Jenkins is a former employee of the Illinois Terminal Railroad and
founder and current president of the Illinois Traction Society.
Jenkins is also the author of a magnificent book on the Illinois
Terminal Railroad called "The Illinois Terminal Railroad: The Road
of Personalized Services."
Jenkins' interest in railroading, the Illinois Terminal in
particular, began in childhood in his hometown of Springfield. As a
child he was fascinated by the trains passing close to his house --
so intrigued that he would sit on the rails waiting for the next
train to come along.
A friendly and concerned Illinois Terminal Railroad policeman
took him under his wing to ensure his safety. Later, with the
retirement of his mentor just as Jenkins graduated from high school,
he took over his friend's job with the railroad. Jenkins spent 40
years as a railroad policeman with the Illinois Terminal and its
follow-on companies. Upon retirement, he undertook to tell the story
of the IT, some of which concerned the city of Lincoln.
In the late 19th century, electric streetcars were becoming
common in the United States. Lincoln had an extensive system.
Trolleys trundled all over Lincoln, even going as far west as the
Chautauqua grounds, currently Memorial Park. The system ran in
Lincoln from 1891 until 1928, when improved streets and the growing
use of personal automobiles made the streetcar line unprofitable.
In 1901, a Danville entrepreneur named William McKinley had a
vision of what the United States would become, a vision that saw the
increased use of electricity to make the lives of ordinary Americans
better. He bought his first electric generating power plant in 1901
Of course, a power plant requires fuel, and the fuel of choice in
the early 20th century was coal. The closest coal mine to Danville
was south of the city.
Roads being what they were at the time, transporting coal from
the mine to Danville was difficult. McKinley came up with the idea
of building an electric railroad from his power plant to the coal
mine. Many of the miners were Danville residents, so the train
carried the miners south to the mine and the coal north to his power
McKinley was not satisfied with owning one power plant, but began
to amass plants in many cities in central Illinois. He was ushering
in the modern age of electricity to the homes and businesses of the
area. As with most imaginative businessmen, he saw the potential of
the small electric railroad he had created in Danville and decided
to expand it to the west, initially connecting Danville and
Champaign, then Decatur.
A few other like-minded men had created small electric railroads
in central Illinois, but they were for the most part unsuccessful.
McKinley began buying these poorly run lines and linking them
together. It can safely be said that he was an organizational genius
who could look into the future and predict what central Illinois
needed to grow, thus expanding his own enterprises.
Eventually, McKinley's railroad empire, called the Illinois
Traction System, would link Danville, Champaign, Decatur,
Springfield, Peoria and Lincoln to East St. Louis and finally St.
Louis. This electric railroad became known as the interurban.
The interurban tracks on the line from Peoria to Springfield
passed through Lincoln, right down the middle of Chicago Street,
entering Lincoln from the north and curving south where Chicago
Street ended at the Stetson China factory.
The original interurban depot still stands on South Chicago
Street -- a block building standing by itself just north of Baker
Masonry. Back in the day, the station stood next to the Commercial
Hotel, one of the premier lodging businesses in Lincoln at the time.
By 1908, 26 interurban trains a day passed through Lincoln from
5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. They took residents at a stately 25 mph to
Peoria and Springfield and points south. Roads were abysmal at the
time, so these one- and two-car passenger trains drawing power from
an overhead electric line were a convenient and efficient means to
While the ITS tracks ran parallel in some places to the much
larger Chicago & Alton Railroad -- later to become the Gulf, Mobile
& Ohio -- the interurban offered service that the steam-powered
passenger trains could not.
The ITS prided itself on personalized service, letting passengers
off at the tiny towns such as Broadwell and Elkhart along its right
Richard Martin, a Logan County resident and farmer, remembers
riding the interurban from his home in Broadwell to Lincoln. The
trains would even stop in the country to pick up lone passengers
needing a ride from their farm into Lincoln.
Lincoln resident Bill "Carlos" Gobleman remembers boarding the
interurban in Lincoln with his shotgun, paying 35 cents and riding
to Broadwell. "I would then walk back to Lincoln along the railroad
and hunt," he said.
Willard Emmons recalls his father and sister riding the
interurban from Lincoln to Peoria for their jobs during the 1940s.
His father worked at Caterpillar, and his sister worked at a bag
factory. They traveled to Peoria early in the week, stayed in an
apartment during the week, then traveled home to Lincoln at the end
of the workweek.
[to top of second column]
The Illinois Traction System became the Illinois Terminal
Railroad in the 1920s.
Jenkins related how McKinley was not satisfied with just carrying
passengers on his interurban. He offered same-day package delivery
service between towns on his line. He also initiated a small freight
service to increase the utility of his railroad. The main
commodities carried were grain and gravel.
McKinley's decision to begin a freight service proved to be
McKinley began buying grain elevators to integrate into his
growing central Illinois empire. Bus service was also added when
roads were improved enough to allow it.
In addition to providing transportation and freight service to
Lincoln residents, Jenkins related how the IT brought entertainment
to town. Lincoln was on the vaudeville circuit in the early 20th
century. When a vaudeville troupe ended their evening show in
Peoria, they would tear down and put their sets on the electric
railroad with the performers to ride to Lincoln for the next day's
performance at either the Grand or Lincoln Theater.
As the years passed, the interurban had increasing competition
from the expanding use of the automobile, made possible by the
improvement in intercity roads -- think Route 66 and other highways.
By the 1930s, daily passenger train service in Lincoln from the
Illinois Terminal dropped to 16 times a day.
The company tried to fight back by increasing the luxury of the
passenger cars and developing innovative services such as lounge
cars and air conditioning.
The ITS was also the first electric railroad in the world to
offer sleeping car service. A passenger could board the interurban
in Lincoln in the evening, enjoy a night's sleep onboard and be in
St. Louis the next morning after crossing the Mississippi River on
the McKinley Bridge, built by William McKinley's personal fortune.
But it was not enough.
After World War II, with the increase in cars and decent roads
and the introduction of more efficient diesel railroad locomotives,
the electric passenger railroad in central Illinois was doomed. Even
with the introduction of the fast and luxurious Streamlines in the
late 1940s, McKinley's passenger trains declined rapidly until
interurban passenger service in Lincoln ended on June 11, 1955.
Lincoln railroading enthusiast Paul Hines has the distinction of
being the last passenger to step off the last passenger interurban
With the addition of a small freight service early in the 20th
century, the Illinois Terminal burgeoned. Freight took over from the
passenger service when the passenger trains ended their service in
the 1950s. For many years after, the IT freight trains chugged down
Chicago Street, pulled by the distinctive green and yellow diesel
After 1962, the freight service moved from Chicago Street to the
Illinois Central tracks on the east side of Lincoln. All that
remained on Chicago Street were the rails, with the street now given
over entirely to cars.
The rails on Chicago Street are now gone, but two remnants of the
era of electric passenger service remain in Lincoln. The
aforementioned passenger depot still stands, and a brick electric
substation is hidden away on the southwest end of Chicago Street, on
property owned by the Logan County Highway Department.
There is also a combination interurban depot and substation at
Union, nine miles north of Lincoln.
For those who want to experience a ride on the interurban, a
visit to the Illinois Railway Museum is a must. The museum has
several examples of interurban trains that run. The museum is
located in the community of Union that is west of Chicago. Note that
it is not the Union north of Lincoln.
Dale Jenkins' lecture on electric passenger rail service in
Lincoln is one of an ongoing series of programs presented by the
Logan County Genealogical & Historical Society at their monthly
meetings. The organization is based at 114 N. Chicago St. in
Lincoln. Check the website at
www.logancoil-genhist.org for upcoming events at the research
More information on the Illinois Traction Society is available at
www.illinoistractionsociety.org. The Illinois Railway Museum's
website is at www.irm.org.
[By CURT FOX]