History of the IRM - A Museum In Motion


Indiana Railroad 65
The concept for the Museum originated in 1941 when one of the largest of the Midwestern interurban railways was abandoned. The Indiana Railroad possessed some of the most technically advanced electric cars in the United States, one of which was high-speed, lightweight car 65. Several railroad historians sought to preserve this unit, but not being able to secure financially affordable storage space, they did the next best thing and persuaded a small electric railway line in Iowa to purchase and operate the car. Six months later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, gas rationing was instituted and the 65 became the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City's primary service unit during World War II. History repeated itself as the CR&IC abandoned passenger service in 1953, but this time the rail enthusiasts acquired and moved car 65 to North Chicago.

For ten people to accomplish this major task, a not-for-profit educational corporation was established - the Illinois Electric Railway Museum. Word of this preservation spread; interested people journeyed to see the car and stayed to join in the effort. Soon additional cars were nearing the end of their useful lives - streetcars from Chicago and Milwaukee and interurbans from the once great rail network of Samuel Insull, the Chicago utilities financier. It was decided that one or two of the more important types should be saved. The benefactor who had provided the initial track storage space graciously consented to allow an additional two or three units. This gentleman had saved a streetcar and several Chicago elevated (rapid transit) cars and was therefore well disposed to help in this heroic effort.

In September of 1957 the Internal Revenue Service granted tax exempt status (501.c.3) to the Illinois Electric Railway Museum.

As the collection grew, it became obvious that some type of shelter, preferably an enclosed building, was necessary to protect the rolling stock from the ravages of northern Illinois weather. Already the assembled, static cars were showing signs of benign neglect, a significant problem for preservationists. It was decided that the IERM should acquire a large piece of real estate, 10 or more acres in size, as its permanent home. Tenancy status at the North Chicago location demonstrated how important it was to own our site!

Several of the more active members started investigating potential sites, always with the goal of operating our equipment. Many locations were surveyed in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, but it resolved to four serious contenders: the Batavia Branch of the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin (abandoned but track still in place), the East Troy Railroad (owned by the Village of East Troy, Wisconsin and still electrically powered), the Joliet quarry trackage of the Material Service Corporation and the abandoned Elgin & Belvidere right-of-way stretching east from Union, Illinois. Four separate site committees evaluated the alternatives, but in the end, cost and availability considerations mandated the selection and purchase of the undeveloped right-of-way just outside Union in McHenry County.

Concurrently, another step was taken in the planning process for future development which involved expanding the scope of the Museum. After much discussion it was decided in March 1962 to include steam locomotives and mainline railroads. To more accurately reflect our mission, the title was shortened to the Illinois Railway Museum.

Illinois Terminal 415
In March 1964 the Board of Directors authorized the purchase of 26 acres adjacent to our right-of-way (with an option on 20 more) and initiated the relocation process. To accomplish this move more than 1300 ties were placed, 3000 feet of track laid, 42 cars moved and tons of material brought to our new home in McHenry County. In one long hectic weekend, after a train of historic cars had left North Chicago, Museum volunteers hurriedly dismantled the track it sat on, moved all the components to East Union and reassembled the track. The train arrived early the next week and was switched onto its old track at our new site. On August 23, 1964, the move was completed. This concluded five months of "maximum effort" on the part of Museum members and their many friends.

But the work had just begun! Money was borrowed to improve the new site, grade farm land into a railroad yard, and provide vehicle access. An outline chronology of important events follows:

1964 December    - Bonds issued to prepare for operation
1965 June        - Mainline graded, prepared for track
1965 July 23     - J. Neils 5 (Shay geared locomotive) arrives
1965 December    - Frisco 1630 (2-10-0 Decapod) donated
1966 July 17     - Passenger service begins (car 415) at 11:27 a.m.
1967 February    - Marengo station acquired (built in 1851)
1967 December 29 - First steam operation - J. Neils 5 (Shay)
1968 June        - Daily operations commence
1968 September 21- Nebraska Zephyr arrives
1969 July 27     - Chicago Surface Lines 144 "Big Pullman" runs
1969 October 11  - First Member's Day
1970 September   - Tuskegee 101 (2-6-2 Prairie) operates
1972 January     - First carbarn completed
1972 July        - Trolley coach operations commence
1972 October 15  - 100,000th rider on demonstration railroad
1972 November 28 - Frisco 1630 (Decapod) runs
1973 May         - Electric Ry Historical Society collection donated
1975 April 12    - Milwaukee Road 265 (4-8-4 Northern) arrives
1977 September 17- Indiana Railroad 65 runs again
1978 April       - Norfolk & Western 2050 (2-8-8-2 Mallet) arrives
1978 November 7  - 25th Anniversary of the Museum
1980 July 6      - Streetcar loop opened for passenger service
1981 July 19     - South Shore Line 803 "Little Joe" arrives
1981 December 23 - Milwaukee Road 760 (FM H10-44) arrives
1982 January 19  - Northwestern Steel & Wire donates 11 engines
1982 May 4       - North Shore Line Electroliner arrives
1984 August      - Ingersoll-Rand donates oil-electric 91
1985 July 26     - Chicago Transit Authority donates historic cars
1985 October 15  - Norfolk Southern donates Ill. Terminal 1605
1987 January 7   - Pullman Library established
1987 May         - Chicago & North Western donates 1st GP7 1518
1988 August      - Milwaukee Electric collection acquired
1990 February    - Burlington Route 9911A 50th Anniversary
1990 August      - Burlington Route 637 (4-6-0) 1892 Rogers arrives
1991 February 9  - 50th Anniversary of the Electroliner
1991 September   - Mainline completed to Kishwaukee Grove

Recent achievements include construction of additional display and storage space (as of 1992 more than 1.5 miles of track was under roof), paving of depot platforms and sidewalks to improve visitor access and installation of the Spaulding interlocking tower.

Contributions toward the continued development of the Museum are received from more than 2500 individuals annually.

As a Museum in Motion, IRM will continue acquiring important artifacts to represent railroading in the United States.

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