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Edition #157, September 1, 2011

Looking Out the Front Window of the Hub

Photographer: Lance Wales

                                                                            Photo by Lance Wales

Looking Out the Front Window of the Hub

I was probably a little out of breath as I pulled my 10-speed bike up to the sidewalk in front of the Hub Cigar Store. I heard the nightly Chicago & North Western freight coming out of the yard just west of Belvidere, IL as it was beginning its trip back to Proviso Yard. Although the trackage through town was only 10 mph, I still had to hustle a bit to ride the 5 blocks from my grandparents home down to the State Street crossing.

The heavy door to the Hub swung freely as I entered, showing its age from more than 75 years of use at this point. Although I was only 17 at the time I took this picture from July of 1981, both the nightly C&NW trains and the Hub Cigar Store were as much a part of me as my hometown of Belvidere. The Hub was that sort of store that every town had at one point. It had a barbershop in the back and a long oval glass-topped counter down the center. Display cases along either side held cigars and nearly every candy bar imaginable. Pipe tobacco, gardening gloves, razor cartridges, Harlequin romance novels, a Dell word search book, some fine tasting Muller-Pinehurst ice cream bars, yup all those things and more. My grandfather always stopped here to pickup the Sunday Chicago Tribune on the way home from church. If I spent Saturday night with my grandparents I would get to go inside the Hub by myself to get the paper. I couldn't have been much older than 8 at the time.

The Belvidere Junior High School was just a block west of here and a before-school routine usually saw me inside buying a long rope of Bubs-Daddy grape bubble gum (was Bubs-Daddy even it's real name?) After school you might stop in the Hub to get a can of Coca-Cola for the walk home. The magazine racks along the south wall held a wide variety of publications. It was here that I plunked down change for my first copy of Trains Magazine along with issues of Railroad, Railfan and the pulp-paged Rail Classics. The weekly magazines were kept right under the west window, you can see the selections there. People magazine featured a sultry Morgan Fairchild, "Too Sexy for TV?", Time's cover story questioned the care for Vietnam Vets, but my interest was focused on the GP50s crossing State Street.

The early evening trains of Belvidere were also part my first train watching experiences. My grandparents lived just four houses from these same tracks at 5th Ave. My father worked second shift at the Chrysler plant so every weeknight after supper my mother would pile my brothers and sisters into the car and we'd go over to visit them. Train #96 would make an appearance every weeknight. The open autoracks from the mid-to-late 70s held large Plymouth Furys. It was easy to pickout the bright yellow taxis and the black and white police crusiers. So my subject matter for this image from July of 1981 certainly combined two different but well rehearsed rituals.

But things weren't always going to remain the same for me or these subjects in this photo. I had just graduated high school that spring of 1981 and I was going to be heading off to college that fall. Unfortunately, I couldn't apply myself in the realm of higher learning and found a job in a local machine shop a while later. Maybe things worked out for the best--one door closed and another one opened. I am still employed as a machinist just a few miles west of here.

The Hub Cigar Store? Well, it lasted a bit longer, but age took a toll on the building. The two upstairs floors housed small apartments and the place really became rundown and seedy. Around 1996 or so the City of Belvidere tried to step in and save the structure, but it was too badly deteriorated at that point and was demolished. Where I once stood as those GP50s shook the chipped linoleum floor of the Hub, it is now a parking lot.

The C&NW? Well, the Union Pacific bought the hometown railroad in 1995 and auto trains still leave Belvidere on most every weeknight, but you won't find yellow and green GP50s powering them. The trains are usually hauled by pairs of Armour Yellow SD70Ms and don't even try to see what automobiles might be onboard--because open autoracks have gone the way of the C&NW and the Hub Cigar Store. You can barely tell if those enclosed autoracks are loaded or empty these days.

So here is to those simple things that occupied my days when I was a teenager. When my only worries were cutting a few lawns, affording a roll of Kodachrome 64 to run through my Pentax K1000--and peddling my 10 speed bike around the hometown to seek out the nightly auto train.

Lance Wales

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Revised: 08/14/11 18:11:19 -0400