If you’ve been in Reed-Keppler Park since April 3, 2013, you may have noticed a red caboose with “The J” and “508” painted on the side of it sitting near the parking lot of the Turtle Splash Water Park.
Anyone growing up before technology changed communication methods on trains in the 1980s knows that almost every freight train ended with a caboose, usually manned by a railroad worker.
The “508,” a gift from the Canadian National Railroad, represents an important part of West Chicago’s history. It is a remnant of the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway Company —nicknamed “The J”— which takes us back to 1887, a time of rapid expansion for our village.
Optimism was in the air in 1887: President Cleveland had married his young bride in the first and only presidential White House wedding; Chicago had recovered from the disastrous fire of 1871; the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York as a gift from France; and Thomas Edison’s electric lights were spreading all over the world.
Meanwhile, Turner and Junction, now commonly called Turner Junction, were becoming busy with the growth of new railroads, one of which was the proposed Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway Company. It was to form a “complete belt line, crossing every road [railroad] which reaches the great metropolis and affording ample facilities for the transfer of freight.” By April the papers were reporting that the EJ&E would soon become “a tangible reality; contract calls for the completion of the seventy miles of roadbed inside of ninety days. Farmers hereabouts look upon the enterprise with no vast amount of favor.”
By May 27 the railroad had reached the edge of the village. Turner’s leaders worked hard to assure the best deal for their people. By the end of October the Wheaton Illinoian proclaimed, We understand the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railroad to say a Chicago Convention is a comparatively easy and inexpensive affair, to that of obtaining a right of way through her western suburb, Turner Junction.
Mixed feelings abounded as the plans were announced and pushed forward. Some landowners did not want the railroad crossing their lands, so condemnation suits were filed. Others saw the “immense advantage that will accrue to the town from the road” as employment surged and thousands of dollars poured into the towns along its path. Many buildings present on the land they purchased were moved, usually by the Belding Engineering Company which had been established in 1878, to new locations and then rented or sold.
Plans pushed forward, workers arrived, and the people of Turner said on September 30 that they “will heartily welcome all or any of them who may conclude to make this place their permanent home.” As the details of the route were worked out, the Illinoian wrote in October: The Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway is driving ahead much faster than the public generally suspect. It is apparently also a corporation more formidable and able than we were aware of…. The Joliet News says: They have paid good fair prices for their land, and in every way have acted much different than corporations usually do. It surely has a soul, or has learned a better way of doing business.”