Thursday, May 3, 2012

Chicago Railroad Fair

The Chicago Railroad Fair was held on the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Illinois in the summers of 1948 and 1949. The fair was held to celebrate and commemorate 100 years of railroad history west of Chicago. Thirty-nine railroad companies participated in the fair which has been referred to as "the last great railroad fair."

The Bank of Gold Gulch (shown on the first postcard above) was sponsored by the Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company of Chicago. The Bank was a part of Gold Gulch, the typical Mining town recreated as part of the Chicago Railroad Fair. Gold Gulch was the terminus for the Deadwood Central narrow gauge railroad that ran the length of the fair grounds. It has been suggested that Gold Gulch was an inspiration for Disneyland.

The narrow gauge Deadwood Central Train (shown on the next postcard) carried fair visitors from one end of the grounds to the other. The train consisted of early-day equipment that once operated on Burlington Lines in Colorado. The names of the engine and cars were reminiscent of the old Deadwood Central Railroad that served the Black Hills of South Dakota in the days of Deadwood Dick and other well-known western characters.

The highlight of the Chicago Railroad Fair was the "Wheels A-Rolling" pageant that showcased the development of transportation and the railroads across the United States. In the foreground of the next postcard is the Minnetonka, Northern Pacific Railway's first locomotive as it appeared in the pageant. The Minnetonka was built in 1870. Behind the Minnetonka is the "new" diesel locomotive that powered the North Coast Limited streamliner.

The next postcard also advertises Northern Pacific Railway which served Yellowstone National Park. There was a rodeo show, dude ranch, and a small replica of Yellowstone Parks's Old Faithful Geyser at the Burlington, Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railroads exhibit.

The next postcard shows Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad's exhibit beside Lake Michigan. The "Southern Colonial Manor" building housed the transportation exhibit and was set in the vegetation of Florida.

Visitors to the Chicago Railroad Fair could also stroll through Old New Orleans at Illinois Central's exhibit. A typical French Quarter street and flagstone courtyard were reproduced there.

Those with more than a passing interest in the fair can read all about the pageant and exhibits online in the 1949 Official Guide Book of the Chicago Railroad Fair and experience it themselves in the YouTube video (embedded below). There is also an educational film documenting the "Wheels-a-Rolling" pageant here.

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  1. A great series of railroad cards. It always surprises me when I go to Michigan how much of the old railways heve been torn up. I thoroughly enjoyed the video at the end.

  2. Oh thanks for that trip down memory lane. Or should I say track? I remember going to that train fair. I must have been only 6 or 7. But I remember our family going, all the different trains, the cowboys and Indians.
    Wow that was a fantastic video, so well documented.
    Thanks for the memories.

  3. I enjoyed the video. I say let's bring back the glory days of trains. Interstates can't keep pace with the traffic.

  4. An interesting set of postcards. The railroad fairs sound fun.

  5. The Minnetonka beside the newer diesel surprised me. I didn't realise locomotives had grown so much. Lovely cards.

  6. Now, that looks like a great fair to attend. Awesome post!

  7. You do have an astonishing collection of cards - I doubt that I will ever be able to come up with a theme that you can't match with an apposite postcard.

  8. Really like these images, especially the cover of the guide. And fascinating to think Disney was inspired by some of this. I can definitely see it in the New Orleans building.

  9. My grandfather was a yardmaster at Union station in Washington DC and always went to Chicago for his union convention. I'll bet he was there for the fair too.

  10. I do so enjoy reading your posts - what an interesting and colorful collection of railroad related cards. What I wouldn't give to spend a day perusing through your collection!

  11. "All aboard!!"
    I suspected you'd have a field day with this theme, and boy!! Was I in for a treat, or what!? The Minnetonka is my fave. Too cute for words.
    Thanx 4 sharing!!


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