Stop That Train

The city's public works commissioner was unimpressed with the company's performance and its one train a day schedule. On January 1, 1900, he declared the structure to be incomplete and unsafe, thereby nullifying the franchise. The commissioner ordered the Northwestern to cease operations immediately. Yerkes had other ideas.

The next day, the daily franchise train left Wilson Avenue in defiance of the commissioner's order. At Wrightwood Avenue four policemen boarded and arrested the crew on charges of criminal carelessness. Firm in the belief that the train could not proceed further without a motorman or conductor, the police left the train unsupervised with the passengers still on-board. Little did the police realize that among the train's passengers was company superintendent Farnk Hedley. Hedley calmly entered the cab and took control of the train.

As the train approached the junction with the Loop at Lake Street, Headley observed that the track just north of the junction was occupied by more than 50 policemen intent on stopping the train. Instead of yielding, Headley notched-up the controller and the train lunged forward. The men in blue scattered to avoid being run over and watched helplessly as the train entered the Loop. Having been foiled twice, the police placed timbers across the tracks just north of the junction and waited for the train to circle the Loop. In the meantime, arrangements had been hurriedly made to route the train onto the Lake Street company's line. The lawmen looked on in astonishment as the train raced north on Fifth Avenue and suddenly turned west onto Lake Street, bypassing their barricade.

The police finally caught up with their quarry at the Market Street stub and stationed a detail on the unheated train overnight to make sure it did not get away. When the cases against the trainmen came to court the judge ruled that the police had exceeded their authority and ordered them released.


The "L" by Bruce G. Moffat, Central Electric Railfans' Association, Chicago, 1995, page 194.