Piece of Chicago history found under shack
By Angie Landsverk
Bill and Sharon Krapil knew something was hidden under the brown shack in their Weyauwega backyard and discovered just what it was last week.
When a construction crew began removing sections of the brown shack on June 2, they found an old electric streetcar under it.
“We knew something was there, but I never expected to see it in this good of condition,” Sharon said. “It’s a piece of Americana.”
The couple hired a crew to dismantle the building because they wanted more of a backyard.
Now the Krapils want to donate the old streetcar to the city and see it preserved.
City Administrator Patrick Wetzel said that idea will be discussed during next week’s Weyauwega Common Council meeting.
The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 15, in the lower level of the Weyauwega Public Library and is open to the public.
“We don’t know how much it would cost to move it,” Wetzel said.
Just how long the trolley was in the backyard of 300 W. South St. is not known.
When the Krapils bought the house in April 2014, they heard rumors something was under the shack.
“We heard a train but never expected a trolley car,” she said.
Mary Jane (Kraus) Baehman knew it was a trolley. She grew up on a farm up the road and said while the trolley was already covered, her family knew it was there.
That was 60 years ago.
Bill and Florence Haberkamp lived in it, she said.
“There were bunk beds in it, a small kitchen area. I recall a small couch,” Baehman said.
The Haberkamps also had a black and white television.
Baehman recalled how her family walked there on Friday evenings, as they did not yet have a television.
“The guys smoked cigars,” she said, as they watched boxing matches.
Baehman said the Haberkamps did not have any children, and she does not know how they got the trolley.
“Florence wasn’t there a lot. She worked in Chicago,” Baehman said.
In addition to Baehman, Frank Sirinek was among those who was aware that a trolley was in a Weyauwega backyard.
“I personally knew about the car 20 years ago,” he said. “I was there 20 years ago and took pictures of the house around the streetcar. There was no one living in it or the house at the time. I just took pictures of it.”
For 51 years, Sirinek has been a volunteer at the Illinois Railway Museum, northwest of Chicago.
He said the museum has the same car. It is restored and operational. “We take people for trolley rides,” he said.
After a Green Bay news station did a story late last week about the Krapil’s discovery, the news made its way to the museum.
“The people at the museum saw it online,” said the 79-year-old Sirinek, who does not own a computer and lives seven miles from the museum.
They told him the trolley had been uncovered.
“I didn’t want to waste a minute. I left home at 7:30 a.m. (June 6) and got to Weyauwega around noon,” Sirinek said. “I was amazed. I was pumped up.”
Sirinek said the Krapil’s trolley was operated by the Chicago Surface Lines around 1905.
“The car like Sharon’s was the first attempt at the turn of the century by the St. Louis Car Company to manufacture a rubberstamp streetcar. It was one of hundreds they made. They were all made the same,” he said. “After 1908, other streetcar companies produced them only on demand, as a city ordered them. They were custom made.”
He said Chicago bought the most of those particular streetcars from the St. Louis company. They were also seen in communities throughout the Midwest.
The Krapil’s car and the one at the Illinois Railway Museum were both from the 1100 series.
The number on the Krapil’s trolley is 1137, while the number on the car operating at the museum is 1374, Sirinek said.
“There were 400 of those cars,” he said.
Sirinek said the Chicago Surface Lines operated that type of electric streetcar until around 1946, when cars like it became too small and slow for moving a lot of people.
“They sold them after World War II in mass quantity to anyone who wanted a place a live, a place to stay,” he said. “They lived in them until they could find proper housing for their families.”
Sirinek said they ended up throughout the Midwest.
“This one was brought to Weyauwega to house people in,” he said. “What we want them (the city and Weyauwega Historical Society) to do is solicit funds to move it into a municipal facility, restore what they can of the car and make it a walk-through display about Chicago history and its years here. It’s history in Weyauwega as well.”
Since the car was covered for many years, the exterior’s original wood is intact, needing to be stripped and repainted, he said.
With the Illinois Railway Museum not needing an additional streetcar like this one, he is urging Weyauwega to keep it.
“It’s in very good condition on the outside,” Sirinek said. “They could spend several years working on the interior.”