CTA Car 6719—From Scrap to History
CTA Car 6719—From Scrap to History
As dawn broke on a cold winter day in January of 2003, a 44-year-old Chicago Transit Authority rapid-transit train car slowly made its way into the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
This is 6719’s story, from its delivery to the Chicago Transit Authority on July 22, 1959, to its last ride on January 7, 2003.
CTA car 6719 in its Alpine Green and White paint scheme, at Congress Parkway and Paulina Street, 1975
“CTA on March 24 received the first two new rapid transit cars on an order for 100 light-weight, all-metal cars which was placed in March, 1958. The balance of the 100 rapid transit cars, purchased from the St. Louis Car Company, St. Louis, Missouri, for $5,150,5000, will be delivered at the rate of five per week until all cars are received. By using some parts from its “Green Hornet” streetcars, CTA is saving approximately $2,000,000 as compared with the cost of rapid transit cars built from all new components.” From “Start Delivery on 100 New Rapid Transit Cars”, in CTA Transit News, April 1959
The Chicago Transit Authority modernized its fleet of rapid transit “L” cars throughout the 1950s with the staggered delivery of over 700 new railcars.
Car 6719 was one of the last of over 700 steel-and-aluminum-bodied 6000-series rapid-transit train cars built by the St. Louis Car Company for the Chicago Transit Authority throughout the 1950s. When new, the car featured a colorful Croydon Cream, Swamp Holly Orange, and Colorado Spruce Green exterior paint scheme.
The last run of the 6000-series CTA cars, 1992
The 6000-series “L” cars ran throughout the CTA’s rapid-transit system for about 40 years. The last of these workhorses was taken out of revenue service in 1992.
Last runs of the Chicago Transit Authority’s 6000-series rapid-transit carsCTA memorandum to “All Concerned, Rail” dated November 20, 1992
“The 6000’s are scheduled to make their last runs on the Ravenswood line Friday, December 4, 1992. One six car train will be used in the A.M. and P.M. rushes. The consist will be 6101-6102 and 6599-6600 on the ends and a third unit in the middle. The middle unit will carry an outside sign on each side of one car commemorating the event.”
Waiting to be Scrapped
After being taken out of revenue service, a handful of 6000s and similar “L” cars were used as work trains by the CTA in the 1990s. But by the end of the decade, the cars were no longer needed and were sitting in a CTA railyard, covered with graffiti and awaiting their fate.
1999-2003: Becoming Part of History
In December of 1999, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History purchased CTA car 6719 for its scrap value to be displayed in the planned transportion exhibition, America on the Move.
After the Smithsonian purchased CTA car 6719 from the transit agency, it was stored at the National Park Service’s Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pennsylvania, while the Museum went about the task of deciding how best to use the car in the America on the Move exhibition.
Conversations with transit experts and historians—particularly Bruce Moffat, an expert in Chicago “L” history—steered us toward the decision to restore 6719 to its original condition and to set the car in 1950s Chicago. This would allow us to examine the great challenges facing the Chicago Transit Authority in the decade after its formation, as well as big transportation issues facing America’s postwar cities as Americans took to their cars.
A re-creation of the CTA’s historic Madison and Wabash Loop “L” station has been constructed around the car, and a complex audiovisual program has been installed in and around it, allowing exhibition visitors to take a virtual trip around Chicago’s elevated transit line in 1959.