Chicago Board of Trade. Being able to see the BoT from Roosevelt Road west of the South Branch is a reminder that south of the loop used to be just tracks. This view would now consist of piles of condos east of the South River.]
Photo 10 from Classic Trains, John R. Taibi
F3 883-A with Chicago–Joliet commuter train (“The Plug”) departing Chicago, early 1970s.
Ryerson-Burnham Digital Archives, SAIC from Bridge Out for Good

David Daruszka posted
William Lightfoot Price’s Pennsylvania Railroad Freight Terminal (also known as the Western Warehousing Company), located at 323 W. Polk Street in Chicago, and built from 1915-18. At the time of its construction, it was one of the largest buildings in the world in terms of square feet. It was built, in large part, to allow Chicago’s many rail stations to consolidate into a main railroad terminal just west of downtown, a terminal that later became the current Union Station.
Bill Molony posted
An A-B-A set of Pennsylvania Railroad Baldwin DR-6-4-20 shark-nose diesels in Chicago on January 25, 1953.
The PRR purchased 18 A units and 9 B units from Baldwin in 1948; these PRR units were the first shark-noses, and the only A1A-A1A sharks.
David Daruszka posted
The Broadway Limited departs Chicago's Union Station in 1961. Richard H. Solomon, photographer.
Dennis DeBrulerGroup Admin Pennsy (right) and CB&Q (left) Freight Warehouses, the old post office in the left background, andHarrison Tower at the lower-right corner of the post office. But I don't know what the skinny skyscraper is in the middle of the background. That is probably the Chicago & Alton Freight House to the east of the old post office. It still stands. But I read a developer of the old post office wants to tear it down. I lost track of whether or not it is the current developer.
[The skyscraper is part of the Civic Opera House.]

Carl Venzke posted
Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad E5 9910A, named SILVER SPEED, departing Union Station in Chicago, Illinois on August 21, 1949 - photographer unknown, print by Willian A. Raia, Chuck Zeiler collection.

This posting is also becoming "a south of Pennsy's Freight House" posting. I need to figure out how to split it up. But in the meantime, here is another view of the CUS approach tracks and Pennsy coach yard.
Marvin Smith posted
Tim Russell I recognize "The Plug" headed by a GM&O F unit. I first found some pics of it here
David DaruszkaGroup Admin Looking northeast at the south approach tracks to Union Station with the Taylor Street viaduct in the background. The trains from left to right: Burlington Northern commuter trains powered by one of their venerable E8's, Gulf, Mobile and Ohio commuter trains (aka "The Plug") powered by an F7, Amtrak GP7 760 (ex Frisco 610) handling equipment led by an SDP40F. To the right is the Amtrak (former Pennsylvania) coach yard.
Robert Petit David, I believe that it's Taylor street in the background. COMED has a switching facility there.
David DaruszkaGroup Admin Robert Petit Thanks. I forgot Taylor Street still ran to the river after the bridge was removed.
Robert Petit The steam line to CUS is what gave it away for me.
Rowan Collins That’s awesome Amtrak rainbow era still there!!

David Daruszka added twelve photos with the comment: "Built by the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, 1915-1918."

In preparation for the construction of the new Union Station, the freight transfer system of various railroads was reconfigured and rationailzed with the construction of new terminals. The most outstanding structure in terms of size and design was that of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The Pennsy's original freight handling facilites were adjacent to the original Union Station. They were hemmed in by both the station's tracks and the adjacent Chicago River leaving no room for expansion.

The design and construction of the facility, known as the Western Warehousing Company, was under the direction of Thomas Rodd, chief engineer of the Pennsylvania Lines West. The building was sited on an angular plot between the west bank of the Chicago River, and Polk, Taylor and Canal Streets. There were 18 stub tracks within the building, and one outside the building. Two additional stub tracks outside the building were used for shipping automobiles. The building included three stories for warehousing and was designed to be completely fireproof. The building contained 36 electrically powered elevators, and the freight "tug" tractors were electrically powered as well.

The building was of steel frame construction encased in concrete with brick curtain walls, those on the exterior being faced with red brick. The architects chosen for the building was the Philadelphia firm of Price and McLanahan, William Lightfoot Price being the principal architect. Price subdivided the mass of the enormous building giving it the appearance of several smaller warehouses linked together. Price employed the red bricks of the exterior to create arches, butresses and setbacks. The restrained ornamentation created an organic structure that did not rely on the emulation of historic styles. The building was a masterwork of architecture and a bold statement of the strength of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The most notable feature was the eight story clock tower dominating the Polk Street facade. The tower contained the water tanks for the fire sprinkler system on the fourth and fifth floors, as well as an observation balconies between the 7th and 8th floors. The building was also connected to the Chicago freight tunnel system.

Construction began in July of 1915 with the driving of 18,000 wooden piles upon which the reinforced concrete piers were built.

Work on the building was interrupted for eight months by a general labor strike. When completed the building contained 1.5 million square feet of space and was one of the biggest buildings in Chicago. Price would not live to see the completion of the building, having died at the age of 55 in 1916.

The building became the backdrop for numerous photographs of trains operating out of the south end of Union Station. Pennsylvania Railroad publicty photograph.

Architectural historian Carl Condit called the building, "an overlooked masterpiece of Chicago architecture". The clock tower seems to presage the Art Deco stylings of the Board of Trade building in the distance. 1942 photograph by Charles Cushman.
Dennis DeBruler That would be the south end of the CB&Q freight house in the foreground.

By 1968 the anemic Pennsy merged with the equally anemic New York Central to form the ill-fated Penn Central. The new corporation began to shed assests and had no need for an obsolete warehouse. John Borklund photo.

The wrecker's ball fell on the abandoned and neglected building in 1974. No preservation movement was mounted and had the building survived it might have been repurposed for corporate or residential use. William C. Brubaker photograph.

Today the land is occupied by a massive Com Ed transformer and distribution facility.
Marty Gatton shared
Stephen Karlson Amtrak era, Burlington Northern still service some of the trains, those North Western gallery cars are the intercity version, assigned at the time to the Illinois Zephyr.
Willam Post It was quite interesting to see the Chicago and Northwestern Gallery Bilevel car and you are most likely correct as the Illinois Zephyr in Amtrak's early years was using them. Amtrak did end up repainting them into the Silvergrey mist colors however that was obviously before they were repainted.
Willam Post Did you notice on the upper right end of the photo that there were a bunch of the former Great Northern passenger cars that were painted in the Great Northern's new paint scheme of blue with black and white trimmings. That didn't last too long as within 3 years of the new paint scheme the Great Northern had merged into the Burlington Northern.
Dennis DeBruler And the replacement for this huge building is an electrical switch yard,,-87.../data=!3m1!1e3

Allan Zirlin posted
[If you search this page for "Allan Zirlin,", you will see a couple of images provided as comments on this post.]

Gary Jasica commented on Allan Zirlin's post
Cpo William Howe Gary Jasica Possibly the in bound BROADWAY LIMITED,along side a string of “mail-flexi vans,superb photo.

Marty Bernard posted three photos with the comment: "NYC, PC, and PRR Just South of Chicago Union Station -- Rick Burn."
NYC E8A 4089 with three sister E-units take Train 40 south out of Union Station, at Taylor St., Chicago, IL in November 1969. NYC /Michigan Central trains were switched La Salle Street Station to Union Station soon after the October 1968 merger forming Penn Central. Rick Burn photo

Just painted PC SW1 8414 on the south leads of Union Station, at Taylor St., Chicago, IL in November 1969. Rick Burn photo

PRR SW1 9139 at about Polk St., Chicago, IL in December 1965. Looks like someone was playing in the front sand box.. If you look in the upper right corner of the first two photos you can see the tracks in this photo. Rick Burn photo
Paul Meier enhanced a photo posted by Bill Molony
Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Alco PA1 #290, departing from Chicago Union Station with train #17, the afternoon all-stops local to Joliet - 1947.
Brandon McShane Never saw a photo of a PA on the Plug before.
Paul Meier Generally the Alcos stayed in the southern divisions. One of the roundhouse foremen in Bloominton, IL (long passed) told me they did run through to Chicago on rare occasions. A little help from Photoshop.
Dennis DeBruler A different view of the Pennsy Freight Warehouse. We can see a couple of boxcars in it.
Bill Molony posted
Gulf, Mobile & Ohio train #2, the Abraham Lincoln, arriving in downtown Chicago on September 29, 1962.
The train featured reclining seat coaches, a dining car, a parlor car with drawing room, a cocktail lounge for parlor car and coach passengers, and an observation-parlor car. 
It was scheduled to depart from St. Louis Union Station at 8:58 AM and arrive at Chicago Union Station at 2:08 PM.
David Nelson June 1, 1947 - April 30, 1971.
[This shot was from further east on 18th Street than most of the railfan photos from this viaduct.]

Pennsy's freight warehouse is at the middle right of this photo.
Richard Pitchford posted, 1972
A construction worker stands atop the attenna of the Sears Tower,
nearing completion, 1972, Chicago. He is untethered, about 1485 feet in the air.

Bill Molony shared's photo. A comment provided a link to "Will Price's Pennsylvania Railroad Freight Terminal, 1918."

Bill Molony shared a sharing of Paul Enenback's Fickr Photo.
Dennis DeBruler This is one of those historic pictures where the more you look, the more you see. The Pennsy freight terminal in the background got my immediate attention. It looks like US Mail used containers on flat cars a long time ago. And you can see AT&T microwave horn antennas near the upper-right corner. I'm still trying to figure out what those building on the east side of the South Branch were.s


  1. Wow! Great collection of photos of the like and death of the PRR Freight House in Chicago.

  2. That “screenshot” image is of Central Station, not CUS or the Pensy RR warehouse. The white building in the background are apartments located at 1140 S. Michigan Avenue. The photographer is standing essentially where Roosevelt Road now runs.

    1. Thanks for the correction. I have moved that screenshot to my notes on Central Station.

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