History of the IRM - A Museum In Motion


On the set at A League of Their Own
Occasionally, the Illinois Railway Museum plays host to more unconventional visitors. They come because the Museum can offer more than just a collection of antiques, or a casual ride on a steam train or streetcar. They come seeking yesterday.

In 1991, movie director Penny Marshall brought her production company to IRM for filming of the transportation scenes in "A League of Their Own". Released in the summer of 1992, this film is the story of the women's professional baseball league started in 1942 during a major-league player shortage created by World War II. Although the film credits featured big name Hollywood stars Geena Davis, Tom Hanks and Madonna, the real star of the film was our own Nebraska Zephyr, and the Museum itself.

Through the magic of Hollywood, the Zephyr was dressed up in mylar "makeup" to masquerade as the Oregon Zephyr, the East Union depot became Fort Collins, Colorado, and the tower became Millers, Oregon. Extras walked through their roles, stars spoke their lines, and the Zephyr showed everyone just why this Museum exists. For a few moments, it was 1942. The time machine that is IRM was at work. Miss Marshall remarked that she never thought such a place could still exist in the 1990's.

Also in 1991, the transportation scenes for The Babe, starring John Goodman as Babe Ruth, were filmed at the Museum, this time using Frisco 1630 and the observation car "Inglehome" in supporting roles. Our 1859 Chicago horse car was moved (very carefully) to Chicago's Webster Street for a cameo role as a Baltimore horse-drawn tram in the segment about Ruth's childhood days.

On the set at The Babe
The attention of the movie moguls is nothing new, however. During the past two decades, film companies have come to IRM for location shoots and props. For The Dollmaker we sent several of our passenger cars to Chicago to co-star with Jane Fonda at Chicago's Union Station. The scene was only a few seconds long, so viewers had to watch closely. In Under the Biltmore Clock, a PBS film based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald story, filming was done right in front of the East Union station. Again, the scenes were short.

But in "Any Friend of Nicholas Nickelby is a Friend of Mine", Decapod 1630 did a double as it arrived and departed Ray Bradbury's imaginary Greentown, bringing Fred Gwyne as an out-of-time Charles Dickens to the Midwest of the 1930's.

Sharp-eyed television viewers have even seen IRM trains in a number of commercials. These have included spots for a deodorant soap, a dog food, a fine wrist watch and a state lottery.

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