History of the IRM - A Museum In Motion


Chicago and Northwestern 1518
The Illinois Railway Museum is composed of many collections representing different aspects of railroading in the United States. The largest group consists of rolling stock - locomotives and cars - but we also have artifacts such as buildings, signals, telegraph/communications, tools, signage, cap badges, uniforms, tickets, buttons and of special interest to researchers, an archive of technical, operations and management documents - the Pullman Library.

Rolling stock has always held a special fascination for railroad historians, indeed the saving of one special interurban was the catalyst for the founding of the Museum. Early on, Museum members contemplated a structured acquisition program to portray types of railroad activity through rolling stock. As developed through the years the plan was to acquire a representative piece for each important chronological period within major rolling stock type.

IRM has been successful in acquiring many unique cars and locomotives including the Electroliner, the Nebraska Zephyr, the only remaining Chicago streamlined PCC streetcars, the first GP7 diesel engine, the first Fairbanks Morse locomotive constructed in their own plant, the only interurban sleeping car, two "Russian" locomotives, the oldest surviving street railway car, an 1859 horsecar and the last running pair of Illinois Central Suburban Electric Multiple Unit coaches.

The two "Russian" locomotives deserve some explanation. First is Frisco 1630, a Decapod type, built for export to Russia during World War I, but undelivered because of the Bolshevik revolution. Second is the South Shore Line 803 "Little Joe" built for export after World War II, but not delivered due to the start of the Cold War.

As the scope of the Museum has grown from interurban cars to include streetcars, rapid transit cars and then steam locomotives and their associated passenger and freight cars and eventually diesel locomotives, the variety of equipment has grown to encompass every major type. Also included are examples of mining, industrial and special purpose lines such as the Chicago Tunnel Company.

Chicago Transit Authority 4391
IRM is recognized as a top quality restoration and preservation group. A Bessemer & Lake Erie 2-8-0 Consolidation type steam locomotive was cosmetically restored and traded to the Henry Ford Museum for Toledo - Detroit 16, a 4-4-0 American type. Significant historic equipment has been donated by major companies: Ingersoll-Rand solicited requests for a rare 1926 oil-electric (predecessor to the diesel) locomotive and selected IRM from among the many responding preservation groups. The Chicago Transit Authority chose the Museum to preserve their exceptional collection of historic transit vehicles and the Electric Railway Historical Society donated their fine collection of streetcars and one trolley coach. The Chicago & North Western donated GP7 1518, the first general purpose diesel built.

Although we identify the collections of rolling stock, in most cases they are not physically situated together in discrete clusters. Due to space constraints, restoration requirements and operational needs, items within a collection may be scattered thoughout our site. If one desires to view all the pieces in a group it can become a challenge, albeit one we hope is pleasantly rewarding.

Among the more significant collections at IRM are:

The Chicago Collection

  • 17 streetcars from the largest street railway system in the world, including a unique 1859 horsecar, the only surviving 1948 PCC (of 600 in Chicago) and the CTA Historic Collection.
  • 17 rapid transit pieces from an 1899 wood open-end gate car to a 1955 lightweight, semi-permanently-coupled pair.
  • 6 trolley coaches including the oldest surviving unit.
This is undoubtedly the finest and most comprehensive representation of any transit company in the western hemisphere.

The Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Collection

  • 19 units from the street railway, interurban and trackless trolley (trolley coach) divisions, including an interurban parlor car.

The Chicago & North Western Collection

  • 19 pieces with the first GP7 and one of the first RDC cars.

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Collection

  • 17 units including the complete Nebraska Zephyr.

The Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee Collection

  • 17 pieces including the Electroliner.

The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Collection

  • 19 units including a super power steam locomotive, the first Fairbanks Morse switcher and an operating dynamometer car.

The Illinois Terminal Collection

  • 17 cars with the only surviving interurban sleeping car.

The Steam Locomotive Collection

  • 23 engines representing most of the major types in America.

The Diesel Locomotive Collection

  • 26 units; the finest diesel collection in the United States.

The Passenger Coach Collection

  • Commuter, lightweight, standard and Pullman cars.

The Freight Car Collection

  • Cabooses and examples of all types of freight rolling stock.

A detailed roster of rolling stock is available at the Museum Store. The Catalog of Collections of the IRM will be available soon.

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