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Barry Schrader
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I have been writing a column for the Chronicle most of the time since December 2007, with two breaks, one in 2016 and the other in 2017 when my wife Kay suffered a stroke. They are all archived here.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

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Some still remember the ‘dinky train’

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist....................................April 26, 2019

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 to passengers.

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.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115