“Dinky” Off on Final Journey
By C. C. Tisler
An 82-year-old institution – passenger traffic over the Burlington Railroad through Ottawa came to an end at 2 p. m. today, Feb. 2, when the last train pulls out of Ottawa, northbound to Aurora with no return trip.
The passenger business on the “Qs” hummed in the early days of the line as did the express business. The date the first train pulled into Ottawa with its load of passengers and took on board another set, bound out from Ottawa seems to be lost in history.
But in May, 1877 the women of the Congregational Church organized the first excursion to Chicago over the new line and sold tickets at $3 each. Then, as was the case for many years afterwards, Chicago was the destination of many of the passengers on the Burlington.
At one time the Burlington ran four passenger trains per day, two north and two southbound. Then the motor vehicle came and the truck took over much of the express business that had been handled by the passenger train. Finally permission was granted by the Illinois Commerce Commission to cut the service to two trains a day.
The express business was a lucrative one in the days when farmers used to ship their products to the commission markets in Chicago. Dressed calves and hogs and coops of squawking hens and protesting roosters could be found on every railroad platform. That business vanished long ago.
One of the earliest bits of enterprise on the part of the Burlington was to lay a special track to the old State Fairgrounds west of Ottawa in 1872 to haul passengers, thereby beating out its rival, the Rock Island, in what was a thriving but short-lined business. The fair came back to Ottawa in 1876 and never returned.
For many years John P. Finn was Burlington agent at Ottawa, working with his sister Miss Anne Finn, who also was employed by the line. The Finns are veteran retired employees of the Burlington, living at 215 E. Washington St.
After the Burlington laid its lines from Aurora to Streator in 1870 it built, 10 years later a spur from Burgess Junction, 20 miles northeast of Ottawa, northwest to Earlville. Passenger service was maintained also on that line for many years with passengers changing cars at Serena for Earlville and Paw Paw. That business also disappeared and the Paw Paw passenger train went to limbo. Now only freights are run on the Burgess Junction-Earlville branch line.
Last year another venerable railroad institution vanished on the Burlington in Ottawa. That was the crossing flagman with his bell, his flag and his shanty. He was replaced by automatic flashers.
The puffing switch engine, with its steam and smoke and clank and clang and bang and roar also are vanished and been replaced with the plebian Diesels.
The Burlington has gone modern – but old time railroaders are a bit nostalgic about the whole affair.1
25 Passengers Take Final trip on CB&Q’s ‘Dinky’
By C. C. Tisler
A railroad passenger line was dead today – and 25 people or so attended the “wake,” some in a gay mood, others saddened at the passing of the Aurora-Ottawa-Streator service which had hauled unnumbered thousands the past 82 years.
Some of the “mourners” boarded the train at Streator early in the afternoon, others got on at Ottawa and the last two at Sheridan. The train crew kept their thoughts well to themselves as the “dinky” with its one coach, baggage car and motor rolled north through the midwinter beauty of the Fox River Valley.
At Streator P. H. “Pat” Foillard, a veteran of 52 years with the Burlington, took over as conductor but his service with the Burlington can be continued if he so desires. With much seniority “Pat” can ask for a post on the streamliners. The train rolled past Grand Ridge.
Smith on Hand
At Ottawa H. L. Smith, agent, another veteran of 42 years with the line, was on hand to see the last passengers climb aboard. So was George Grubaugh, who, like Smith, has been with the line for many years. In the cab was Engineer W. C. Shade, likewise a veteran in the service, while Donald Disell was baggageman – with little baggage to sort out on the last run. A few packages were all that was on board.
In Aurora early Saturday Frank Saucedo donned his best blue suit, a light hat and a polka dotted bow tie while Mrs. Sauceda put on her babushka and best coat. Then they went down to Ottawa. They were aboard – Saucedo is with the maintenance crew, the all important ones who keep the road bed.
Another early riser Saturday was Henry C. Piepho, 314 S. Stewat Ave., Lombard, an accountant and railroad fan. Piepho went down to Streator, too, to take the last ride on the old Burlington passenger line.
Rode Last Milwaukee Train
He also had the last ride on the Milwaukee line which ran from Northwestern Illinois up into Minnesota. He chuckled as his memory carried him back to the time the old horse-drawn street cars went out of service in Chicago, electric ones came in and the first motorman aboard lost his way in the maze of tracks.
Mrs. W. R. Purnell, Aurora, enjoyed the ride – the last one on the line. Her husband is a veteran retired engineer and there was a touch of sentiment to her in this early February journey to mark the obsequies in connection with the passenger traffic.
At Ottawa Foillard gave the highball to Engineer Shade, there was a siren blast and the “Dinky” was off on its last trip.
Stopped at Superior
It stopped at Superior Street, where Foillard, as he had done thousands of times, hopped off, checked his record in the shanty to notify engineers on the company switch track, running to the industrial district, that his train had passed there. It passed over the I-M canal – once a rival to the “Q” for business.
The second stop was at the Rock Island crossing, where the red board was against the dinky. (There was a mixup in signals at that place 35 years ago. Two trains collided and tragedy resulted.)
The dinky rolled over U. S. Highway 6, which did not come into being until long after the Burlington passenger traffic had started. That was what helped to kill passenger service – hard roads and automobiles.
The Dinky rolled on past the Porter factory where it once stopped to discharge passengers. When the line was young, Porter’s made cow stanchions and hay mow equipment. Now they turn out playground equipment.
Reminded of Fair Grounds
Off to the right was the old county fairgrounds. When the line was new, come fall extra cars would be run to accommodate fair-goers and the same applies to the days when the fair-grounds had one of the finest half mile tracks in the Middle West. Was homes now occupy the grounds and the track is in limbo.
At Dayton the first passengers got off – Mrs. Grace MacGrogan and Miss Emma Fraine, who found the line convenient to come to Ottawa.
Engineer Shade took it easy past Dayton to allow the passengers to look out into the flooded Fox Valley far below the tracks where many people had been driven from their homes.
That brought out comment from Harry Hall of Joliet, another veteran railroad man, who said, “the men who built this line were smart – they put it up high so it could not be flooded.”
Hall has worked on the Rock Island, the Burlington and the Milwaukee. He laughed when he recalled the Kendall County records which the Burlington had to use to make its survey. The record said, “The survey is to start at willow trees along the river bank.” That was a problem for the company engineers to solve.
The dinky rolled north to Wedron, past the rolling slopes, past abandoned gravel pits and clay pits and on the other side of the river was St. Joseph’s Health Resort. Long before the white man came into the valley the Indians knew of the water at that place and used it to cure fallen arches, knock-knees, astigmatism, the “heebie jeebie” or whatever was beyond the power of the medicine man.
Four passengers left the line at Wedron, Jim Duffy, Serena, who has ridden it man and boy for many years; Mrs. Bert Hathaway and two school girls – Joyce Ann Bellrose, 12, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Bellrose, and Nancy Twait, 10, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Russell Twait.
The train rolled north again – past more old sand pits and on towards Serena. Off to the right was the “wilderness” of the river valley with no roads into it for several miles on either side of the stream.
The train zipped by the fertile fields of Serena Township where hogs and cattle were out feeding.
(When the line was new the sows burrowed into the convenient straw stack to bring forth their brood of potential hams and bacon. They lacked the modern benefits of vitamins, electric heaters, concentrates and the sage advice of college of agriculture hog specialists. The steers on the other hand could reasonably hope to live three or four years before they went to the block. Now the average steer is packed off to the slaughter house at a much earlier date.)
In Serena, Folliard did not have to call, “Change cars for Baker, Earlville and Paw Paw,” as he did long ago when there was passenger train service from Serena via the Earlville branch to Paw Paw. There was a ghost on the train Saturday – Mike Flaherty of Baker who used to make daily trips to Ottawa via the Paw Paw line and the one to Ottawa.
Mention was made of the sombre [sic] mood of some of the passengers this one included. It was like going back home to familiar scenes – and he recalled that just 50 years ago at this time a young couple in a gay mood made the Burlington trip to Ottawa to get a marriage license.
Rolls on Again
The train rolled on once more past “Burgess Junction,” where Folliard checked his passing for the benefit of the freight engineers from the Paw Paw line.
Off to the right, as the train passed through familiar ground again, barely seen through the trees was the stone house with 18-inch thick walls of Ami Huegenin, the Swiss watchmaker.
Long ago on the west side of the river there was a shed where passengers waited to board the train from Glen Park, once a famous pleasure resort which has vanished with the passing of the years.
At Sheridan a little knot of people stood in station doorway when Mrs. Eleanor Smith and her son Pat, 10 – with his rebel cap, both of Chicago, climbed on board. T. C. Adams, veteran agent at Sheridan, another familiar place, had sold them the last tickets on the line.
Just outside Millington, Cucumber Island could be seen – the last bit of homestead land to be claimed from Uncle Sam in Illinois by Henry Figgins, only three years ago.
It took but a few minutes to reach Millington. (The station has not changed in 35 years since this writer said goodbye to a relative off for service in World war 1.
Near Journey’s End
The dinky was nearing the end of its journey now. It was picking up speed and whizzed through Millbrook and stopped at Yorkville, county seat of Kendall County, but no passengers got on board.
The countryside was changing now as the river bank was lined with summer cottages.
The dinky went through Oswego. It struck the main line of the Burlington. Folliard was busy with his records in his familiar seat at the back of the coach. What memories flooded through his mind are for him to know.
Aurora was reached. Foillard called the station, escorted the passengers off the train and he and Engineer Shade, in the custom of railroad crews, compared watches and notes. A diesel engine was hooked to the front of coach 9406 and it was hauled away.
Officials made no special occasion of the passing of the 82-year old line from Aurora to Streator.
At Aurora three generations who had ridden the dinky, climbed off – V. A. Capsel, Daily Republican-Times photographer; his daughter Jayne, his son, William, and the latter’s son, Billy. The youngster was more interested in something to eat than riding a railroad train.
Some train crew member, with some affection for the grimy old car which had done such good service, had taped to its side this note on white paper: “Dinkys Never Die. They Just Fade Away.”2
- Ottawa Republican-Times, February 2, 1952, p. 1
- Ottawa Republican-Times, February 4, 1952, pp. 1 & 9