Weyauwega couple uncovers piece of Chicago transit history in backyard

The full length of CSL interurban car, No. 1137, can be seen. The rear of the car is in the foreground. Rail experts say the car was built by the St. Louis Car Company between 1905 and 1906 for what would become the Chicago Transit Authority. (WLUK/Bill Miston)

WEYAUWEGA – A Weyauwega couple knew they had some work to do on their retirement home when they purchased it a year ago.

But what Bill and Sharon Krapil found in their backyard took them somewhat by surprise.

“I heard stories from people in my family too,” said Sharon. “They said a man lived in here, for a while, and they said, I think it’s a train car, they actually never said a trolley car.”

Krapil found that out earlier this week when construction crews began to carefully peel away the sides of the old building, with the knowledge that something was underneath.

"It's like history stepping out of time, into my backyard," she said of the car, now fully revealed.

Turns out sisters who grew up in the small, sleepy city, Mary Jane Baehman and Rita Kraus, know it fairly well. The two came over as word spread about the house, er, trolley's unveiling.

"What did you call it?" FOX 11's Bill Miston asked Baehman of the home she knew growing up.

"The trolley,” said Baehman. “But (the owners) were Bill and Florence Haberkamp, they were the people that resided here and owned it at that time."

That was more than 60 years ago.

Baehman says her family would regularly visit the small home to watch the Friday night boxing fights, as the Haberkamps had a television. She remembers her father smoking cigars with Bill Haberkamp.

What was the front of the car was even converted into a small bathroom, complete with a bathtub and toilet, which Baehman says - not surprisingly - wasn't used often.

"That, of course, was the kitchen,” said Baehman, as we toured the cleared out interior of the car. “There was a sitting room here and the TV sat on a little stand right here, and a couple chairs and then, right where you're standing was the bunk beds."

Propped up on stones and cinder blocks, the trolley still had Krapil wondering, how did the red No. 1137 wooden car get here?

That question led us to the National Railroad Museum in Ashwaubenon.

"So just looking at it here, I would probably place it in the early 1900s, maybe the teens," said Bob Lettenberger, the museum’s education director.

Lettenberger is the guy you want to talk to when you need to know too much about all things trains – or in this case, an interurban street car.

"There was a time when you could get on an interurban here in Green Bay and get all the way out to Albany, New York," he said, adding that the ride would probably be far worse than if you were to take a bus today.

Lettenberger says railroad maps don’t show an interurban system running in Weyauwega during the first half of the 20th century, when the systems were still in operation.

"They were very popular for the time and while they were popular, there were a good deal of them running around the U.S., when the service stopped, it became surplus."

And quite easy for someone to pick up – either for free or a small price.

There aren’t many markings left on the trolley to give Lettenberger an idea of where it originated from, save for the car’s number and what’s left of a partial logo on the side with and overlapping ‘S’ and ‘L’ surrounded by – what appears to be an ‘O’.

"Based on pure conjecture,” said Lettenberger, “I see red paint, I see S & L, I think St. Louis?"

Turns out, we were on the right track, but wrong stop. After some more digging, we later found out the ‘O’ is actually a ‘C’ – part of the logo for the Chicago Surface Lines company.

Built in 1905 or 1906 by the St. Louis Car Company, car 1137 was purchased and operated by CSL – the predecessor to the Chicago Transit Authority, or CTA.

In fact, the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Ill. has two cars that are restored and in operation today.

Lettenberger says there are likely many more across the state – just not on the rails.

"They make great hunting cabins, they were playhouses for kids, as you see, with this one, it was somebody's actual residence,” he said. “They've cropped up all over the place."

Like on Krapil's property. The thing is, she doesn’t want it. Now, she's trying to figure out who, if anyone would be interested in taking it off her hands – and soon. She’s already paid for the site demolition and needs to get a plan in place by Monday at the latest.

"We can't afford to put money into it, I really would like to see it preserved," said Krapil. "If someone is interested and taking it out and restoring it, I would be very happy, because it's like a piece of Americana."

That has somehow survived – and become, at least, a pretty cool story to track down.