I have been wanting to make the trek to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to see the new residential development that includes a trolley circulator using historic streetcars, not the diesel-powered cartoon trolleys that have faked their way into our cities. Couldn’t they just be honest about it and use antique buses?
Anyway, my partner in crime today is my good friend George Kanary who lives in Hinsdale. We decide this whole trip will be by train. He has business in the Loop in the morning so takes the Metra Aurora line in. After that, he boards the 12:35 North Line train on which I will meet him at Central Street
Also waiting for the train is a teenager with a folding bike ready to board as a long southbound pulls into the station. There is also another bike locked to the railing under the northbound shelter:
The train arrives late.
George K. is retired and he reminds me that he rides free, thanks to some transit funding horse trading in Springfield earlier this year. That’s another story, though. George also tells me that the dwell times have been long at the stations from Ogilvie downtown. The train, while not packed, has plenty of people aboard this afternoon.
It also gets later due to trackwork north of North Chicago. 25 minutes later.
I have never ridden Metra this far north. It has always been by car so this is like new scenery. I’ve ridden my bike as far north as the North Chicago Navy Base. I feel like I’m somewhere else, and I am. I see some wetlands I’ve never seen. I also see a coal-fired power plant I’ve never seen. I see that the Great Lakes Naval Station calls itself “The Quarterdeck of the Navy.” What the hecks a “quarterdeck”? Turns out its the aft part of the upper deck of a ship, usually reserved for officers. There, I learned something.
The short version of Kenosha is this: like so many old industrial towns, the plants that made the jobs and the prosperity closed or left taking with them the jobs and the prosperity. In this case, it was the American Motors plant, formerly the old Nash Rambler plant. Chrysler became the owner and closed it. According to George, they tore it down and donated the land to the city of Kenosha. Eventually, the auto plant site was developed with expensive townhouses which were attractive to leisure boaters using the nearby harbor. A new streetcar line was included in the development to connect it with the Metra station to the west and with the Kenosha bus routes serving the rest of the city.
We soon boarded the streetcar for the 25 cent ride. George tells me it’s a dollar ride if you transfer to a Kenosha bus, still a deal. From the window of the streetcar, I check the wide side streets of the housing development.
The line uses postwar late 40’s President’s Conference Committee (PCC) streetcars mostly bought used from Toronto and painted in the colors of various city systems around the country. Today, a car painted in Chicago “Green Hornet” colors is doing the honors as the townhomes rise behind it.
The load is light at midday when we ride, mainly with some families on board. There seems to be plenty of pedestrian and even some bike traffic around. At the Joseph McCarthy transit center, Kenosha buses wheel into curbside transit bays for their layovers and their connecting passengers.
We walked a couple blocks north of the transit center for a late lunch early dinner in a family restaurant. The old buildings of Kenosha are all around us. George said there is talk of extending the car line this way as well as into the second shopping district of Uptown.
We walk back, take some more photos, and then make sure to get to the Metra station so we do not miss the only train for hours, the 5:51 southbound. George has gone ahead of me but as I head into the pedestrian tunnel a northbound train has unloaded and passengers are streaming down the steps. Two men are carrying bikes down and they look like commuters to me.
The southbound train has a lot of people on at Kenosha already and it continues to fill up all the way down the line on this reverse commute. The bike rack at Lake Bluff appears to be completely filled with bikes.
The train is only a few minutes late and after I bid goodbye to George, I get off at Central Street. A man with a bike helmet boards my car as I walk away.
George still has a hefty ride home made heftier by the connection downtown: this train’s 7:27 arrival will probably preclude his making the 7:40 train at Union Station, so he will have to wait until the 8:40 train.
But on the train we were able to talk for hours and look out the window and not have to think that hard about our means of transport.
These are the pains and pleasures of doing without a car.