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Locomotives at the Illinois Railway Museum

Illinois Railway Museum, Union

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No docents. No guards per se. Definitely no climate control. The Illinois Railway Museum ( in Union, Illinois isn't an ordinary museum. Less than 2 hours from downtown Chicago and unique in Illinois, the IRM is a collection of many and diverse types of railroad rolling stock, engines (steam, diesel and electric), trolleys, inter-urbans, passenger and dining cars, Pullman cars and deluxe private cars. This museum is educational, fun, kid friendly, nostalgic and a little sad too. It's paradise lost. It is also a conservator's headache.

union1Old enough to recall the twilight years of American passenger service, Neil and Alan had visited the IRM with their children when they were small and did so again recently (as empty nesters) to refresh their memories and to see what's new.

Largely a volunteer operation, the IRM consists of about seven large structures that are open to the public and house a wide variety of equipment once used by many different railroad companies, equipment manufactured over the course of about a century and encompassing the history of American rail service. Rolling stock in various states of repair, disrepair, or fully restored, the IRM visitor enters a living museum where it's not uncommon to catch a glimpse of restoration taking place. The steam engines fascinated Neil. Walking beside one of those hulking monsters with its maze of complex pipes and fittings, Getaway Cogbill was struck by the similarities (or what he thought were similarities) between the complicated engineering of locomotives and the complexity of rocket engines for space travel. Admittedly more of a poetic observation than knowledge of engineering. Alan, the far more mathematical and mechanical, thought Neil was nuts!union2

After regaining his composure (lost at Neil's expense), Getaway Barney agreed with Neil’s assessment of the Bookstore; lots of titles and pretty cool. He graciously agreed with Neil about the Gift Shop, too; a bit tatty. About the hamlet of Union, the Guys were of the same opinion: surprisingly not a lot happening despite the presences of a really unique place to go. For a late lunch, the Guys headed back the way they came through Woodstock, where they grabbed a bite to eat at a favorite, La Petite Creperie ( at the corner of Johnson and Cass adjacent to the Square.

Union, Illinois is accessible from two directions; straight west or north and then west. The Guys chose the latter. Up I-94 to IL 120, west to Woodstock. South on IL 47 to west on IL 176 to south on North Union Road. Entering Union from this direction signs to the IRM are a little scarce. Or take I 90-94 west to I 90 to U.S. 20 north to east on Coral Road. April 2007


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