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Like many of you, I did my Christmas shopping last month at a Region

megamall, where I had to park my car farther away from the stores than my

former home in Indiana Harbor was away from the stores of Main Street.

What an adventure! For openers, I got to play a form of reverse Russian

roulette, where one hopes that he does not

find an empty parking slot when he returns from shopping. Then there was the

prospect of common robbery or worse, modern shopping malls now harboring more

bushwackers than Wells Fargo stagecoaches ever encountered. Finally, there was

my broken-field dash through acres of gas guzzlers, which randomly became

backing-up or lurching-forth missiles piloted by harried supermoms with one too

many assignments or irritated superpops who'd rather be home watching a

football game on TV.

As I tried to survive such edgy weekenders, I got to thinking that maybe

Mayor Daley is right about his downtown "light rail circulator." That's a

cryptoterm for "streetcar," which translates "trolley," which is a device

for getting folk to and from short destinations without autos, parking, or

nervous breakdowns.

A century ago, the Calumet Region had all sorts of trolleys, although it

took a bit of patience to get them started. The first one - the Hammond Horse

and Steam Dummy Street Railway Company - never got built, but the Hammond

Electric Railway Company, enfranchised on April 18, 1892, did. Unfortunately,

it only ran on Hohman to the station of the Pennsylvania Railroad, a commuter

line that started its run in East Chicago. On Sept. 8, 1892, however, W.H.

Fitzgerald, William Fitzgerald, Charles T. Griffin, W.P. Black, and C.E. Loss

organized the Whiting Hammond & East Chicago Railway Co. Alas, the Panic of

1893 derailed it.

Nevertheless, surviving partner Charles Griffin teamed up with N.M. Kaufmann

and just-retired Lake County Sheriff A.M. Turner to buy the defunct line at a

receivers' sale. They paid two bits on the dollar and renamed it the Hammond

Whiting & East Chicago Electric Railway Company. By any name, it was no

bargain. Its lines just did not reach out enough to attract a threshold of

patronage, especially since its ill-prepared roadbed and ill-fitting joints

jounced passengers like ping-pong balls in a lotto drawing. Turner wryly called

it the "road which started nowhere, ended nowhere, and did everything but haul

passengers."

As losses mounted, Turner tried everything to sell the line short of

raffling it off. Instead of flushing out buyers, however, he elicited nothing

but laughter. Trapped in a cage with a sick white elephant, Turner and his

partners had little alternative but to improve the line. First, they linked the

stores of Hammond with East Chicago and Whiting; on May 15, 1893, they

completed a line on Gostlin, Columbia, and Chicago into East Chicago; later in

the year, they extended rails northward on Forsyth Avenue (Indianapolis

Boulevard) into Whiting. And on March 12, 1894, they completed the line from

Whiting to the Illinois state line, where the cars connected with those of the

South Chicago City Railway.

In a final act of transformation, the partners, in 1895, doubled the

powerhouse capacity at East Chicago. It was an electrifying stroke. The line

enjoyed heavy patronage during that summer, especially on Sundays when as many

as 5,000 people rode in the company's seven open-air cars. Then, on June 18,

1895, they made trolley-riding an amusement, as they completed a line on

Sheffield from Gostlin to Robertsdale, where it connected with the

Whiting-Stateline branch. This created a pleasant ride between two lakes,

George and Wolf, and a stop near the Hammond Beach on Lake Michigan.

If passengers wished, they could de-train and take a ride on a small

excursion boat that plied the waters of Lake George on weekends and holidays.

They could also stop at one of the several picnic groves on Sheffield Avenue,

or simply marvel at the block-long ice houses on the banks of Wolf Lake. Near

the state line, risktakers could amuse themselves at the famous (Hoosiers would

say infamous) Roby Racetrack, one of the most popular tracks in Greater

Chicago. The track was served not only by the HW&ECRy but by two Chicago

companies, the South Chicago City Railway and the Calumet Electric Railway.

By the end of 1895, the HW&ECRy had carried a half million people and

attracted the attention of E. Mark Cummings, a South Chicago real estate

operator who, when approached earlier about buying the line, had been one of

the big laughers. By then, though, Cummings owned part of the South Chicago

City Railway, so, in 1896, the South Chicago line bought controlling interest

in the HW&ECRy. "The profit we made was fabulous," the ever-candid Turner said

later. It was all the sweeter because the ex-sheriff retained an interest in

the company and continued to serve as its president until 1900, when the South

Chicago City Railway purchased the line outright.

At the formal opening of a newly double-tracked HW&ECRy line on May 15,

1896, more than a hundred guests rode from Hammond in special cars to a loop of

track at 64th and Stony Island. The occasion marked the start of through

service between 63rd & Stony and Hammond and East Chicago. From that date until

the end of streetcar service in 1940, trolleys made Hammond the commercial hub

of the Calumet Region, a mid-size metropolis within the orbit of a larger

metropolis: Chicago.

n Archibald McKinlay is an expert on local history. His

column appears every Sunday in The Times.

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