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  • Belt Railway of Chicago Part I

    Left: Belt Railway of Chicago class K-3 0-8-0 No. 141 poses for the Baldwin company photographer in a classic rods-down pose on her birthday at Eddystone in 1928. The husky 0-8-0 was one of five similar units delivered to BRC by BLW and closely resembled the Alco-built K-2 0-8-0's delivered but a year earlier.
    Prototype Modeler - July 1986 - Page 39 Prototype Modeler - July 1986 - Page 40

    PhotoRoster: Belt Railway of Chicago Part I


    The Belt Railway of Chicago is a diminutive jewel of a property, small in terms of total route miles, yet copious in terms of history, variety and diversity of operations. Operating a grand total of 398 track miles located entirely within the Chicago Switching District, it intersects and connects with every line-haul rail road entering Chicago and is one of the country's largest belt and terminal companies.

    The innermost of Chicago's three major belt railroads, its main line starts at Cragin Junction, on the city's northwest side, where a connection with the Milwaukee Road is made. Running southward on the city's west side, the road brushes Chicago & North Western's 40th Street yard and Burlington Northern's Clyde yard, as it passes through Nerska, Lemoyne and 55th Street Jcts. At 55th Street, two branch lines diverge from the main line: one heads north eastward toward a connection with the Santa Fe near Corwith yard; the other heads westward and southward to enter the west end of BRC's own Clearing Yard. The main line continues south to Hayford crossing, located at the east throat of Clearing, then heads east ward through Forest Hill (75th Street interlocking) and Pullman Jct. to Rock Island Jct. At this point, one line diverges toward the northeast and United States Steel's South Works; the other heads southward toward the Calumet Industrial District, eventually connecting with the Chicago & Western Indiana at South Deering Jct. Besides the routes already mentioned, BRC enjoys trackages over several other carriers.

    History of the BRC

    The Belt Railway of Chicago was conceived and built by one-time parent Chicago & Western Indiana as that carrier's Belt Division. In fact, C&WI owned most of BRC's assets until 1962. (For more information about the C&WI, consult the feature by our own John B. Hilbron and Kevin McKinney in the August 1985 issue of PASSENGER TRAIN JOURNAL). In numerous ways, operations between the two properties are still closely related. Originally envisioned as a wholly separate undertaking than that of its parent, the Belt Division was intended to serve as a convenient link between all Chicago railroads. Construction was initiated in 1880 and was essentially completed by 1883, giving BRC the title of Chicago's oldest belt line. Clearing Yard, BRC's enormous main Chicago classification facility, was originally a private project separate from both the C&WI and BRC. Located close to all three major belt lines and planned as a "clearing" (hence the name) or neutral classification facility for all railroads entering the city of Chicago, it was the fruit of the dreams of A. B. Stickney, who was responsible for the formation of the Chicago Great Western Railroad. Stickney planned Clearing in 1889 and incorporated the Chicago Union Transfer Railway Co. to construct and operate the facility. Completed in 1902, Clearing was at one time the world's largest freight yard, featuring one of the first hump classification installations ever built. Chicago Union Transfer Co.'s tenure as an operating entity lasted until 1912, when its assets were conveyed to the C&WI, who in turn leased them back to the BRC.

    In addition to the acquisition of all CUTCo. assets, BRC acquired seven new owners (Santa Fe, Rock Island, Illinois Central, Pennsylvania, Burlington, Chesapeake & Ohio and Sao Line) in addition to its original owners (Chicago & Eastern Illinois, Erie, Grand Trunk Western, Monon and Wabash all of whom owned BRC parent C&WI), due to the implementation of the now famous 1912 Belt Operating Agreement. Also part of that accord, the Chicago & Al ton and the Omaha Road dropped out at a later date. The Pere Marquette was added as an owner in 1924. Belt ownership remained static until the relatively recent rash of bankruptcies, mergers and consolidations.

    BRC steam locomotives

    The Belt's steam locomotives were fairly representative of those used on other belt and terminal/transfer rail roads. Most of its motive power consisted of unglamorous-yet-endearing, fat-boilered variants of 0-6-0 and 0-8-0 designs, some of which were constructed as C&WI Belt Division locomotives and lettered as such. They were utilitarian, all-purpose work horses, commonly employed in switching, hump, transfer and limited main featured service. Most line BRC/C& WI's characteristic slope- sheet, eight-wheel tenders and offset, high-mounted head lights.

    A number of BRC locomotives were originally constructed for and owned by Chicago's South Side Rapid Transit Co. These units, sometimes referred to as "steam dummies," originally pulled open-vestibuled, wooden elevated rail way cars over SSRTCo. routes prior to that line's electrification. A number of SSRTCo. locomotives were purchased by Chicago Union Transfer Co., who in turn conveyed them to BRC as part of the 1912 agreement.

    The largest BRC steam locomotives were its ten Class C-1 and C-2 light USRA 2 -10-2's, five from Alco and five delivered by Baldwin. While they were basically derived from the same war time standard design, a number of detail placement differences set them apart, notably the engines' headlights, domes and bells. See the accompanying photographs for more detailed information.

    Page 41: Before the advent of its characteristic eight coupled switching locomotives, BRC got the job done with various new and secondhand engines. Among the heavy 0-6-0 types it employed were ten E-3 class units delivered by Baldwin in 1905.

    Similar in design were BRC's ten E-4 class 0-6-0's. The E-4's differed in a number of ways from their E-3 sisters, particularly in details concerning the sand and steam domes, layout of piping and air compressors.

    BRC's second order of 0-8-0 switching locomotives was in the form of five H-1 class units delivered by Baldwin in 1913. They followed ten G2 0-8-0's ordered from Lima two years earlier. Class unit 110 was typical of BRC heavy switching power.

    Left: Depicted at the Clearing Yard engine facility, class No. J-2 0-8-0 127 was the third of four similar units constructed by Baldwin in 1925. Note the differences in tenders, piping and detail placement which distinguished the J-2's from their similar H-1cousins.

    Page 42: By the mid-1920's, Belt management was sold on the 0-8-0 wheel arrangement, as it was much more suited to the BRC's unique and difficult operating conditions than the somewhat obscure and antiquated collection of locomotives it had operated before World War I. By 1927, BRC learned about the economies of relative standardization, as exemplified by its K-class 0-8-0's, such as K-1 131. shunting cars at South Chicago Yard on Independence Day 1946.

    Class K-2 0-8-0 No. 137 shows only minor differences in layout than similar K-1's.

    The only differences between the K-3 and K-4 classes were the order numbers assigned to them and their construction dates. K-3 140 exhibits typical C&WIIBRC details, such as its slope sheet tender, bell mounted atop the front of the smokebox and offset mounted headlight. Carrying builder's number 60662, 140 possessed two 27" x 30" cylinders, 57" drivers and weighed a whopping 258,000 pounds.

    By the time World War II ended, BRC's motive power was all but worn out, typical of many similar heavily-utilized belt and terminal properties. Weary and tired, yet still exhibiting its classic Baldwin-inspired lines, K-4 0-8-0 145 busies herself sorting cars at South Chicago Sept. 2, 1946.

    Page 43: Every roster has its proverbial "black sheep," and the Belt's was no exception-witness quasi experimental class M 0-8-0 No. 150. A unique engine on the BRC, the 150 weighed a mere 130 pounds more than similar K-class 0-8-0's, although the class M switcher had three 25" x 28" cylinders, as opposed to two 27" x 30" cylinders on the K's. Originally Chicago & Western Indiana (Belt Division) No. 150, the triple expansion experimental is shown during the twilight of her career at Clearing on March 24, 1950.

    Used primarily in heavy transfer service, the ten light USRA 210-2'5 were the largest examples of BRC motive power. Five wartime class C-1 examples were delivered by Baldwin in 1918. They weighed 397,200 pounds, rode on 58" drivers and had two 30" x 32" cylinders. Belt Railway No. 5 poses at Clearing on Jan. 7, 1939.

    Left: Roughly similar in appearance yet possessing subtle differences in design, class C-2 No. 20 was caught at Clearing on Oct. 15, 1948. The C-2's were constructed at Alco's Brooks Works in 1918, had 57" drivers and two 27" x 32" cylinders and weighed only 352,000 pounds.
    Prototype Modeler - July 1986 - Page 41 Prototype Modeler - July 1986 - Page 42 Prototype Modeler - July 1986 - Page 43

    Being a belt/terminal property, the BRC possessed little in the way of revenue equipment. Unusual and interesting though, was the fact that BRC ran an obscure-yet-essential passenger commuter service between Dearborn Station in downtown Chicago and Clearing Yard for the benefit of its employees working there. The service utilized C&WI tracks to Belt Jct., where a connection with BRC rails was made. Employing mostly ancient 0-6-0's and secondhand wooden coaches bought from both the C&WI and Soo Line, the highly inconspicuous service operated until 1929. In part two, we'll examine latter-day BRC history and operations, as well as its varied and unusual roster of diesel locomotives.

    Article Details

    • Original Author James E. Humbert
    • Source Prototype Modeler
    • Publication Date July 1986

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