Archive

Tag Archives: Chicago “L”

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

Looking out from my vacation cottage porch (at 8:20 a.m.), I could see across the small lake–and could see the red lights flashing, the stopped yellow school bus, and three or four little children climbing the steps into the bus.

When I first saw what was happening, the pseudo-Latin poem popped into my head. It always seems to happen that way, as my mind drifts at the word “buses” (or the less prevalent “busses”):

O Sybilli, si ergo,
Fortibus es in ero.
O nobili, demis trux:
Sevatis enim? Causen dux!

O see Billy, See ‘er go!
Forty buses in a row.
O no, Billy, dem is trucks.
See what is in ‘em? Cows an’ Ducks!

It makes no sense in Latin. Just some silliness from high school that has been etched into my memory, and consciousness.

“O Sibili si ergo, fortibuses in ero. Nobili demis trux: sewatis enim? Cowsendux!”

School buses. In a row.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Row of Buses…

What is there about a yellow bus, flashing red lights, children entering/exiting a school bus? And, What is “school bus yellow”?

School BusSchool Bus (Front View)

“Yellow was adopted as a standard color for North American school buses beginning in 1939, the adoption of a standard shade of paint. The color, which became known as “school bus yellow,” was selected because black lettering on that specific hue was easiest to see in the semi-darkness of early morning and late afternoon. Today the color is known as “National School Bus Glossy Yellow.” [Wikipedia]

When I was growing up in Chicago, I never rode a school bus. In the City, my sister, one smaller brother, and I walked to grammar school–six or eight city blocks.

My transportation to high school (a private Catholic school) was the CTA: Chicago Transit Authority.

cta by sullivan

CTA by Sullivan

I rode a city bus from 55th and Halstead to 63rd, then transferred for a long ride on the “L” (The Chicago ‘L’: sometimes written as “L” or “el,” short for “elevated.”), behind apartments’ back stairs or fire escapes–landings leading to second- and third-floor porches filled with toys and old ice boxes, or “stuff.” Past the buildings, then down, through and under downtown Chicago as the “L” went “subway.” I exited at Chicago and State streets, and walked a few blocks to school. For four years, I followed these routes, carrying a book bag. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of early winter night prevented me from completion of my high school diploma.

Chicago ElevatedCTA EL

However, no school bus experience.

During graduate schooling in Minnesota, my taking courses in school administration, I learned about transporting students, planning bus routes, buying and selling of buses, transportation obligations of school boards, and school bus safety.

My own kids first rode school buses where I became high school principal. Here I was better educated about snow days, closing school early because of storms coming, and athletes traveling on buses to their events.

But it was in the southwest outback of the state, when I served as school superintendent from 1976-1980, that I became most knowledgeable in school bus “stuff.”

(In 1980, there were six major school bus body manufacturers producing full-size school buses in North America: Blue Bird Body Company; Carpenter Body Works; Superior Coach Company; Thomas Built Buses, Inc.; Wayne Corporation; and Ward Body Works. Today only three exist: Thomas, IC [Integrated Coach], and Blue Bird. [Wikipedia])

IC  L50 BusIC Integrated Coach Bus

Those four years have allowed memories to come to mind when I do see a school bus (or “busses”) on the road or street or highway. Most memories are good and pleasant.

Nervousness on my part came during bus inspection done by the Highway Patrol. The drivers and I awaited the results. I was ultimately accountable for the buses. I made sure the drivers took good care of their buses, knew their routes and their riders, and had me along sometimes as a rider so I could know as much as I could about the driving process.

Winter brought most activity with the drivers and me. I was responsible for school closings. I had to know the weather from one end of the district to another. I drove the school car in early morning “to check the roads.” I was in contact with neighboring school administrators and radio stations to help me make a decision.

And athletic events being cancelled and rescheduled? Could the buses travel safely? Sometimes there were tense times, awaiting the arrival of a bus of cheerleaders and athletes after a night game during the winter season. Even though the buses returned safely, but very late, the roads and heavy snow kept the students in town for an overnight at designated homes.

Yet I DO remember riding a bus route, with the snow plowed and moved so that it WAS over the height of the bus! High flags on every bus so they could be seen. Exciting!

[Colorado]  Snow Drift by dailycamera. com

[Colorado] Snow Drift by dailycamera. com

In spring, creeks rose and bridges sagged. I had to determine weights of gasoline, buses-over-bridges routes, and re-routing students to long driveways or distant farm homes.

Then the buying and bidding process, almost like expecting a baby: Who has the bid? Who will provide the chassis, and the body? Such a small district with six or seven buses, yet the bidding process was the same in all districts, whether buying one bus or three or more. (I made sure the buses were painted with high numbers so observers might consider our district larger than it was. Fun.)

I even drove a school bus! On US Highway 71, I steered the bus to another town, to have new tires installed. I was told that superintendents had emergency powers, allowing them to drive buses. (I never did check into that….) But what a time I had at the wheel of a Blue Bird Bus with a Chevrolet engine, or my favorite Thomas with an International Harvester powertrain. (IH was an early manufacturer of medium/heavy duty trucks. Although based upon truck chassis, IH also became the leading manufacturer of the chassis portion of body-on-chassis conventional [type C] school buses. Wikipedia)

Yet of all those memories of a time in Minnesota, a high point had to be the personal tour of the Blue Bird bus factory, then in Mount Pleasant, Iowa [1962-2002]. While on the way to a Florida vacation, we made a special arranged visit. We saw the assembly line, and how it worked. We watched the uniting of body with chassis. We walked inside an incomplete body, with bundles of wires and harnesses being installed. Ladies were working in the factory, sitting at large sewing machines, making covers for the bus seats.

I never knew before then how all the parts came together, to become a unified bus, to be delivered to a school district, the result of a bidding process that I had come to know and was part of.

So. One can see this story isn’t about an exciting Lamborghini,

Lamborghini by UK Telegraph

Lamborghini by UK Telegraph

or a Lear jet, or even about the building of a John Deere tractor.

John Deere Tractor by Restoration Project

John Deere Tractor by Restoration Project

It’s simply about a school bus. Or riding a school bus. Simple.

Yet I am certain that any reader who was a rider is now filled with School Bus Yellow Memories.

© James F. O’Neil 2014

BLUE BIRD BUS by purplewave. com

BLUE BIRD BUS by purplewave. com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

By: James F. O’Neil

“Riding the Subway as Therapy”– Jared Keller (http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2012/12/riding-subway-therapy/4075/)

On a recent trip to Minnesota, I rode the tram in the Minneapolis airport.  Carry-on bag with me, I stepped onto the tramcar, moved away from the doors which were about to close (as I was warned), and sat down to the right in a senior seat.  I had a perfect front view of the tracks, and a view of how I was going to travel to Concourse C.

TRAM TRACKS MPLS AIRPORT 2013

In a moment-flash-to-the-past, a recurring moment, I was transported to Chicago, the Chicago L, the Englewood Line, then called The “A” Train.

CTA “A” TRAIN TO HOWARD STREET

(The CTA ‘L’ is sometimes written as “L” or “el,” short for “elevated.)  My little brother and I were travelers of the CTA rails.  My small companion, five years younger, and I went for L rides, for something to do.  What a cheap date!  When we rode the transit system, from bus to L, the fares were 12¢, and then rose to 20¢ in the late ‘50s.  (In 1957, the base fare was raised to 25¢.)

Our route was the walk from 67th and Marshfield, to the bus on Ashland, then north to 63rd, transfer to 63rd to Loomis, where the Englewood Line ended/began. 

 Tom and I--Forever Bound

63rd and Loomis

Through the station and up the stairs we went.  (See the 1995 romantic comedy film While You Were Sleeping with Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman for a view of fare-collecting and L train stations.)  Almost running to the front of the waiting “train,” the two of us pushed into the first car, sitting in the front across from the motorman.  We’d share turns on the single seat by the front window. 

As the train went underground, becoming the subway under the Chicago Loop and farther north, the journey under the city thrilled us both–and a greater thrill when the motorman opened his door, propping it open with a foot or leg, allowing us front-row seats to the controls of the machine.  We drove with him.  We were in command. 

Lights and rails and signals raced by; then we slowed for each underground platform stop.  As we came to daylight, we saw and felt the climb up the rails to over two stories above the city.  We were always able to look down at porches and cars and people, or look into third-story windows.

From 63rd and Loomis to the end of the line at Howard Street, we delighted.  Then everyone off, down the stairs to the exit to the street.  We would walk around, finding our favorite stop for a Coke, then looking in the showroom window of the Mercedes-Benz dealer on Howard and State Street.  In the showroom, we walked around, transfixed–really–looking at the new gull-wing Mercedes-Benz,

 

1955_Mercedes-Benz_300SL_Gullwing_Coupe_34Pic of that Mercedes in 1955

Then we’d make our way back home, looking forward to the ride, but somewhat let down, of course, for the trip was over.  But at the same time, what a trip, nearly from one of the city to the other.

As we grew older, the trips became less frequent.  Yet like Holden Caulfield protecting his sister Phoebe (in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye), I was my brother’s savior on one unforgettable L ride. 

We were traveling underground.  I was in the single seat (my turn…), facing the motorman compartment, but able to turn face-front.  My brother was in the first double seat, next to the window, looking forward and left.  Both of us thought nothing of the old man who came from a crowded platform and made his way to sit down with us in the empty place.  Next to my brother.  Small talk (as I look back), about our ride and us. 

From the corner of my eye, I saw the man move his hand slowly from on his left leg towards my brother’s little right leg covered by brown corduroys.  I mean, this guy was some kind of pervert and all…  Honest to God!  And I got excited and all.  And nervous.  I mean, what was I supposed to do?  I’m not kidding.  I kept worrying, in slow motion and all, about what the pervert was going to do–and all.

I looked him in the eye: “Don’t touch my brother or I’ll kill you, I swear to God I will!”  He stood up and moved.  There I was, sliding away from the window, sitting down next to the little guy.  There I was, the catcher in the rye and all.  I caught him before he was swept over the cliff.  I saved him and all.  I swore then and there that I would NEVER let harm come to him–and all.

 * * *

From Wikipedia: The Chicago rapid-transit system is officially nicknamed the ‘L’.  This name for the CTA rail system applies to the whole system: its elevated, subway, at-grade, and open-cut segments.  The use of the nickname dates from the earliest days of the elevated railroads.  Newspapers of the late 1880s referred to proposed elevated railroads in Chicago as ‘”L” roads.  The first route to be constructed, the Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad gained the nickname “Alley Elevated,” or “Alley L” during its planning and construction, a term that was widely used by 1893, less than a year after the line opened.

In discussing various stylings of “Loop” and “L” in Destination Loop: The Story of Rapid Transit Railroading in and around Chicago (1982), author Brian J. Cudahy quotes a passage from The Neon Wilderness (1949) by Chicago author Nelson Algren: “beneath the curved steel of the El, beneath the endless ties.”  Cudahy then comments, “Note that in the quotation above … it says ‘El’ to mean ‘elevated rapid transit railroad.’  We trust that this usage can be ascribed to a publisher’s editor in New York or some other east coast city; in Chicago, the same expression is routinely rendered ‘L.'” The Chicago Tribune style guide also uses ‘L.’

As used by CTA, the name is rendered as the capital letter ‘L’, in quotation marks.  “L” (with double quotation marks) was often used by CTA predecessors such as the Chicago Rapid Transit Company; however, the CTA uses single quotation marks (‘) on some printed materials and signs rather than double.  In Chicago, the term subway is only applied to the sections of the ‘L’ network that are actually underground and is not applied to the entire system as a whole, as in New York City where both the elevated and underground portions are called the subway.

Link: http://www.chicago-l.org/index.html 

Note: The Website is found as Chicago “L”.org

© James F. O’Neil  2013

%d bloggers like this: