History of the IRM - A Museum In Motion


Chicago Surface Lines 1374
One of the more interesting controversies at historical museums is whether to display artifacts "as-found, as-is" or to restore them to the appearance of days gone by. Because the IRM is somewhat of a "living history" museum, our goal is to restore rail equipment to full operating condition if possible, or to a cosmetic appearance proper for a particular period of that artifact's history.

Unlike tourist railroads that sometimes paint locomotives and cars to replicate equipment long since scrapped, IRM is scrupulously careful to make a restoration accurate in construction, color and railroad lettering. If possible we rebuild original parts; but if these are missing, we make reproductions that are as close as possible to the original in material and appearance. If historic accuracy cannot be maintained, we often paint the equipment to prevent further deterioration, and display the artifact in an unrestored condition. Thus, the range of our restorations runs from no restoration at all through cosmetic restoration, to complete operational restoration.

The Museum's first complete restoration project, a fifteen-year program, took a dilapidated salt-spreader and restored it into Chicago Surface Lines 1374. Built in 1906 and retired from passenger service in 1936, this wood-bodied streetcar survived on the roster until the end of Chicago street railway service in 1958.

This effort included stripping the car down to its frame and replacing all rotted woodwork. While this was being done, the electrical and mechanical systems, both severely damaged by salt, were completely rebuilt. When the 1374 was finally repainted and rolled from the car shop, it represented one of the finest streetcar restoration projects in the country. More importantly, the effort taught historic restoration techniques to a new generation of workers who will carry this important work on into the next century.

Flush with the success of the 1374, the Museum took on its biggest single restoration project to date, the renovation of the North Shore Line's Electroliner. When this streamlined articulated train was built in 1941, many commentators called it the most modern train on the rails. Electrically powered, it has many features that could be wished for in modern trains of the 1990's. It is quiet and comfortable, energy efficient and relatively non-polluting. It is also fast.

Our goal was to restore the Electroliner to it's 1940's appearance in time for the 50th Anniversary of its inaugural run (February 8, 1941). But the job was larger than preliminary surveys had indicated.

The first consideration was to rectify the changes that the train's second owner made for service in the Philadelphia area. This included replacing stairs and trolley poles that had been removed, closing additional doorways which had been cut into the sides, and installing glass in the windows that had been replaced with Plexiglas.

It was also discovered that the train's sides, unfortunately, suffered from an extensive case of "cancer" not unlike the rust that attacks automobile rocker panels. This required replacing the bottom ten inches of side steel along both sides of the 160-foot long train.

By the time the Electroliner's four car bodies were rebuilt and painted, the restoration cost exceeded the $150,000 original construction cost of the train. The 50th Anniversary re-inaugural of the Electroliner, held as a fund-raising project for the train, raised more than $140,000 toward that phase of the restoration. It is anticipated that the interior rehabilitation may take another $50,000.

Today, the Electroliner is used on special events or for charter service. Whenever it runs the 'Liner attracts the attention of all around. The train of the future was truly here yesterday.

Chicago Aurora and Elgin 431
Meanwhile, the Steam and Internal Combustion Departments are working on their own restoration projects. Frisco 1630, our 2-10-0 primary service locomotive, is one evidence of the Steam Department's restoration efforts. In the early 1970's, the "Steam Team" restored the 1630 to it's 1940's appearance. Through the years, mostly during the winter months, this crew has continued the restoration by repairing and rebuilding various parts of the locomotive.

One severe problem plaguing the accurate restoration of all of our artifacts, but especially critical to steam locomotive rehabilitation, is the acquisition of parts. Since the era of active steam engines has long since passed, the availability of their unique components is virtually non-existent. Other than borrowing items from static display locomotives, our only recourse is the laborious fabrication of missing parts.

Over the years, the Museum has been the grateful beneficiary of parts and materials from railroads as they closed their shops and store houses, and from individuals as they sought a place to retain collected parts. Unfortunately, most of the railroads have completed cleaning house, although every so often another offering arrives.

Currently, the Steam Department is in the middle of a long project to restore Union Pacific 428, a Harriman Consolidation type locomotive, to operating condition. It will be the most comprehensive steam engine rebuilding yet undertaken by the Museum. The 428 was one of the last Union Pacific steam locomotives in regular service, having ended it's days on the Kearney, Nebraska, branch.

The Steam Shop has recently been enlarged so it can handle two locomotives simultaneously. Shop crews are equipped to handle nearly every stage of locomotive restoration, including boiler rebuilding.

The Internal Combustion Department's major project for the 1990's is complete rebuilding of the 1936 Nebraska Zephyr trainset and its 1940 E5a type diesel locomotive, "Silver Pilot." Our goal is to restore this train as close to original appearance as possible, and includes major suspension, air brake, motive power, and interior restoration. The Zephyr promises to be an even bigger job than the Electroliner, but the staff and volunteers of the department are confident that the job can be accomplished in a short time if adequate funds are raised.

The ultimate goal is to have the train compatible with modern Federal Railroad Administration regulations while still preserving its historical components.

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