Saturday, August 30, 2014

Strike Up the Band Organs

The weather was pretty grim this morning, so we decided to not to bring out the wood cars; I ran the North Shore train (714 and 749) instead.  And by the time the weather cleared, we were too busy to be able to switch them out.  With better weather, the crowd increased.  But everything went well.  Larry Stone was my conductor, and also did line training on the 3142 in an amazing feat of one-armed paper hanging, or whatever.

As mentioned before, this weekend is the "Band Organ Rally", and there were many different types of mechanical organs filling the air with sound.   This is just a small sample.


As usual, I met some new friends.  This is Allen Zagel, who was an IERM member back in the early days.  He later worked for the CTA and Metra, and has taken up cranking this band organ as a hobby.  He kindly let me crank it for a while between runs.

I also talked to a man who told me that he used to skip high school in Kenosha, take the North Shore down to Chicago, and go to a burlesque show.  I'm green with envy!

I never did figure out where the little tin cup was, to toss some pennies into.  Maybe they only take debit cards.

If you thought you could make a monkey out of me, better think again!

The 1630 was running, and was naturally a center of attention.  Tomorrow and Monday the Zephyr should be running also.  Don't miss it!

Today's Track Map

As several readers have pointed out, there's a pretty much up-to-date track map available on the IRM website, and I thank you for the reminder.  But at IRM, yesterday's news is already obsolete.

Pete Schmidt, long-time IRM member and friend, has sent me a newer version.  The new cutoff and Yard 15 track are shown outlined in green.  Both of these tracks are now essentially complete and are being fine-tuned.  Pete lives in Baltimore, and has done a fantastic job of track-mapping museums all over the country.

I should point out, however, that Barns 13 and 14 are not yet under construction, really, and Yard 13 is not yet complete.  But maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Clear the Deck

One priority today was to change the order of the blue cars, so that 308 and 309 will be ready for service this weekend, weather permitting.

Switching now requires the cars to squeeze past the 4001 with about 3" to spare.  At least they aren't getting fat in their old age like some of us.  And it's nice to see the 4001, or what's left of it, out in a position to be photographed.  As you should know, this is one of the most historic streetcars at IRM!

I spent most of the rest of the day removing the running boards and other hardware from the roof of the 319.  It's not easy, but progress is being made.  Another day of work should finish the task.  Then the roof will be painted, and then the canvas can be stretched! 

In other news, the contractors are making good progress on the new cutoff to the south yards.  How many other museums often bring in ballast by the carload?


I was too tired by the end of the day to photograph it, but they have also finished one track of yard 15, and panels for completing 13 have been put in place.  Maybe next time.

And Tim, of course, is still hard at work on the 24/1024.  There was lots of wet paint, so I took a grab shot of the interior. 

This weekend should have lots of interesting things happening.  As I mentioned before, we still need people to sign up for crews.  One way or the other, you should be there!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Thomas Week 2 or This Isn't Ground Hog Day

Al writes...

One other change from previous years that I forgot to mention last week is that the Great Wall of IRM no longer blocks the view of the rear end of the train from the boarding tent. In connection with the Chicago Fire filming the turntable bridge that conveniently divided the boarding area was moved south of the streetcar loop. The wide open vista was a welcome change.

This weekend didn't quite qualify as a Ground Hog Day candidate. Things were a bit different from last week. We started off Saturday with  a mechanical problem with the brakes on Thomas. By the time we got the problem corrected out first departure was about 7 min. late. We remained about that tardy throughout the morning. The situation was not helped with Thomas being briefly trapped at Jefferson St when one of the 4000s operating a Main Line train had a trolley rope separate itself from the pole. We remained running 5-10 min late throughout the morning. At about 12:30 we became aware of a major storm heading our way. We successfully loaded the 1:00 train just before the storm hit. When the train returned there were numerous lightening strikes near by so we held the passengers on board for their safety (remember Weather Channel tells us there is no safe place outdoors during a lighting storm). We did get a bit of push-back from a few that felt we were unfairly holding them captive, but most found the shelter welcome.

 In spite of our urging folks to get into one of the barns for protection the boarding tent became a place to go, even though it was still really outdoors.

About 1:45 the storm subsided to the point that we let the passengers detrain.   We did have some standing water in the boarding area but it quickly subsided. However we did have our version of an 1800s canal on the car line.

We announced that we would run the 1:30 trip at 2. However it was thought that running trains 30 min late for the rest of the afternoon would cause too much confusion so we made the decision to skip the 2:00 crew break and run the 2:30 train on time. Thankfully the crew took it in stride and we carried burgers and Pizza out to them on their return.

We filled out the rest of the day with the trains running on time. The last train of the day was operated at 4:30.  The 4 cars on the streetcar loop (the Hornet was put away briefly during the storm due to some roof leak problems) were sufficient to handle the crowds. Prior to the storm a fourth Main Line train was operated mid day and seemed to eliminate any turned away customers.

Sunday turned out to be a different beast all together. Throughout the day the Thomas train ran flawlessly. All departures were within a minute or two of schedule. However the kicker turned out to be the situation in the parking lot. As a result of Saturday's storm well over half of the parking area turned into a swamp. Arrangements had been made for parking at several other lots near the museum and shuttle buses were operated between them and the museum campus (not from our motor bus fleet but with local school buses). However many folks chose to park along Olsen Road and even as far away as downtown Union.

As the day progressed we had more and more folks missing their assigned train because of the parking situation. By the time 1 o'clock came around we had close to 300 missed connections. The situation almost got out of hand when some folks who missed the 1 o'clock were told that the next time we could accommodate them would be 5 PM. The decision was then made to operate an unscheduled train instead of having the planed 2 PM break. So for the second day in a row we asked the crew to skip their lunch break. Hamburgers and pizza slices were distributed for the crew along the train at 2:30. Th crew in the Thomas cab tied their white handkerchiefs to the hand rails for the 2 o'clock run to signify the extra.  Even after the extra train was operated there were still a significant number of missed connections for the remainder of the day, but we usually had sufficient space to accommodate them on the next train. The last train of the day was operated at 5.

The 4 cars on the streetcar loop kept up with the passenger loads there and once again a fourth train was operated on the main line during the peak hours. By all reports it was needed. The only trouble spot was a control problem on the 431 late in the afternoon that required a a rescue train to pick up the passengers.  The 431 was pushed back to East Union by the 409.

So much for Thomas until next year, now if I can just get that music out of my head!

Oh my  I just made a blog post without a single train picture!!  I promise it will never happen again.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Side Notes

Now that the Thomas madness is over, (and we can all start counting the days until we get to do it again!) next weekend includes Labor Day, and at IRM it will also be the Band Organ Rally.   That's always a lot of fun to see and hear.  The CA&E wood cars should be running all three days.  We still need a motorman for both Saturday and Sunday, and we could use a trainman for all three days as well.  Please help out if you can.

Bill Wulfert and I were discussing the project to add a "third rail line" to the UP (North Western) between West Chicago and Geneva.  (It won't actually have a third rail, but I digress....)  I'd forgotten this, but the bridge piers across the mighty Fox River were designed to hold four tracks. 

My father said that during WWII they had watchmen stationed at this bridge to guard against sabotage.  This line carried a large amount of wartime traffic, and its loss could have been catastrophic.  Of course, the saboteurs never appeared.

The abutments on the shore will need to be rebuilt for the third rail line, however.

Speaking of bridges, my wife and I passed through Ottawa on our way to Starved Rock.   This Burlington lift bridge over the Illinois on the line to Streator has always impressed me.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Damp Nuisance

Today's Thomas event was going very well until about 1 o'clock.  It was hot and humid, as one might expect for late summer, and then a ferocious thunderstorm hit.  This has happened before, so the people in charge know what to do.  Visitors naturally gravitate to our spacious display barns, and when the Thomas train returned, people remained on the train until it was possible to leave.  The 1:30 train was delayed, but after the storm ended everything was soon back on schedule.  The lights went out in Barn 8, so I walked around with a flashlight making sure there were no problems.  Everybody seemed to be taking this in stride, and the event went on.

I put my camera away so it wouldn't get wet, so let's back up to earlier in the day.   I was tending the wye switch as before, and all of the pictures from last Saturday would apply to today.

We have the usual crowds of visitors of all ages.

The Union fire department has a fire hydrant you can play in. 

 And there's a one-man band, as I take it.

And of course everybody wants to watch as Thomas goes by.

Due to the rain, Victor decided to open our North Western bay window caboose for the visitors in Barn 8.

It had been many years since I'd been inside, and it still looks great!


Last night, Joel, Rod, and Richard helped me a lot by doing a switch move to put the 319 at the east end of track 83, where the 757 had been.  
And they also removed the poles.  I really appreciate this!  In this location, we can access both sides of the roof, and installation of the upper canvas should occur soon.  During the day, I was able to move the big scaffold to a position near the 319's new home, and unbolted the bases so they can be removed next.  So we're looking forward to getting the roof work finished, and I promise not to hide my light under a bushel.

And you might also like to know that the new south cutoff is nearly complete.  The rails aren't connected yet at the south switch, and it's still a bumpy ride, but it's getting close.

And Volkmann even gave us a couple of modern switch handles.  I'm not sure I approve, but I can probably get used to it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


In between two hectic weekends of non-stop activity involving Thomas trains, crowds, food, fun and games, children, money, and things like that, we have a short respite.  So let's do some work!

I worked some more on the letterboard of the 150, but it was too hot to stay up there for very long at a time.  Pete Galayda and John Nelligan were working on getting the brakes working on the Charles City Western engine, and I was able to help them solve a couple of conundra, so progress is being made.  The new compressor was not run, but shop air can be used instead.  The brakes can now be applied and released, which is encouraging.  More work is needed, but progress is being made.

Here's one of the seat cushions from the 309.  The arrow points to the broken seat frame rail.  This was taken home to be disassembled for parts.  Luckily we have several spare cushions for these seats which we got from MCRM a couple of years ago.

And then I started installing the final control jumper receptacle on the 36.  Here it is before installation.  The other three were installed a couple of years ago.  I need to make some adjustments, but this will essentially complete the electrical work on the car.  Until now, it's been possible to get by with only one receptacle at one end of the car, thanks to the basic GE design.

And the Volkmann contractors continue to make good progress on the cutoff track.   However, it looks like it may be a bumpy ride until something is done with these extra rocks.
And they have pretty much finished installing the switch at South Jct. for the other end.  If you look closely, you may see Jamie, our GM, inspecting the work.  I asked him about a "Golden Spike" ceremony when the two ends of the cutoff are joined, but he was apathetic, to say the least.  

Speaking of apathy, this weekend will be your last chance to see "Henrietta" in action before she loses her unique identity and becomes just another apathetic conformist.  So come on out, you'll have a great time!

Thomas for the "L" of it

Frank writes...

I was out at the museum on Sunday only, working in train service.  This year I found myself on the crew of the museum's CTA 4000 series "L" cars, which I had not worked before, at least not that I can remember.  They're a bit tired but are rugged, dependable cars and they look rather nice inside.  One of the cars, 4412, got a new roof about two years ago courtesy of Tim Peters.  It was done to the exemplary standards that are typical of Tim's work but I noticed that he didn't quite finish the job: there's still a little laminated card in the cab that says "Do not run in the rain - roof leaks - W. Wulfert 9-93"!  I worked as conductor; our motorman for the day was Jim West and the trainman was Dave Hammer.
The crowd seemed good; as can be seen of this photo looking down Depot Street, the property was fairly mobbed with people.  That's always encouraging to see!  It was hard for me to gauge exactly how good the crowd was but it seemed strong.  One or two of our eight (!) mainline trips we had to turn people away, and generally our train was pretty full.  The 4000s carried something like 500 people during the day, I figured.  As usual the visitors seemed to be in good spirits and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.  The 1630 was a big attraction, as usual; for those visitors who only make it out to Union for this event it was their first real steam engine experience in a while.
The day didn't go as smoothly for everyone, though.  CSL 144, the first Chicago streetcar acquired by IRM and a longtime member of the operating fleet, suffered an air compressor failure midway through the day.  The silver lining was that CSL 1374 (the "Matchbox"), which was beautifully restored by Frank Sirinek and crew during the 1980s, was brought out to replace it on the streetcar line.  It's always nice to see something different in operation and I'm sure that the visitors who rode on the 1374 were impressed with the quality of the restoration job and the attractiveness of the interior.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Thomas Weekend 1 or is this Ground Hog Day?

Al writes ...

Randy has already posted some information on the first day of the Thomas weekend. Remodeling and addition work at home has prevented me from spending much time at IRM this summer. But I did feel guilty enough to make sure I had time to act in my usual role as assistant Master of Ceremonies for the Day Out With Thomas event in spite of the resulting ear worms of Thomas music in my head.

Due to earlier and earlier school openings (many schools opened last week) we did not have the Friday event on the first weekend this year. This meant that the Saturday was the day when we needed to make sure that everything was in place. But both days went almost flawlessly with near perfect weather. We had good crowds both days with the last train on Saturday being at 5 PM and the last train on Sunday being at 4:30 PM.

The day out with Thomas event is a bit like the movie Groundhog Day. Pretty much a repeat of what occurred last time with a few differences. So for this post I'll focus on those differences. The first is that the Thomas train utilized a car new to IRM. The recently acquired Henrietta replaced one of the Lakawanna coaches that has traditionally been used in the Thomas train. For those of you familiar with the Island of Sodor railway you'll recognize that Henrietta is one of the characters operating there.

 This year's event is the first and last time the Henrietta will be included in the Thomas train, since it is very close to being restored to its original Rock Island Identity.

A second difference is the use of the rather smart looking C&NW 411 as Thomas' helper engine. Certainly a lot nicer looking than a certain SD7. Of course the helper engine is required because Thomas can't see to the rear when he's backing up, or so the children are told.

With the 1630 back in service a competition developed between our two active "steam" locomotives for space in the servicing area. Here we see a standoff between them which Thomas won by the way. Hoses were extended across the roadway to supply water for the 1630.

On Saturday we had four street cars in service which provided adequate capacity for the crowds. We found that four cars would absorb the number of passengers getting off the Thomas train just in time for the crowd getting off the next train to queue up. However on Sunday the 144 experienced some air compressor problems and was taken out of service. During the one and a half hours that we were only operating three streetcars a significant queue developed waiting for streetcar rides. We found that the crowds from the proceeding train were not fully accommodated before the next Thomas train returned and the line grew considerably. The problem was stabilized with a rare public appearance of the 1374. Although it didn't have the capacity of the 144 it's additional seat space was welcome. This stabilized the queue size issue but we didn't totally recover until the planned (for a crew break) skipped 2 PM Thomas trip.

Although I didn't observe it myself there was some discussion at dinner that capacity on the three main line trains was maxed out during the mid day. There is some thought about adding a fourth train next week for several hours mid day, thus having a departure every 15min.

Hopefully next weekend will be as smooth and successful as this one was.  See you then.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Thomas Day 1

The first of the Days Out With Thomas seemed to go off without a hitch.  Due to the confident wisdom of everybody, all of the important slots were already filled, so I got to be a switch tender for the day.  That's not a very demanding position to say the least.  So I had time to take some pictures for your benefit.

Maybe I'm just not very observant, but I hadn't noticed before that Thomas has facial expressions: his eyes move and his mouth can open and close.  He can even speak.  Is this a new feature?

And the real steam train was running.  (I have a better video of it actually moving forward, but am unable to upload it for some reason.  Sorry, we'll keep working on this...)

And when you're not riding the train, there are lots of other things to do.  (This is just a small selection, by the way.)

Trolley bus operation has been suspended due to sand.

There's an entire tent dedicated to a large garden railroad layout.

And kids of all ages like to see magic tricks. 

And speaking of magic, it's mystifying!  and astounding!  to see the Museum packed with people like this.  You won't believe your eyes!  You have to see it for yourself!