AE&FRE #304 is a high-speed lightweight interurban built by the St. Louis Car Company in 1923. It is one of two pieces of railroad equipment in the Museum’s collection that are original to this line (the other is AE&FRE #5).
AE&FRE #304 was built as part of an order of seven cars (numbered 300 through 306) to modernize passenger service between Aurora and Elgin. These cars quickly became the backbone of passenger service as patronage dwindled and services were cut back to keep the line profitable. The seven cars of the 300-series were all that was left by the last day of passenger rail operations on March 31st 1935.
After that, all seven cars of the 300-series were sold to Cleveland Interurban Railway, an Ohio interurban line that ran between downtown Cleveland and Shaker Heights.
In 1944, the Cleveland Interurban Railway was acquired by the city of Shaker Heights and renamed Shaker Heights Rapid Transit. At some point along the way, #305 was scrapped.
In 1950, #300 and #301 were sold by Shaker Heights Rapid Transit to the Milwaukee Rapid Transit & Speedrail Company (more commonly known simply as “Speedrail”) in Milwaukee, WI. Unfortunately a horrific head-on collision during a fan trip on Labor Day, 1950, put the company into a tailspin from which it would never recover. Speedrail ceased operations on June 30th 1951. #300 and #301 were scrapped in 1952.
In 1954, #302, #303, #304, and #306 were retired and sold to Gerald E. Brookins of Olmstead Township, OH. The cars ran on his private line, the Columbia Park and Southwestern (formally known as the “Gerald E. Brookins Museum of Electric Railways” and later simply as “Trolleyville USA”). Brookins had a collection of 31 trolley cars at the time of his death in 1983.
After his death, his grandson, Mark Brookins, took over the collection. #302 was scrapped. #306 was sold to the Illinois Railway Museum (IRM) in Union, IL.
#306 operated for the public at IRM for a brief period before she was moved to one of the Museum’s barns and dismantled in preparation for a full restoration. For unknown reasons, this restoration never occurred and the car has been in storage ever since (although recently some IRM volunteers have expressed an interest in bringing #306 back into service and have visited our Museum to study #304).
In June 2001, the Brookins family sold their property in Olmstead Township to developers. The terms of the sale, which did not include the trolley car collection, specified 5 years to find a new home for the trolley car collection. Trolleyville USA closed in 2005. And #303 and #304 (along with the rest of collection) were moved the next year to a warehouse on the riverfront in downtown Cleveland, OH.
Work was started to create a new museum to be called the Lake Shore Electric Railway (in honor of an earlier interurban company from the early 20th century). Unfortunately, the fledgling museum fell victim to the “Great Recession” and the collection was liquidated at auction in 2009. #303 was purchased by the Northern Ohio Railway Museum (where it will be preserved as a Shaker Heights car). #304 purchased by our Museum and returned to its home rails after almost 75 years.
Perhaps the retelling of the collision with the circus elephant should go here?