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Illinois Railway Museum revisted

The whole family came down with a cold late last week. It progressed from the boys to the girls and left us all grumpy with runny noses. (I've been in no mood for either coffee or working out, which shows you where things stand.) It's one of those annoying sniffles that doesn't knock you just makes you miserable enough to do your normal activities in discomfort.

Cole had been asking for a visit to the train museum for probably a month and this week we had grabbed the discount coupon that we can checkout from our public library in order to go on Saturday. We weren't sure how things would shape up, but Cole--and everybody really--did fantastic.

It was a crisp, sunny fall day and we arrived not long after the museum opened...along with 2 bus loads of seniors who are members of some sort of electric rail fan club. We had a pretty good idea what Cole wanted to do so we didn't hang around the depot for the demonstration railroad very long. He wanted to see the "quiet trains." Essentially, he loves walking around in the long barns--hangars really--of rolling stock. There are probably 10 buildings like this...each 4 track widths wide with a walkway to view the cars. Each barn probably the length of several football fields.

One barn is streetcars. One barn is huge steam engines. One barn is old passenger cars from the late-1800's to early 1900's, etc.. There's old L cars, giant diesel engines, and displays on the history of railroad signals. We managed to see several new things we'd never visited before. Including a nicely done new exhibit on the history of women in railroading. And my two favorites were side-by-side in one of the yards between buildings. One was a set of probably mid-20th century passenger cars you could walk through and view the bedrooms and roomettes. You walk the length of many of the trains and can get a feel for the old bathrooms, kitchens, dining cars. My other favorite is a Union Pacific of the largest engines ever built. The tender is enormous because the engine burns something like 800 gallons of fuel per hour (that has to be heated to 200 degrees first). The diesel is actually for starting up the locomotive, then an electric traction motor.

We'd taken a break to use the restroom when I saw some old college friends drive by on a golf cart. Which you'd think is weird except that they're a husband and wife who help run the museum. He's recently been elected president and there are tons of cars to restore and keep operational. The museum has it's own track department, signal department. And works on its own steam engines, etc.. I'd resigned myself to leaving a message for them when we got back home asking if that was them. But they managed to circle back around while we were still standing there. They did a double take. I took a hard look. And they stopped to come over to talk.

It was a busy day given the tour group that needed special cars pulled for charters, but Miss Gwyn still took the time to show us around a little and the kids loved it. She took us to one of the barns where "her" car is stored. An old interurban that used to run between Chicago and Milwaukee. We got to unlock it, climb aboard, and see it in the process of being rehabbed. They sent out to England for a company that can replicate upholstery. There's flooring to be done. It's a huge project. Then she though Cole would enjoy seeing the steam shop where they would be working on the steam engines. Fun, but way too noisy for Cole so he wanted to leave quickly. But not without a memory. When we first arrived outside the shop, there was a massive metal circle out front which we soon realized was the front of the engine inside the shop. In the building, we could see the engine taken apart with marks for body work and the inner workings of the boiler. Very cool.

We'd been saving some cardboard boxes for Cole to play with and almost non-stop since Saturday afternoon he's been "coupling" them together to make a train. His wagon is the "diesel engine" and Leda's stroller with some pvc pipe for a pantograph. He's been filling the various car types with freight, they break and he fixes them, and he takes one of his "engines" to bed where it is "parked" for the night. My 3 year old pretends a piston is broken and needs to be fixed in the shop.

That's what I call imaginative play!