Jim Hipple called me over to his table at the Oak Crest
cafe a couple months ago to ask if I had ever heard of the dinky
train and then suggested it would make a good column. Jim
and I both had parents who were schoolmates in Waterman in the
1920s, so we go way back.
This is how I get many good ideas, through tips that turn
into columns, so I began my pursuit of the story. But it is not
easy to chase down facts and people from something that happened
in the 1940s, more than 70 years ago.
\Jim had never ridden this train but knew some people who
had. So I began calling those people. I also knew that the Shabbona-Lee-Rollo
Historical Museum might have some history on it. Alice Lintereur
and Carol Bend there were most helpful. They put me in touch
with Mike Schafer who had written an article for their newsletter
about this train eight years ago.
Mike was very cooperative and even brought me a photo of
the one-car gas-electric train, called a motorcar, also known
to him as the puddle-jumper or doodlebug
due to its small size.
This photo provided by Mike Schafer shows the gas-electric
motorcar in Rockford being loaded with mail and freight for its
trip south. (Photo part of the Brian Landis collection)Model of similar motorcar provided by David Hegberg
The motorcar Jim talked about ran on tracks from Rockford
through Lee, Shabbona, Waterman and Hinckley, to Aurora daily.
Mike wrote in great detail about it and the many stops in towns
as well as the fact there were two trains, the Number 41 that
ran from Aurora to Rockford and the Number 42 that ran the route
in reverse each day. Towns along the tracks had a depot agent
who handled the mail and freight, as well as selling tickets
Now the local angle: Lee High School closed in 1946 and
its students were sent to other nearby schools. Ed Benner was
one of those students from Lee and told me this story: He and
schoolmates who played basketball, then played for the Waterman
Wolverines. Since practice after school meant they would miss
the bus that ran between the two towns, they boarded the Number
41 train to get back home. He recalls some of those classmates
were Wayne Starnes, Jim Maakestad, Donald Rogde, and Ron Oleson.
(He was not sure of the correct spelling of their names.)
One trip he recalled, the dinky train was pulling
a new Zephyr dome car up to Rockford. The boys talked the conductor
into letting them ride in that car and sit up in the dome. It
was a thrill and particularly exciting, he said, when they went
under bridges where the dome barely slipped under the overhead
structures. Ed also told me he had two aunts from the Chicago
area who often came to visit his family on the farm north of
Lee. The aunts would take one train to Aurora, then board the
dinky and when it came to Lee the engineer would not only stop
at the depot, but take the the two ladies to a rural crossing
north of town and drop them off on that country road. Ed would
wait there and drive them to the farm. I also talked to Marilyn
Sjoholm and Mary Eakle who said they had ridden that train to
go shopping in Aurora.
So that is the story of the one-car puddle-jumper that
served those communities until 1949 when it was discontinued
by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad.