Monday, September 06, 2010

For The Love Of Trains - The Illinois Railway Museum

I’ll be happy to admit it up front; I’m a bit of a train nut. That doesn’t mean I know a lot about trains, it just means I’ve always had an interest in them. It’s probably because, when I grew up, trains were still in wide use across the country.

And, because of my love of trains, I included a train, as a major element, in my new book, Barney and the Runaway. That book will be coming out later this fall.

Several years ago, while on a film production assignment up in Canada, I had the opportunity to ride on the Polar Bear Express. What great fun!

So, when my older brother Lane, and his wife Jill visited recently, I took them to the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois.

This is America’s largest railway museum, with steam trains, streetcars, interurbans, and diesel trains. On holiday weekends, they bring out the big steam trains and make a ten-mile run.

On the day we were there, only electric trains were running. We went out on this interurban car for about ten miles, and then rode around the grounds on an electric streetcar.

Everywhere you look, at the museum, there are trains of every kind. And not just one or two, trains are everywhere.

There are so many, that several have to be kept out in the elements. Over 400 locomotives and rail cars are stored on the grounds. But the lucky trains are the ones that are kept in long barns where they are lovingly restored, mostly by volunteers.

Some of the steam locomotives are simply monstrosities. It hurts your neck to look up at them. My brother is over six feet tall. Just look at the massive wheel behind him. And this engine has several on each side.

Hollywood often comes calling, when they need a train for their production. This train, the silver Zephyr, was used in the film, A League of Their Own. Many other productions are listed in the brochure.

You can read more about the museum at  If you live anywhere near Union, Illinois, and if you care anything at all about trains, I encourage you to make the trip to the Illinois Railway Museum. You won’t be disappointed.

These are a couple of old railroad timetables in my collection. The Chicago NorthWestern is from April 24, 1949 and the Milwaukee Road is dated April-May 1938.


Maureen Lang said...

I enjoyed your pictures of the trains, Max! I used to take my boys out to Union to see Thomas the Tank Engine and we all enjoyed the day, taking train rides on all the old trains. Thanks for reminding me of some great memories. :-)

Anonymous said...


My dad was a train man so I grew up riding trains across and around the US. As dependents my mom and I had passes to ride anywhere Southern Pacific went and methods to switch to other trains on rails they didn't run. I've been a train nut all my life, probably because of that.
Actually, here in Nevada we have a lot of train musuems as well as short runs.
My Andy Series for Guardian Angel Publishing will have a title, Andy and Spirit Ride the Train. I'm gathering info for it now. That's why I went up to look at your photos. Thanks for putting them up. I saw at least one engine that had pulled a train I rode as a kid.
Mary Jean Kelso

Grace said...

Hi Max- Great article about trains. I especially like the Polar Brae Express as this brings back memories of where I grew up. I lived, until I was eighteen, in a hamlet called Sesekinika along the Ontario Northland Railroad. We kids in Sesekinika always enjoyed ONR trains going through the town, we'd stand by the roadside and wave at the engineer, if we could.
The Polar Bear Express I heard of, but it didn't go through Sesekinina, I don't think. Wasn't this a train special, between Timmins and James Bay?
There was even a song about the Polar Bear Express in the sixties and seventies? made famous by who, I forget. Say, this was over forty years ago.

max said...

Thank you for your comment, Maureen. Glad we have the museum in common.

max said...

Yes, Grace, the P B Express took us to James Bay where we did some additonal shooting on a film project we were doing in Canada. I don't know about the song though.

Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

I'm more of a steam engine nut. But I do love the mode of travel in sleepers and the lovely dining cars. If you ever are in Sacramento, Ca make sure you see their Train Museum it is one of the best I have seen. Also they have just rebuilt one of the steam engines in Jamestown, Ca. some great movies were made at this location. Plus Petty Coat Junction did a bit of filming there. For a real treat go to you will find info on my children's book about family and a steam threshing event.