DuPage and Kane counties were mostly rural, and even much of the city of Chicago still had farms when the Aurora Elgin & Chicago Railroad began operations Aug. 25, 1902, between Aurora and Chicago.
The electrically-operated railroad was hailed as state of the art. It opening drew electrical engineers and designers from around the world, and crowds jammed the 10 passenger cars available for service that day.
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Of that 10, only one survives -- Car 20, now generally regarded as the oldest operating interurban (intercity) electric railway car in North America.
To celebrate the milestone, and the 110th anniversary of the beginning of passenger service on what became the Chicago Aurora & Elgin Railway and is today the Illinois Prairie Path, the Fox River Trolley Museum, 365 S. La Fox St. in South Elgin, is throwing a birthday party for Car 20 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, July 1.
Museum President Ed Konecki said that ice cream and cake will be made available to the first 150 riders. Children will get a picture of Car 20 that they can color. And a brief history of the car will be distributed to all who ride it.
CA&E 20 served the railroad faithfully for 55 years, until July 3, 1957, when passenger service on the line abruptly halted midday. Although it was termed a "suspension" of service, the line was broke, public subsidies were a thing of the future and passenger service never resumed. Freight service limped along for two more years and the line was formally abandoned in 1961, at which time the newly-founded museum purchased Car 20.
A struggle developed in the effort to save Car 20. A scrap metal company claimed it had purchased the car, and intended to destroy it for the value of its metal. The museum's founding members actually purchased another car from the failed railroad and swapped that with the scrapper in order to preserve a car that ran first day and last on the CA&E. It was one of the first cars to arrive at the museum's new home in South Elgin after the museum's founding, and has been one of its most cherished possessions ever since.
The Fox River Line is the last remnant of the CA&E's sister line, the Aurora, Elgin and Fox River Electric Co. The AE&FRE was built between 1895 and 1901, and provided passenger service linking Aurora and Elgin between 1901 and 1935; from 1902 until 1923 the Fox River Line was a separate division of the same railroad, and the two lines shared trackage in St. Charles and Geneva as late as March 1935. Freight operations continued on a three-mile segment of the line until the 1970s. Much of the museum's line today is what's left of that remnant.
Taking a ride on the Fox River Line won't break the budget. Fares are $4 for adults, $3 for senior citizens and $2 for children, ages 3-11. Children under 3 ride free.
The Fox River Trolley Museum is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the colorful history of Chicago's 'L' and interurban electric railway lines. It is open weekends and holidays through Labor Day, and Sundays through Nov. 4. The museum is on Route 31, three blocks south of the State Street stoplight. For information, or to charter a train, call (847) 697-4676. Visit www.foxtrolley.org.