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Illinois Railway Museum

Last revised: April 28, 2023

By: Adam Burns

The Illinois Railway Museum has a very long history when compared to many other museums around the country and can trace its roots all the way back to the 1940s and has been an actual organization since the early 1950s.

Initially the museum began as a means of preserving the Midwest's rich history of trolleys and interurbans. However, as they grew it was decided to also include general, main line railroads as part of their collection and they changed their name accordingly in the early 1960s.

Over the past nearly fifty years the museum has been able to amass a very impressive collection of rolling stock including several historic steam locomotives, classic diesel models, and even interurban street/trolley cars.

Not only does the museum own this equipment, many pieces are restored to operating condition being used many times throughout the year hauling excursions, train rides, or in some other capacity.

Preserved Burlington E5A #9911-A, the "Silver Pilot." The unit is seen here during Labor Day Weekend 2009 on September 7th. Tom Granville photo.

The Illinois Railway Museum’s mission is dedicated to preserving the history of rail operations in and around Chicago (including the area’s extensive trolley operations), as well as the entire country.

The IRM has grown to become the largest railroad museum in the country which sees many thousands of visitors annually and its close proximity to Chicago also helps in this manner.

Despite the IRM's size today it has much more humble beginnings, dating back to 1941 (just before the outbreak of World War II) when a group of individuals were hoping to preserve the region's fading interurban network (which could no longer effectively compete against improved roads and highways).

Preserved Burlington Northern E9A #BN-3 and Burlington E5A #9911-A at IRM on September 7, 2009. Tom Granville photo.

With the onset of World War II the idea for an interurban/trolley museum ground to a halt and it would take twelve years for it to be realized when in 1953 the Illinois Electric Railway Museum was created.

The organization's first acquisition was Indiana Railroad interurban car #65. However, still having no permanent home the museum had no way to either showcase its equipment or attract visitors.

They searched long and hard for a location, including contemplating the idea of buying former railroad property such as that owned by the Chicago, Aurora & Elgin or East Troy Railroad. 

Ultimately, however, with limited funds they settled on a tract of land 26 acres in size near Union, Illinois finalizing the purchase in the spring of 1964.  

Two years prior to this purchase the organization had also made another significant change when they elected to change their name to more accurately reflect their goal. Renamed as the Illinois Railway Museum the organization's new mission was to preserve the state's and country's railroad history.

With the help of numerous volunteers the new museum began to take shape now that they had a permanent home, moving equipment from various stored locations and literally building a new railroad, yard, and storage complexes right there in Union.

The Chicago & North Western's business train made a stop at the Illinois Railway Museum on October 8, 1988 led by F7A #402. To the left is preserved Burlington E5A #9911A with its "Nebraska Zephyr" consist. Brian Rackley photo.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s they gained more and more equipment such as:

  • St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (Frisco) 2-10-0 Decapod #1630

  • The Nebraska Zephyr

  • Chicago & North Western Railway's Marengo station (moved to Union)

  • Norfolk & Western 2-8-8-2 Mallet #2050

  • Numerous trolley cars

  • Many other steam locomotives

  • HIstoric diesel locomotives

In the late 1980s the IRM also established the Pullman Library, which is the preeminent location to read, research, and learn the history of the Pullman empire.

What the museum has been able to create over the last several decades is nothing short of a railroad institution that no other organization can really match in terms of everything you can find at the IRM.

Preserved Locomotives 

Steam Locomotives

American Creosote Works 0-4-0T #7 (Manufactured by the Vulcan Iron Works in 1917.)

Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe 4-8-4 #2903 (Built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1943.)

Chesapeake & Ohio Class K-4 2-8-4 "Kanawha" #2707 (Built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1943.)

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Class K-2 4-6-0 #637 (Built by the Rogers Locomotive Works in 1892.)

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Class S-4 4-6-4 #3007 (Built by Baldwin in 1930.)

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Class O-1A 2-8-2 #4963 (Built by Baldwin in 1923.)

Milwaukee Road Class S-3 4-8-4 #265 (Manufactured by the American Locomotive Company in 1944.)

Rock Island Class P-33 4-6-2 #938 (Built by Alco in 1910.)

Commonwealth Edison Company 0-6-0 #5 (Built by Baldwin in 1922.)

Grand Trunk Western Class U-3-b 4-8-4 #6323 (Built by Alco in 1942.)

Grand Trunk Western Class P-5-g 0-8-0 #8380 (Built by Baldwin in 1929.)

Graysonia, Nashville & Ashdown 2-6-0 #26 (Under restoration.  Built by Baldwin in 1926.)

Illinois Central 2-6-0 #3719 (Built by the Brooks Locomotive Works in 1900.)

J. Neils Lumber Company 70-Ton, 3-Truck Shay #5 (Under restoration.  Built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1929.)

Lake Superior & Ishpeming 2-8-0 #35 (Built by Baldwin in 1916.)

Lehigh & New England 0-6-0 #207 (Built by Baldwin in 1936.)

Louisiana & Arkansas 2-8-0 #99 (Built by Baldwin in 1919.)

Norfolk & Western Class Y-3a 2-8-8-2 #2050 (Built by Alco in 1923.)

Public Service Company 0-6-0T #7 (Manufactured by Baldwin in 1926.)

Southern Pacific Class F-1 2-10-2 #975 (Built by Alco in 1918.)

St. Louis-San Francisco (Frisco) 2-10-0 #1630 (Operational.  Built by Baldwin in 1918.)

Toledo & Detroit Railroad 4-4-0 #16 (Built by Baldwin in 1914.)

Tuskegee Railroad 2-6-2 #101 (Under restoration.  Built by Baldwin in 1924.)

Union Electric Company 0-4-0 #4 (Built by H.K. Porter in 1946.  Fireless.)

Union Pacific Class C-57 2-8-0 #428 (Under restoration.  Built by Baldwin in 1901.)

Diesel Locomotives

Amco Steel 1200-Horsepower Switcher (Built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1951.)

Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe FP45 #92 (Built by Electro-Motive in 1967.)

Burlington Northern U30C #5383 (Manufactured by General Electric in 1974.)

Burlington Northern F9A #BN-1 (Manufactured by Electro-Motive as Northern Pacific #6700-A in 1954.)

Burlington Northern F9B #BN-2 (Manufactured by Electro-Motive as Northern Pacific #7002-C in 1954.)

Burlington Northern E9AM #BN-3 (Manufactured by Electro-Motive as Chicago, Burlington & Quincy E9A #9989-A in 1956.)

Chicago & North Western F7A #411 (Built by Electro-Motive as C&NW #4082-C in 1949.)

Chicago & North Western GP7 #1518 (Built by Electro-Motive in 1949.  Original Demonstrator #852.)

Chicago & North Western GP7R #4160 (Built by Electro-Motive as Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific GP7 #1266 in 1952.)

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy SD24 #504 (Built by Electro-Motive in 1959.)

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy SW7 #9255 (Built by Electro-Motive in 1950.)

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy E9AM #9976 (Built by Electro-Motive in 1953 as E9A #9976.)

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy E5A #9911-A, The Silver Pilot (Operational.  Built by Electro-Motive in 1940.)

Columbus & Greenville AS-416 #606 (Built by Baldwin in 1950.)

Commonwealth Edison SW1 #15 (Built by Electro-Motive in 1950.)

Dardanelle & Russellville SC #14 (Built by Electro-Motive in 1937.)

Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Boxcab Switcher #3001 (Built by Alco/GE/Ingersoll-Rand in 1926.)'

Grand Trunk Western RS1 #1951 (Built by Alco in 1957.)

Green Bay & Western RSD-15 "Alligator" #2407 (Built by Alco in 1960 as Santa Fe #841.)

Illinois Terminal GP7 #1605 (Built by Electro-Motive in 1953.)

Joy Manufacturing Company 12-DM-38 #2 (Built by the Whitcomb Locomotive Works in 51.)

Louisville & Nashville FA-2 #314 (Built by Alco in 1956.  Later became a Long Island Rail Road, Cab Control Car.)

MARC Train E9AM #91 (Built by Electro-Motive in 1953 as Chicago, Burlington & Quincy E9A #9973.)

Metra F7A #308 (Built by Electro-Motive in 1949 as Chicago & North Western #4083-C.  Later became #414.)

Michigan Northern E9B/Steam Generator Car #671 (Built by Electro-Motive in 1955 as Union Pacific #967B.)

Milwaukee Road H10-44 #760 (Built by Fairbanks-Morse in 1944.  First FM diesel locomotive ever built.)

Milwaukee Road HH-660 #1603 (Built by the American Locomotive Company in 1939.)

Milwaukee Road U25B #5056 (Built by General Electric in 1965.)

Milwaukee Road FP7 #104-C (Built by Electro-Motive in 1952.)

Milwaukee Road F7A #118-C (Built by Electro-Motive in 1951.)

Milwaukee Road E9A #33-C (Built by Electro-Motive in 1956.)

Milwaukee Road E9A #37-A (Built by Electro-Motive in 1961.)

Milwaukee Road F7B #96-B (Built by Electro-Motive in 1951.)

Minneapolis, Northfield & Southern DT-6-6-2000 #21 (Built by Baldwin in 1948.)

Minnesota Transfer RS3 #200 (Built by Alco in 1950.)

Nekoosa Paper S1 #14 (Built by Alco in 1947 as South Omaha Terminal #5.)

Pullman 10-Ton Switcher #1792 (Built by the Davenport Locomotive Works in 1928.)

Southern Pacific SD7R #1518 (Originally built by Electro-Motive in 1952 as as EMD Demonstrator #990 and became Southern Pacific SD7 #5308.  First ever built.)

Toledo, Peoria & Western RS11 #400 (Built by Alco in 1958.)

Union Pacific Gas-Turbine Electric Locomotive (GTEL) A-B Set #18 (Built by General Electric in 1960.)

Union Pacific H20-44 #1366 (Built by Fairbanks Morse in 1947.)

Union Pacific DDA40AX "Centennial" #6930 (Built by Electro-Motive in 1970.)

U.S. Army 44-Ton Switcher #8537 (Built by General Electric in 1944.)

Wisconsin Central SD45MQ-3 #7525 (Built by Electro-Motive as Burlington Northern SD45 #6539 in 1971.)

Wyandotte Terminal VO-660 #103 (Built by Baldwin in 1945.)

Electic Locomotives

Chicago, South Shore & South Bend 2-D+D-2 "800" #803 (Operational.  Built by General Electric in 1949.)

Commonwealth Edison Steeple Cab #4 (Built by Alco/GE in 1911.)

Cornwall Street Railway & Light Company Class B-1 Steeple Cab #14 (Built by Baldwin in 1929.)

Illinois Terminal Class B Boxcab #1565 (Operational.  Built by Illinois Traction in 1910.)

Iowa Terminal Steeple Cab #30 (Built by the McGuire-Cummings Manufacturing Company in 1915.)

The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company Steeple Cab #L10 (Built in 1944 by the TMER&LC.)

The Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company Steeple Cab #L3 (Built in 1920 by the TMER&LC.)

Penn Central Class S-2 2-D-2 #4715 (Built by Alco/GE in 1906 as New York Central #115.)

Pennsylvania Railroad 2-C+C-2 Class GG-1 #4927 (Built by the PRR's Altoona Shops in 1942.)

Wisconsin Electric Power Company Steeple Cab #L4 (Built by the TMER&LC as #L4 in 1920.)

Wisconsin Electric Power Company Steeple7b #L7 (Built by the TMER&LC as #L7 in 1931.)

With plenty of resources now at their disposal the Illinois Railway Museum's goal these days is to restore as many pieces in its collection as possible along with constructing additional facilities to keep the equipment out of the elements.  

Their size has allowed them to dedicate separate departments for these restoration projects as they now have a steam shop, diesel restoration facilities, and an area to revive their many interurban pieces (several of which are now operational and used to take visitors on rides around the grounds).

Along with restoration the IRM has become much more interactive to keep kids not only entertained while visiting but also to teach them (as well as adults) about the important history railroads have played in this country's development.

Taken on the same day as the above photo, again we see C&NW F7A #402 leading its consist. Brian Rackley photo.

In any event, I could go on and on describing the things you can do and see at the IRM. However, it would take far too much time to list it all here and you would probably just get tired of reading about it.

In the end, you really just need to see the facility for yourself to experience everything they have to offer. To learn more about the Illinois Railway Museum please click here to visit their website.

Finally, the IRM's list of equipment is far too vast and expansive to list here. However, it is broken down into several different collections which are mentioned above.

To learn more about their entire collection please visit their website aforementioned as they have it all broken down. If you have the chance please take the opportunity to see the IRM, it truly is a must-see railroad museum.

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