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IRM's Vision to the Future...
Notes on the Trainsheet
From Rail & Wire Issue 172, July1998

by IRM President James D. Johnson

As you read each issue of Rail & Wire, there seems that many things are taking place at the Museum. We constantly hear from our visitors (and members) that so much has changed since they were last here--more equipment, more buildings, more displays.

This is no accident, the direction we are going. Those interested meet from time-to-time, at first some 30, then again 20 years ago to develop the "Master Plan." Now we meet to make additions, or modifications, to that plan because of new land purchases, new insights into our needs, or indeed new ideas that we wish to include.

Often, we have been accused of having too grandiose a plan. But we need to look to the past to discover why we need such an elaborate plan. Within 10 years of the first plan in 1968, which had been substantially modified, we had accomplished virtually all we set out to do. The construction envisioned by the 1979 Master Plan has long ago been completed save for the installation of the Turntable and Roundhouse.

I was looking through some notes, and found that in 1979 we had planned for about 225 pieces of rolling stock in the collection. Today, we have close to 375 pieces, and IRM in reality has become somewhat of a giant public warehouse to save a wide range of historic equipment.

As a practical matter, we will never restore all the items. But the prevailing philosophy at IRM is that once it's gone, it's gone for good. That is not to say, however, that we collect everything that comes along. Maybe just one-fourth of items offered to us, or that we pursue, ever end up at Union.

When you look at IRM's equipment, each of the five major groups is a moderate-sized, first-rate collection. Our Electric Car Collection, which started the Museum, does not even approach the size of a couple of other US, much less foreign, collections. But we have as part of it the best interurban group, including the Electroliner, among the best local big city streetcar group, the best rapid transit group, and the best work equipment group.

When one looks at our Diesel and Heavy Electric Collection, we are so fortunate that these are very comprehensive with equipment from 1926 to today. There are more varieties of builders and models than anyplace. Our two dozen or so Steam Locomotive Collection represents many, many wheel arrangements and railroads. Most are from Class One lines, only a few from Short Lines or Industrial operations. It seems that most of the equipment we have operated on lines that ran through Illinois.

Our Passenger Car Collection is large and varied, including perhaps the most important single piece in the United States today, the Nebraska (Twin) Zephyr. And of course, our Freight Car and Steam Railroad Work Equipment Collection is in itself larger than most other museums have on their whole roster. We own outright all our equipment save one piece.

We also have three large library facilities, including the former Strahorn Public Library building in Marengo, the Pullman Collection in the State Bank of Union building in downtown Union, and a facility on IRM's property. And on, and on.

I am not telling you that we are the largest, the most comprehensive or the most attended, though in some cases we might be. We long ago stopped counting. What I am telling you is that all this takes a lot of planning and a lot of vision to the future. Sure, we have major opportunities fall into our lap. But we do know in general terms where we are going. Fifteen years ago, for example, we started a program euphemistically refereed to as "Dialing For Diesels." In that program, we set out to acquire only specific models, and not duplicates unless they had historic significance in their own right. We have basically followed that list-- and acquired most of it.

Our visionary process is done on several levels--Planning Committee and Board of Directors for major place-ments of property facilities. The Board of Directors with department and general membership input for equipment acquisitions, and Department Planning Committees for carrying out the goals. Most all are done to a general consensus, but, of course, there is still opposition to a few projects, which sometime still survive, sometimes fail as a result. We encourage the volunteer workers to participate. We need the input of the new people as well as the old timers as future visions come from future visionaries.

So as we look to the future, we see more pieces added to our collections for sure, but certainly more public facilities like the currently-under-construction and restoration O' Mahoney Diner/Food Service and Restroom Building. And certainly more Car Barns for inside storage. And a new Entrance and Visitors Center. And our Main Street facility with historic and reproduction store fronts, including an expanded streetcar ride. And our Roundhouse and Turntable. And our Bridge over the Kishwaukee River. And our expansion of our signals to in-clude some elements of CTC (Centralized Traffic Control). And completion of upgrading our track to better handle the needs of our operations. And our use of new materials to replace those that deteriorate, such as cross ties.

IRM does indeed look to the future in great depth. We want to make sure that we will be able to pass on to our future generations of volunteers what we believe to be the most diverse, and important railway museum in the United States.

From the Rail & Wire Issue 172, July 1998

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