Friday, March 28, 2008

Early Days at IRM

Recollections of what things were like in the mid-seventies:

I first visited IRM in 1964 right after it had moved to Union. Evidently my father read about it in the paper, and we went for a Sunday drive in the country, a common occurrence. He didn't tell us, though, that there was anything special we were going to see. I can still remember how we were driving east out of town on Jefferson Street. I was looking out the window watching the passing countryside, when I suddenly noticed a line of old railroad equipment back in the trees. An observation car was at the west end of the string. I started shouting "Look at that!" and Dad acknowledged that was what we had come to see. We parked along Olson Road and walked back along the narrow path which led past the cars. My dad took several slides on that visit, including one (somewhat obscured by all the weeds) of the three CA&E cars. Another shows me standing on the Com Ed 4. We visited IRM every two or three years after that.
I joined the Museum on July 28, 1974, since I had just gotten my first car. And here's my ticket from that day.  Some of the people I met that first day included Nick Kallas, Herb Hanson, Jim Johnson, Frank Sirinek, and Jeff Brady.

My first project at IRM was helping Jeff fix the Big Pig. Part of the fender had fallen off while he was driving it. In theory, the principle was: if it breaks while you're using it, you fix it. Jeff is one of the few people to take principles like that seriously. I then worked for several weekends that summer on odd jobs, such as helping repaint the depot white, and track work. In September I went back to Champaign for graduate school, and didn’t return to the Museum until about April of 1975. While in Champaign, I'd work sometimes at Monticello, but that's another story.
At that time the only buildings were Barn 4, the trolley bus barn, the steam shop, the depot, and the wood shop (the south half of the present office building). The wood shop was the only heated area, and served as the Museum office. Restoration facilities were limited. Dennis Storzek was repainting one of the North Shore cars (714?) and had to set up a scaffold at the south switch of the wye, about where the pavilion is now. Then, of course, he had to move the car whenever a steam engine came in or out. The first real Car Dept. project I worked on was helping the late Glenn Monhart, of all people, on the 518 one day. He was using a propane torch to burn paint off the sheet metal sides, and managed to start a small fire in a rotten part of the window sill. That was briefly exciting. I also worked on the 354.
There was no car shop as such in those days, before the lean-to was built in 1983 or 1984. In the absence of Safety-Clean, there was a tank of Diesel fuel on the east side of the wood shop. You drain a little Diesel fuel into a coffee can and soak your paint brushes or other parts in that. And in the absence of any real woodworking facilities, the thing to do was to sign up for an evening woodworking course at a local high school. I did this a couple of times in conjunction with Bob Rayunec and Randy Anderson. We’d help each other with projects and could get quite a bit done.
And because the old Wood Shop was the only heated building, that’s where everybody on the property would gather at the end of the day, at least during the colder months. Then we’d all go out to eat together in a large group. There also seems to have been a lot more drinking in those days. In any case, one result of this is that we were more aware of what was going on in other departments. Nowadays I almost never get to see or talk to the steam guys, for instance. The place is just too big.
Remember the soap? We used to get the used soap from a local motel; every day they'd collect the tiny partly-used bars of soap and give us a box of them every so often. So that's what we had for hand soap - because it was free! Of course, now we have nice new sanitary dispensers.
Then there was Schwabenfest. This was an annual celebration of Union's proud heritage as a town of bootleggers and booze, a town that Prohibition could not shut down. In the early days it brought a lot of visitors to town and so was one of IRM's busiest days, but it faded away by 1980 or so.
For a long time, from 1964 to about 1978, the west end of the main line was about 400’ east of Jefferson. When I started, we could only operate a few hundred feet west of Olson Road, because the original track at the west end was in such bad shape. The west end has been rebuilt several times. You'd never guess what that area used to look like - it was all trees, and the track went through a cut or two. Of course the trees are mostly gone and the land has been graded smooth. When I joined, the west end was being re-laid with 78 pound rail, a type which was unique to the New Haven, I believe, and which had been donated by Elliot Donnelley for some reason. We had parts for only one 78-pound switch, and had trouble getting enough angle bars and other parts. This oddball rail was later replaced, of course.
Herb Hansen was then the Museum President. He believed in doing everything by hand and resisted the introduction of mechanized equipment for track work, not that we had very much anyway. Sometimes I would spend what seemed like most of a day bucking ties while he drove spikes by hand. We'd switch off occasionally, but he did most of the pounding. It was impressive how a much older man than myself had so much stamina, even though I was still in the Army Reserve at that time and in pretty good shape. Herb also occupied himself by painting the tops of the (already installed) ties with Creosote. This did nothing to preserve the wood, but made the railroad look better, I suppose.
The 1630 operated for the first time in 1972, I think, although the cosmetic work was not completed until 1975. At that time it became the primary steam locomotive. Previously, steam trains had been handled either by the 101 or the Shay, although the Com Ed 5 was also used occasionally. Herb’s three Burlington coaches, with the Inglehome optional, were probably the most common consist.
In 1974 the most commonly used electric cars were the 415, 972, and 144, the 431, 160 and 714, and the 4412, at that time our only 4000. The 4410 was acquired in April of 1975. The wooden El cars and the 277 and 518 could be operated occasionally.
One of the big events during the summer of 1975 was the first operation of the 4391. It may sound implausible nowadays, but the test track was the center track of Barn 4, which had been cleared out. Until the Diesel era started in the early 1980’s, most switching was handled by the electric locomotives 4, 14, and 1565, using a long string of idlers if necessary.
Switching was always a challenge. Yard 1 and Yard 3 always had crummy switches, and derailments were common. For that matter, Yard 2 was also pretty poor, but it seems to me switching it out was rare. Yard 4 had good track but very sharp curves, of course; it’s never been changed.
In the spring of 1975 I started training on the 415 and 144. Bob Opal was the training director; Roger Hewett and Ray Zelinsky, an old CSL motorman, did my line training. During 1975 I operated the 144 several times, including the first day the 354 was used in regular service. Jeff was the motorman, of course. On the second trip the car derailed on the west switch, trying to spring through, the way everything else did. Luckily he wasn't going very fast and there were no injuries. So I had to run the 144 up to the switch to pick up the passengers. After that the 354 was restricted from ever springing through.
In those days there was no entrance booth, and no charge for admission to the property. Tickets on a per-ride basis were sold at the window inside the station, much as they still are at South Elgin. The dispatcher sat there and answered the phone. We had no radios, and proceeded on train order and signal indication. Line side phones were available in emergencies. And since the main line only went to Karstens, being the dispatcher was pretty easy. I did it several times when no one else was available. And the dispatcher was often also the ticket seller.
Up to three electric cars could be on the main at one time, but they all had to return to station track 1 for the steam train to leave. The 1630 had to back west out of station track 2 onto the main, since there was a curve at the east end around the old generator shed, back to track 1 about where the electric switch is nowadays.
During the summer of 1975 I noticed that the 309's exterior paint was slowly being stripped, although I never saw anyone working on it. I asked Nick about it, and he explained that Bob Rayunec and his girlfriend were working on it, although it was an "illegal" project. Nick said: "He'll never get that car done anyhow - it's junk. The inside's all burned out. Forget about it!" Instead of taking his advice, though, I managed to meet up with Bob and Barb one day and joined the team. That set the course for the rest of my career at the Museum!
For most of 1976 I was living in Champaign doing my graduate work, but I had time to spend a day once every few weekends at the Museum. The schedule was as follows: I'd wake up at 6am on Saturday, get ready, and go have breakfast at Sambo's right down the street. Then I'd hit the road at 7am and drive to Union, straight up Route 47. The drive took three hours. So I'd arrive at 10am, work until 9pm, and then head home, arriving in Champaign about midnight. A quick dinner at Steak n' Shake (open 24 hours), and I was done. I was younger then - I could never do this sort of thing nowadays!
One Saturday I was working, as usual, on the roof of the 309, standing on a step ladder removing old tar paper, canvas, and tons of nails. About noon, Nick came through the barn rounding up people for a track project, another routine activity. In this case, we just had to load up some ties which we had sold to a landscaper. Nick and I and two other guys (don't remember who) loaded the ties into the man's truck. Nick collected whatever the man was paying for the ties, and then suggested he give us an extra dollar so the four of us could each have a pop. So I said: "And for two dollars, we could each have a beer!" In those days, a draft beer at Clasen's was only 50 cents. The man laughed and handed us the two dollars. So we drove into town and had a beer at Clasen's. Then it was back to work.
About 5pm or so, Bob Konsbruck showed up with some friends of his. He was planning to take out the two Illinois Terminal cars (277 and 518) for a fan trip. (In those days things were basically unregulated - if you were qualified, you could pretty much go fan tripping whenever you wanted.) The cars were stored on track 41 at the west end of the barn, while I was still working on the 309 at the southeast corner. I noticed he was getting the cars ready and went over to see what was happening. I volunteered to help him on the trip and run the tail hose on the 518. By this time I had completely forgotten about the quick trip to Clasen's. So we pulled the train out of the barn, and made two or three trips on the main line. Bob let me run one of the eastbound trips on the 277 - what a blast! We put the train away, I did some more work on the 309, and then headed home. It wasn't until I was eating at the restaurant in Champaign and thinking over what I'd been doing that I realized "Oops – I violated Rule G!" Of course, I wasn't exactly staggering under the influence while running the 277, but I've made sure it never happened again!


Anonymous said...

I remember in 1980 a line-up of of the Class B, the Com Ed 14 and the Cornwall engine "triple heading" as a very very long line of equipment was pushed into the new Barn 8 (now renumbered barn 9). Barn 8 was a major accomplishment, it seems to have been a few years since the other 3 barns (4, 2, and 3) were built.

Trolley wire ended not very far south of Central Ave. Inside the building, blocking the track, was one of the ex TM rubber tire service trucks (we had a fleet of those - all dating from the 1940s), and it would not start. A large stick was used and the locomotives pushed the train and the truck too at the very end in order to get the first cars in the building.

I also remember the woodshop as the social center of the property during winter work days.

The depot was the bookstore, and one of the museum's offices while I was there in my earliest visits. The floor was sagging badly, as I found out later, because adequate support was not placed in the middle, when the building was hurriedly reconstructed. Among some of the interesting items for sale in the depot included controllers for 4000 series L cars.

Apparently the wooden baggage car used for storage for the current gift shop, was the original museum depot/bookstore/gift shop before the wooden depot was moved from Marengo.
O. Anderson

Anonymous said...

I've been told that that 78-lb rail was surplus off the Canadian Pacific, and was purchased from a used railroad dealer right around the time of The Move. It was what replaced the 65-lb (among others) garbage rail that came over from North Chicago.

There was still some of that old 78-lb rail out on Schmidt Siding a few years ago, which has since been replaced. I think I saw roll dates around 1910; I also remember wondering why it was rollmarked for the New Haven!

CuZinBruce said...

I remember my first visit in 1972 for the Association of Railway Museums convention in October. It poured rain all weekend. We had a great dinner Sunday night at the Hoof and Mouth Steak House out on US 20.