Con-Cor’s latest release in a beautiful HO model of the 4-unit articulated “Electroliner” trains introduced on the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad in 1941.
Product Review: Con-Cor North Shore Line
“Electroliner” in HO Scale
by Gary Quale/photos by George Riley
By the early 19-teens, the Chicago & Milwaukee Electric had worked itself up from a small streetcar line in Waukegan, IL to a 78-mile route from Evanston, IL just north of Chicago up to Milwaukee, WI. At the same time, utilities magnate Samuel Insull had grown his Commonwealth Edison Co. from a small Chicago electricity supplier into a multi-state utility powerhouse, and had acquired control of the Chicago elevated rapid transit system. Insull acquired the C&ME, which was reorganized as the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee Railroad. The set about upgrading the line with new high-speed steel cars ordered from Brill, Jewett, Cincinnati and Pullman, and provided access to downtown Chicago via his rapid transit system. The north end of the line was set back from the lakefront communities on private right-of-way that let these cars stretch their legs, while the south end’s “Shore Line” was plagued by much street running through the elegant suburbs on Lake Michigan north of Chicago. In the 1920’s, Insull corrected this by building the “Skokie Valley Line” one tier back from the lake to even higher standards than the Wisconsin lines, with a double track and catenary overhead with supports attached to Commonwealth Edison high-tension transmission line towers that shared the right-of-way.
The Great Depression led to the collapse of the Insull empire, and the North Shore Line wound up in bankruptcy. The Roosevelt-era Public Works Administration brought a massive project to provide grade separation of the North Shore Line and the paralleling Chicago & Northwestern through the lakeside suburbs. The enlightened receiver leading the line out of bankruptcy recognized the threat to the North Shore Line from the competing Milwaukee Road’s new “Hiawathas” and the C&NW’s “400’s”. The CNS&M upgraded several of the aging steel cars, and also received permission to purchase two new state-of-the-art streamliners. The St. Louis Car Co. submitted the winning proposal, and an order was placed at the end of 1939. Detailed design of the air-conditioned train followed, actual construction began in July 1940, and the units were completed in mid-January 1941. The CNS&M arranged for expedited delivery and the 801-802 set arrived in Milwaukee on January 22, 1941, followed by the 803-804 nine days later.
The Electroliners were extremely popular with the public and very reliable, each making five 88-mile trips between Chicago’s Loop and downtown Milwaukee day-in and day-out. This schedule had the trains laying over in Milwaukee on alternate nights, when the train would be run down to the Harrison Street Shops for routine maintenance. In their 22 years of service (to the very day for the 801-802 set!), each train recorded over 3.3 million miles on the North Shore Line. This is particularly impressive considering that none of the mighty Union Pacific Big Boys that went into service in late 1941 and were retired about a year before the Electroliners ever exceeded 1.1 million miles in service.
The cosmetically restored 801-802 at the Illinois Railway Museum, in Union, Illinois, 2009.
Following the abandonment of the CNS&M on January 21, 1963, the Electroliners were sold to the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Co. for use on their Norristown Division. The 801-802 became Liberty Liner “Valley Forge” and the 803-804 became “Independence Hall”. The Red Arrow Lines removed the trolley poles, added doors to the center coaches, modified the steps for use on high-level platforms, changed the third rail shoes, and substituted Plexiglas windows. The Liberty Liners operated from January 31, 1964 through March 24, 1977. Once again, both Liners were saved, the “Independence Hall” going to the Rockhill Trolley Museum in Pennsylvania where it is awaiting restoration, and the “Valley Forge” going to the Illinois Railway Museum where its exterior has been restored back to its 1963 appearance as North Shore Line 801-802, but still needs interior work and major overhaul of the eight traction motors.
The two end units were designated “A” and “A1”, each containing an operating cab, vestibule, coach section and smoking section. The tavern-lounge unit was designated “B”, and the coach unit was “C”. Units A and B were numbered 801 in the first train and 803 in the second, and the A1 and C units were 802 and 804 respectively. All prototype pictures consulted for this review show that the A-B units were operated at the south (i.e. Chicago) end of these trains. The construction of the individual units of the model is all similar: a beautifully painted and lettered thin-walled body shell with snap-in windows, a circuit board with LED interior lights in the overhead above a maroon colored one-piece interior with seats and partitions, a black plastic floor section with cast-on underbody detail and attached trucks that snaps into the body shell, and in the B, C, and A1 units, a thin sheet metal weight sandwiched between the interior and the floor.
The powered A unit does not have a sheet metal weight, and instead has a flat-can motor with brass flywheel that is recessed into the floor, and drives the outer end truck via a drive shaft and universal couplings. All four wheels on this truck are powered, and the inner two wheels have traction tires. This under-floor power allows for complete interior detail in the powered unit, which uses the same interior detail casting as the unpowered A1 unit. The overhead circuit board in the powered unit has an NMRA 8-pin DCC socket and a selector switch for trolley pole current collection in addition to the lighting LEDs. Con-Cor has cleverly arranged the A unit so that sound can be added, and a small speaker can be fitted in between the vestibule partitions between the side doors.
The train includes a two rail or overhead selector switch for those who want to run under working trolley wire. All four trolley poles are connected together. Throwing the selector switch disconnects the pickups for the right rail (A unit forward) and instead takes power from an electrical bus connecting the four trolley poles. The return is only through the wheels on the left rail. The switch is located on the overhead lighting circuit board in the powered A unit just above and behind the motorman’s cab. Accessing the switch requires removing the body of the A unit, so that a modeler simulating the run from third rail at Howard Street north into overhead territory at Dempster Street will need to make some modifications to the Con-Cor train.
The units of the Con-Cor train are connected by small 8-pin plug and jack connectors hidden within the rubber diaphragms between units, and a vertical pin on the bottom of each unit that snaps between two semicircular fingers on the adjacent truck. These connectors bring track and overhead power to the powered A unit, and carry power back to the interior lights and headlight/tail light on the A1 unit, so that the B, C, and A1 units won’t light unless they are properly connected to the powered A unit. Making these connections is tricky, and Con-Cor’s instructions recommend adding units one-at-a-time to the train, then testing that the growing train operates correctly before adding the next unit.
The five trucks are made from an engineered plastic. They have separate snap in third rail shoes on the end pairs of trucks, and correctly, no shoes on the center truck, although some plans suggest the center truck should not even have the bare-beam for mounting third rail shoes. The wheels are metal on stub axles inserted into plastic spacer tubes. The ends of the stub axles turn in pressed journals on brass inserts behind the plastic side frames. These inserts have large tabs that fold onto the top of the truck bolsters. Spring brass fingers extend down from the car floors to rub on these bolster tabs to convey current from all wheels to the electrical bus interconnecting all four units of he train. This system works well, but the action of these contact springs on the top of the bolsters tends to reduce the vertical play in the trucks. This, coupled with the limited play between units resulting from the rubber diaphragms between the cars, makes the train somewhat stiff for vertical deviations in the track. In particular, the Con-Cor Electroliner needs very gradual “vertical curve” transitions between level track and any gradients.
Slow speed performance out-of-the-box on full wave DC was an outstanding 3” travel in 2 minutes, or about 0.1 smph at 2.1 volts and 0.04 amps. Top speed with the powered A unit leading was 115 smph at 12 volts and 0.15 amps. The train was a slightly slower 108 smph at 12 volts with the powered unit pushing. The prototype Electroliners were built with a balancing speed of 78 mph at 550 VDC, which allowed for scheduled operation at speeds in the low 90 minute range between Chicago and Milwaukee. In 1950, the North Shore Line experimented with the addition of traction motor field shunts on the 801-802. Just one test run was made from the Harrison Street Shops in Milwaukee south to North Chicago Junction and back. The train reached 111 mph on the return trip! At these speeds the wheels were turning faster than was deemed safe for routine operation, and the train was over-running grade crossing protection circuits, so the Master Mechanic ordered the shunts disconnected. The 803-804 received field shunts in 1951, made a test run, and then also had the shunts deactivated. The Con-Cor model’s top speed is just about perfect for modelers who want to simulate these test runs.
The powered A unit weighs 5.0 oz., and the unpowered B, C and A1 units weigh 2.7 oz., 2.6 oz. and 2.9 oz., respectively, for a total train weight of 13.2 oz. The three trailing units together weigh 8.2 oz. and are 15 3/8” long. NMRA recommended weight for an HO car of this length would be 8.7 oz., so the train is a little light. Since this weight is being carried on four trucks instead of two, it could be argued that the train should be even heavier. On the other hand, the Electroliner is a self-contained train that does not couple to other equipment. With careful control of acceleration, our sample could climb a 1% grade without wheel slip. On a 2% grade, there was frequent wheel slip, indicating that some more weight in the powered A unit might be desirable. The Con-Cor Electroliner operated down to 10 1/2” radius on our test track. While this will not allow operation on the street trackage of some HO trolley layouts, it is a little better than the prototype, which was designed to operate on 90’ minimum radius curves (12 3/8” in HO) on the Chicago elevated.
Trolley pole base uses a 5/32” long piece of 1/8” brass rod with a slot to form the hinge. The same 1/8” rod is used with a full circumference “V” groove to make a rather large scale 11” diameter trolley wheel at the end of the pole. The Electroliners actually used trolley shoes and not wheels. The heavy appearance of these poles seems to be a little out-of-step with the fine detail on the rest of the train. Color photos of the Electroliner show the poles to be painted black, and not green as on the Con-Cor model. The trolley wheels almost touch each other when the poles are hooked down. This did not interfere with the operation of the train on curves in our testing.
(Click to enlarge photo)
The directional white headlights operate in the forward direction and have a cool white color. The headlight on the opposite end lights in red. None of my old slides, or any published photos studied for this review show the rear of the train with the rear headlight displaying red. Instead, the Electroliner initially carried a pair of removable kerosene marker lamps mounted on brackets (replaced by electric markers in 1948) at the lower outside corners of the motorman’s window and its mate. The Con-Cor model does not include either kind of markers. The interior is illuminated in both directions by overhead LEDs with the same cool white color. The lighted cabs at both ends have motorman figures.
As noted, all four units of the Con-Cor model have maroon colored one-piece interiors. The prototype A units were delivered with a coral, blue and gray scheme and coral upholstery. The tavern-lounge B units had tan, dark red and gold interiors, with cork and walnut on the bar. The C unit coach was decorated in gray and black with maroon seats, and the A1 unit had apricot, turquoise and brown walls with chocolate seats. All of the units had different stenciled designs above the windows. This reviewer happily remembers the elephants and giraffes, reminiscent of those on the old Mantua “Gerber’s” reefer, on the walls of the tavern-lounge while enjoying his Electroburger and soda.
Con-Cor provides a separate instruction sheet for removing the very thin-walled and tight fitting car bodies. The recommended process uses six small flat wooden toothpicks so as to not risk damage to the painted finish on the delicate plastic parts. The six tab-in-slot latches are made up of recessed tabs below the interior detail floor and above the mechanism sub-floor. These tabs engage rectangular slots on the bottom of the transparent window material behind the car sides. When inserting the toothpicks, there is a tendency for the toothpick to slide between the car side and the window material. This just tightens the latches and prevents disassembly. Be sure to wiggle the toothpicks so they slide up behind the window material and thereby pull the slots away from the latch tabs.
The Electroliners received a few exterior changes over their service years on the North Shore Line. In June 1941 the 803-804 was in a grade crossing accident collision with a Cadillac. The liners had been delivered with 15 ½” clearance between the bottom of the pilot and the top rail in order to clear objects in the Chicago Rapid Transit third rail territory. In the accident, this excess clearance allowed more of the automobile to get jammed under the train. The pilots on all four end units were enlarged on the lower edge and at the back. This addition is subtly represented on the Con-Cor model. Also modeled are the angle iron frames that were added to the under sides of all the units to help prevent accident debris from getting under the cars (and not to support additional skirting as has sometimes been claimed).
When new, the North Shore Line logos on the ends were painted on with a green background. These were replaced after WWII with curved cast metal nameplates having the usual red background. The Electroliners were delivered with a single windshield wiper on the motorman’s window mounted on the outside window post. Soon thereafter the North Shore Line added a second wiper on the center window, mounted on the window post between this and the “rail fan’s” window. After WWII, the wiper for the motorman’s window was moved to the central window post. In 1946, the “J” shaped couch in the B units were removed and replaced by an additional table and two chairs in each unit. The Con-Cor liner includes the cast end nameplates and the final wiper configuration, but retains the original couch in the lounge.
8101 E. Research Court,
Tucson, Arizona 85710
0001–008718: Units 801–802
0001–008719: Units 803–804
HO scale, MSRP $439.98
Con-Cor provides excellent documentation with their train. In addition to an exploded parts diagram and list for each car, they provide detailed instructions for removing the body shells, for lubricating the train, and for installing DCC. They also provide several copies of prototype information, including reprints of the very complete story of the Electroliners by John Horachek that appeared in the October and November 1982 issues of Trains magazine, a reprint on the December 1, 1942 North Shore Line timetable showing the initial Electroliner schedules, and a full color reprint of the April 27, 1941 timetable supplement describing these new trains to the public. Con-Cor also provides an order form for an extra C coach unit. The North Shore contemplated adding an extra car to the Electroliners, but never did. That need not stop modelers with heavy passenger demand for high-speed service on their interurban layouts. Con-Cor had announced that they would also offer the train in its Liberty Liner decoration. This would require revising the tooling to add the additional doors to the C units, and Con-Cor has decided that economic conditions don’t justify that investment at this time. They are taking advance orders for the Red Arrow Lines trains so if you’re interested please let Con-Cor know on their web site. This is a beautifully executed and smooth running model that will be a must-have for traction modelers and fans alike.
—This review originally appeared in Railroad Model Craftsman in 2009.