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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Union: Illinois Railroad Museum

Union, Illinois -- It's the summer of steam for this train-loving family! Thanks to a prize-winning raffle ticket held by my three-year old at a library event this summer, we were the happy recipients of a family pass to the Illinois Railway Museum in Union. We took advantage of the tickets over the Labor Day weekend, and enjoyed a visit to one of our favorite day trip sites in the area. It's been a few years since our last visit to IRM so we were thrilled to discover that locomotive #1630 has been operational this season and we would be there on a scheduled steam ride day. As it happened, that every engine was chugging past the parking lot as we pulled in, welcoming us with the characteristic deep toot of the whistle. Of course, a ride on the 1630 was the first destination of our visit once we entered the IRM grounds. Compared to the later ride on a relatively modern CTA train, the characteristic chuf-chuf of the engine and sway of the cars leaves passengers no doubt that they are riding something of a time machine.
The 1630 pulling into the station

Waiting to pull out of the station

The railroad museum's collection of engines, cars, signals, and memorabilia is staggering.  Long barns filled with rolling stock house family favorites such as the Nebraska Zephyr and streetcars that once rolled through our hometown (long before our time!). The kids loved checking out the compartments of Pullman sleeper cars, although Mom and Dad found them just a bit claustrophobic. We endured the mild shame of entering the wrong door of the trolley car for a ride around the entire grounds -- go in through the back, out through the front. Yet, as always, the kids may have been most wowed by the playground. IRM has recently installed substantial trained-themed play equipment giving both toddlers and older climbers the chance to work off the wiggles and play engineer in a safe place.
The new playground at IRM 
Wandering through
the interurban car barn

After almost five hours and three train rides, which seemed too few for our 8-year old, we called it a day, but only after a visit to the expansive gift shop. It's a paradise of train toys, knickknacks and mementos, so come with your spending money or be ready to repeat, "We are not shopping for us today!"

The museum remains open daily in September with trains operating on the weekends. Check the website for special fall and winter events, including Halloween and Christmas activities, coming up in the weeks to come. 

The Illinois Railway Museum is at 700 Olson Road in Union, Illinois.

By the wheels of the Grand Trunk Western 6323

Wise words