This train, Chicago Aurora and Elgin 409 & 431, ran on the interurban line from Chicago to Wheaton, with splits to Elgin and Aurora (thus the name). You can see its extensive route map. Many of the suburbs it traveled to and through now have Metra service and other parts became the Illinois Prairie Path.
Every year at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois, volunteers bring out the working condition trains that used to operate on Chicago or Chicagoland tracks: ‘L’ trains, interurbans, and streetcars. This past weekend was “Chicago Day” at IRM. My friend and I rented a Zipcar and drove there, 54 miles from my house in Avondale. According to the article on Wikipedia about IRM, it’s the largest railroad museum in North America.
The museum is a not-for-profit education corporation run completely by volunteers. It’s funded by memberships, donations (both monetary and services, like train car transporting), grants (including from the State of Illinois), entry ticket sales, and sales in the gift shop and of vintage paraphernalia.
We rode only electric trains on this visit (my fifth time), all of which had operated in the city limits of Chicago in the 1900s. Here’s a list of trains we rode:
- Chicago Aurora and Elgin 409 and 431 (above)
- Chicago Rapid Transit 1268 (a wooden car built in 1907)
- Chicago Transit Authority 4290
- Chicago Transit Authority 4391 (also known as the Green Hornet, the last remaining streetcar of its kind)
- Chicago Transit Authority 22
One of the most interesting parts of the trains are that their original advertisements are intact: it’s a great look at the past, where you can understand sentiments at the time about public health, military, politics, and other social norms. For example this photo of an advertisement advising people to “not press their luck” and get vaccinated against polio would be lost on anyone born in the era where only 650 cases are reported around the world in 2011 (and all in Africa or Southeast Asia).
We also visited the bus barn, which held buses used by Pace and the Chicago Transit Authority. Not all of them worked. One bus couldn’t go in reverse but needed an oil change. So a worker used a CTA bus to tow the Pace bus.
The museum has trains from before Metra was created in 1984, when commuter trains were privately operated by the railroads. Currently, many of the routes are operated by the railroads, but under the direction of Metra, a quasi-governmental transit agency.
This sign on the side of a bus says, “Ride transit and save”. The same is still true today. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) says that Chicagoans who give up a car and take transit to work will save $975 per month.
The museum even has a transplanted train station that served passengers in Cicero on 50th Avenue.
See the full photoset on Flickr. It’s possible to bike to the museum, by taking your bicycle on the Metra UP-Northwest Line from Northwestern Station to Woodstock station in Woodstock, about 10 miles away.