Illinois Railway Museum

Volunteer Handbook


Museum Operations
Volunteer Requirements
Volunteer Benefits
General Rules Of Conduct
Dealing With Visitors
Unusual Events
Promoting The Museum

Illinois Railway Museum Volunteer Patch

The Board of Directors welcomes you as a volunteer at the Illinois Railway Museum. Your donation of time will help preserve our railroad heritage while making the museum a better place for our visitors.

IRM is one of the greatest places in the world for railfans; you can literally "get your hands dirty" on whatever interests you. Volunteers just like you handle the vast majority of work at the museum, including restoring and operating equipment, building track, running concessions, maintaining the buildings and grounds, performing the administrative work of running the business, and handling virtually every other task necessary for the operation of the museum.  Pick your favorite, and have fun!

We hope that you will continue to volunteer for many years to come. We especially want you to be safe while working, and to help us ensure the safety of all of our visitors and volunteers.  If you encounter any safety problem at the museum, please let us know about it so that corrective measures can be taken.

The information in this handbook is only general in nature, and is not intended to cover every circumstance or question.  If you have questions after reading this handbook, please ask any administrator for further details.

On behalf of the Board and our visitors thank you for your help.  We hope that you will enjoy your work, and receive the satisfaction of knowing that your efforts have made a difference in preserving our railroad heritage.

Museum Operations

IRM is an Illinois not for profit educational corporation.  We are qualified as a tax-exempt charitable organization under Internal Revenue Service regulations.

A seven-member Board of Directors controls the overall operation of the museum.  The Board is elected by the regular (voting) members of the museum.  The Board selects the museum's President and Vice Presidents from its members.  The Board also appoints the corporation's officers, Executive Director, and General Manager.  Board meetings, open to all members, are held monthly at the Pullman Library in Union.

The Executive Director reports to the Board and assists in publicity, fund-raising, donations, special events, and other promotional and operational areas as directed.  The General Manager directs the public operations of the museum.  The General Manager also appoints Department Superintendents (curators) and other personnel who are responsible for specific equipment or functions.  These administrators should be your primary contact if you need assistance with any question or problem.  If they cannot resolve your problem, please speak to a Board member.

The equipment departments include Steam, Internal Combustion (Diesel), Electric Car, Freight Car, Railroad Coach, Trolley Bus, and Motor Bus, each with its own Superintendent. Railroad operations are under the direction of the Operating department, which works with the Track & Signal and DC Line departments and the equipment departments. Administrative departments include Publicity, Exhibits, Group Sales/Charters, Development, Buildings & Grounds, Bookstore, Museum Store, and the Pullman and Strahorn Libraries.

All departments rely almost exclusively on volunteers.  The museum employs only the Executive Director, Cashier/Membership Secretary, Building & Grounds Superintendent, and seasonal assistants and sales personnel.

The museum obtains its funding from visitor admissions, sales of goods and refreshments, and donations.  Aside from some small grants for publicity or improvements, we do not receive State or Federal tax dollars.  While various railroads have been very generous in donating equipment, services, materials, and transportation, we receive no direct funding from the railroad industry.

Virtually everything that you see at IRM has been created by volunteers working within very limited budgets.  Each March, the Board establishes a budget for all departments and operations for the next twelve months.  Department Superintendents and administrative staff are responsible for staying within their budgets.

All purchases for or on behalf of the museum must be authorized by a Department Superintendent or administrator; purchases in amounts over $500 require a written purchase order.  In some limited circumstances, volunteers may receive reimbursement for authorized minor out-of-pocket expenditures.  Please discuss any such expenditures with the appropriate Department Superintendent or administrator beforehand.                      

Volunteer Requirements

Volunteers must be current members of the museum (regular, associate, sustaining, or family), age 18 or older.  All volunteers must sign a waiver of liability before commencing work, to protect the museum and its members against any claims.

Volunteers need no prior experience in railroading, machine operation, business, or other areas.  Of course, if you do have relevant experience, we will try to use your skills appropriately.

Each department organizes its own specialized volunteer training, which can lead to increasingly responsible positions in equipment restoration and operation or other museum functions.  Volunteers usually work in a single department, but can assist other departments as desired.  Schedules are flexible, with no set requirements for the time or amount of service (except for train operations).  Work continues in all departments throughout the year, not just during the operating season.

Generally, there are no physical requirements for volunteer work at the museum; volunteers with physical limitations are welcome.  However, some of our work can be very demanding physically.  If you have any doubt as to whether you can safely perform a task, please ask for help.  Do not overexert yourself or work to the point of exhaustion or injury.  To preserve your health, follow all necessary safety precautions and use proper safety equipment, as detailed in the section on Safety.

Volunteers in train operations (which includes working as a groundman or switchman) must pass a written operating rules examination every two years.  Only rules-qualified members may operate railroad equipment, throw track switches, pass signals, or act as a dispatcher.

Train crewmembers must be in good general health, with the ability to communicate verbally, to give and receive visual and audible signals, and to physically operate the equipment. Volunteers must carry the current IRM rule book and General Order while working in train operations, and follow all established rules and procedures.

Volunteer Benefits

All members are entitled to certain benefits, including unlimited admission to the museum, our excellent Rail & Wire newsletter, and store discounts.  While working, volunteers receive discounts on food and beverages purchased at the Refreshment Stand (enter through rear door).  Volunteers may also be given the opportunity to work on or ride equipment not in public service, or train to become operating crewmembers.  Only active volunteers may be considered for election to regular (voting) membership.

Please note that under Federal tax laws, the value of your time spent as a volunteer is not deductible.  However, out-of-pocket expenses, such as mileage, uniform and equipment purchases, cleaning, and other volunteer-related costs, may be deductible as charitable expenses. Please consult your tax advisor for details on current requirements and regulations.


SAFETY FIRST!   FOLLOW THE SAFEST COURSE AT ALL TIMES!  If you have any doubts about how to safely perform a job or use any equipment, please ask for assistance before proceeding.

Safety glasses, gloves, and steel-toed boots are required when working around any machinery or moving equipment.  Use hearing protection and proper dust masks or respirators when appropriate.  Additional personal protective equipment may be required for some tasks, such as welding.

Use all available safety guards and shields, and follow all posted precautionary rules. Review approved safety procedures, material safety data sheets, and label instructions.  Discuss your work plan with your co-workers.

Be aware of the specific hazards of any rolling stock or equipment in use, such as steam or compressed air lines, electrical cables, or moving components.  Learn the location of the nearest fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and emergency exits for each of your work areas.  Keep your work area clean and free of debris and tripping hazards, and safely dispose of all refuse and scrap.

Any work in public areas of car barns which might cause debris, dust, or other potential hazards, or which might result in blockage of the aisles or other inconvenience to visitors, is prohibited without special authorization from the Board.  If necessary for the safety of visitors, rope off or barricade any authorized work or storage areas which might otherwise present a hazard.

As you move around the property, please set an example for our visitors.  Remember to stop, look, and listen before crossing a track, because trains may move at any time on any track. Do not step or walk on rails, which may be slippery.  Keep watch for and remove any debris or tripping hazards along the tracks and in other public areas.

Never climb on or under any equipment outside of shop areas without proper protection such as a "blue flag." Never remove a "blue flag" or warning tag which you did not place, as you may put other volunteers in great danger.  Except as your duties require, stay off equipment steps, ladders, and platforms.  All personnel are prohibited from occupying the roofwalks or footboards of any equipment without proper authority.

Except as directed, do not touch power switches, trolley poles, or objects in contact with the overhead 600 volt line without appropriate safety precautions.  Contact with the overhead line can be fatal. Never energize any electric circuit which has been tagged as out of service.

If you observe a potentially dangerous condition on a train or one that is likely to affect its operation, immediately advise the operating personnel (flagging them to a stop if necessary) and the Dispatcher on duty.

All injuries to visitors (even if minor) must be reported immediately to the nearest administrator or the Dispatcher on duty, who will contact the appropriate emergency response units if necessary.  Injuries to volunteers requiring medical treatment must also be reported.  In either instance, a written injury report is required. The appropriate form may be obtained from the office.

General Rules Of Conduct

Volunteers are entrusted with the operation of the museum and the safety of themselves and others, and must conduct themselves accordingly at all times.

Volunteers must be responsive to the directions of Department Superintendents and other administrators, and must treat each other and our visitors with respect and courtesy.  Any discourtesy to our visitors, failure to comply with safety or operating rules, refusal to cooperate with other volunteers, or inappropriate conduct may be cause for disciplinary action.

While on duty, volunteers must engage only in museum business, and must not allow themselves to become distracted from their duties in a manner which might create a safety hazard.  Participation in any unauthorized activity that may interfere with other volunteers' safe performance of duties is prohibited.

Alcoholic beverages and illicit drugs are absolutely prohibited on the premises at all times, including periods when the museum is closed to the public. Possession of or working under the influence of such substances is a very serious offense, and can be grounds for suspension or revocation of membership.  Operating personnel are additionally prohibited from the use of any drug, alcohol, intoxicant, or controlled substance during the eight hour period prior to reporting for duty.

Some prescription and non-prescription medications, as well as some medical conditions, can cause a lack of alertness, delayed response time, or alterations of mood or judgment.  If you are taking any medication or suffer from any condition with such possible side effects, carefully evaluate whether you can safely complete tasks involving machinery or other potentially hazardous operations.  If there is any doubt, consult your physician before beginning work.

Firearms and ammunition (except those in the possession of on-duty law enforcement officers), as well as fireworks and explosives, are also prohibited on museum premises.

Smoking is prohibited in stations, car barns, libraries, passenger cars, and in shop areas where an ignition source may present an undue hazard.  Smoking is also prohibited at meetings of the Board or the membership.


Parking within the museum grounds is very limited.  Unless your duties require ready access to your vehicle (for example, to retrieve tools and equipment), please use the public parking lot.  Otherwise, volunteer parking is available south of Barn 8 or north of Barn 6.

No vehicles may be operated on museum grounds in an unsafe manner. Pedestrians and trains have the absolute right-of-way over all motor vehicles.  All vehicles must stop at intersections and grade crossings.  Observe the 5 mph speed limit and all traffic signs, and remain on designated roadways and parking areas at all times.


Always use good judgment in your appearance, as our visitors may base their opinions of the museum on the people they see working here.  First impressions count!

Train operating crews must wear uniforms or appropriate railroad-style clothing.  Other persons (including shop workers) should wear clothing appropriate to their tasks; that may include overalls, coveralls, work clothes, or jeans.  All clothing should be clean and in good repair.  Persons whose work involves handling materials or operating machinery or equipment must also wear proper protective footware, gloves, and safety glasses.

Clothing with slogans or logos (except railroad- or museum-related), excessively greasy or torn clothing, shorts, or other inappropriate attire should be avoided. Our volunteers are part of the historic "scene" at the museum, and should look like railroaders to our visitors.

Under no circumstances may volunteers wear clothing which might prove offensive to visitors or other members.  This includes shirts or jackets with racist, sexist, or obscene slogans or pictures, clothing advertising firearms, tobacco, or alcoholic beverages, or similar apparel.

All volunteers are encouraged to obtain an IRM name badge (contact the Bookstore for ordering information) and wear it at all times when the public is present. The name badge identifies you to our visitors as someone who can answer questions or provide assistance, and shows your pride in being a volunteer at the nation's largest railroad museum.


We recognize that it may sometimes be necessary to bring your children along when you are working at the museum.  For their own safety and welfare, however, the museum has adopted strict regulations which must be followed in all instances.

Children under the age of 12 years are prohibited from shop areas at all times, except with the specific authorization of the responsible department superintendent for each visit.

Children under the age of 18 years must be under the direct and immediate control of a responsible adult at all times while on the premises.  Leaving children to play on their own in any area of the museum is not sufficient; they must be within your sight and under your direct control at all times.

Any volunteer who brings a child under 18 onto the premises thereby consents and agrees to assume all liability for any injuries or damages of any nature whatsoever resulting from the child's presence, and further agrees to protect, indemnify, and defend the museum against all claims arising from the child's presence.

We want your children to enjoy their visits to the museum.  Please help us keep those visits safe for everyone.

Dealing With Visitors

Even if you work in a restricted shop area, you will still encounter members of the public in moving about the museum.  In all circumstances, be unfailingly polite and helpful.  Please remember that your attitude and conduct toward our visitors can make the difference in whether they have a safe and enjoyable visit, or an unpleasant experience which may harm the museum.

If you see a visitor in imminent danger, take immediate action.  For example, shout a warning to a person on a track with a train approaching; if they do not respond, take all necessary steps (including flagging the train to a stop or pulling the visitor out of danger if possible) to protect them.  Remember, most of our visitors have never been close to a moving train, and have little concept of how difficult it is to stop quickly.

Visitors engaged in potentially hazardous activities, such as reaching under or into equipment or climbing on equipment that is not open, should be requested to stop.  Politely explain the potential hazard.  If the visitor persists despite such cautions, immediately contact an administrator for assistance.

Direct visitors away from work areas which may present a hazard.  For example, if an outdoor project involves grinding, sandblasting, paint removal, or emission of steam or compressed air, keep visitors back a safe distance.  Consider placing barricades or ropes around such areas if appropriate for the safety of our visitors.  If visitors are found outside of authorized public areas or in closed shops without permission, escort them back to a safe area.

When visitors are found performing unsafe acts, use the opportunity to educate them, not to berate them for their actions.  For example, tell children walking on rails that "real railroaders" don't do that because there might be some grease or oil that could cause a fall. Similarly, persons climbing on equipment should be told politely that it is unsafe except on equipment which is open for inspection.

Try to answer all questions as completely as possible.  If you do not know the answer, offer to assist the visitor in locating someone who does.  Remember that most of our visitors know very little about railroads but want to learn more.  If you take the opportunity to help them, they will get a much more favorable impression of our museum.

Unusual Events

In the event of a derailment, visitor injury, or other  unusual incident, calmly lend assistance as necessary or directed.  Take all necessary steps to protect the safety and welfare of our visitors and members.  Do not speak to the media; refer inquiries to a Board member or administrator.

All contact with investigating authorities (including local law enforcement, Federal Railroad Administration, and National Transportation Safety Board personnel) must be initiated by a Board member or administrator.  Do not speak to investigators unless specifically authorized to do so.

Promoting The Museum

Our members and volunteers are our greatest asset in public relations. Sharing your enthusiasm about the museum's activities is the best possible promotion.

Use every opportunity in your contacts with our visitors to act as a goodwill ambassador for the museum.  If you help them by answering questions or providing directions or information, they will be more likely to have an enjoyable experience and to return for another visit or make a donation.  Walking through a car barn with visitors, or describing the history of a piece of equipment, is not wasting time it's our job!

Most of our visitors will not know that almost everyone at the museum is a volunteer, or that the museum is not supported by public funding let them know!  When appropriate, explain the benefits of membership (less expensive than multiple visits, Rail & Wire newsletter, store discounts, the opportunity to volunteer, etc.), and mention that applications are available in the stores or office.  If visitors are interested in volunteering or donating funds or materials, try to introduce them to volunteers from the appropriate department or, if none are available, to any Board member or administrator.

Feel free to hand out copies of our brochure and calendar to friends, co-workers, neighbors, and others who might be interested, and tell them about your own experience at the museum.  We have found that we are the "Great Unknown Museum," with many first-time visitors having never heard of us until recently so help get the word out! Small quantities of our brochures (and to a limited extent, our annual calendars) are available through the office.  If you need larger quantities, please speak first with the Executive Director or other administrator to make the necessary arrangements.

The museum has speakers and slide presentations available for meetings or group functions.  If you receive a request for a speaker, or would like to become a speaker, please contact the Executive Director.

From time to time, members of the press may be at the museum in connection with stories on our work and activities.  Requests for interviews will normally come through the Executive Director or General Manager, who will help the media locate appropriate volunteers. However, in the event of any incident such as a derailment, injury, or other unusual event, do not speak with the media; all comments must be made only by the museum's designated representative.

All fund-raising activities must be approved by the Board of Directors to insure compliance with our standards and the applicable IRS regulations. Handouts, flyers, or other publications regarding museum activities must be approved and authorized by the museum's Executive Director or General Manager.

When you see any press mention of the museum, please let the Executive Director know, and provide clippings if possible.  If you have contacts in the media, or would like to assist in publicizing the museum's work, please speak with the Executive Director.

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Last Modified: 05/17/05 10:56:16 PM
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