The Grand Finale of the North Shore Line

January 21, 1963

Early on a subzero Monday morning, the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad – popularly known as the North Shore Line (NSL) – made its final run after nearly 47 years of service between northeastern Illinois and southeastern Wisconsin. United Press International (UPI) reported, “The last train of the North Shore railroad – one of the nation’s last interurban electric lines – rattled its way into history at 2:55 this morning, late for its own funeral.” 

That final train was 43 minutes behind schedule in arriving at the terminal in Milwaukee, owing to the harsh winter weather as well as the derailment and breakdown of other railroad cars en route. Approximately 220 NSL enthusiasts were crowded on board the train’s six-car special (only one car usually made the post-midnight runs) for that last ride.  “Come again tomorrow night, we’ll ride you for nothing” joked conductor Henry Bondy between routine stints of yelling out “Tickets, please!”

A Chicago-based musician named Al Carter paid a total of $13.50 so that he could earn the distinction of buying the last $4.50 round-trip ticket for the NSL. In an interview with UPI, Carter explained that his hobby was “doing such things as the last thing and the first thing.”

The NSL’s genesis can be traced to 1891, when the Waukegan and North Shore Rapid Transit Company was organized in the city of Waukegan to provide trolley service in northern Illinois. The company eventually expanded to include a considerably wider area of service stretching from Chicago to Milwaukee. 

In 1916, the company was underwent a reorganization and was renamed the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad.  “An underdog in its later life, the railroad provided frequent service, low fares, and on-time performance – all of which endeared it to a group of loyal passengers,” wrote Norman Carlson in a 2013 article in Classic Trains magazine commemorating the 50th anniversary of the NSL’s end. (The above 1950s photo depicts NSL coach #700.)

Photo Credit: Jameslwoodward (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)

For more information on the Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad (also called the North Shore Line), please check out https://www.tmer.org/milwaukee-streetcar-history/chicago-north-shore-and-milwaukee-railroad-history and https://www.american-rails.com/cnsm.html

A video about this interurban electric line is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhUZUOE75tw

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