You could say the love of trains in our family has skipped a generation. Saying my dad is an avid railfan could be the biggest understatement of the century! He has LOVED trains from little on – watching them, riding them, and building and re-building his elaborate HO scale train layout in his home. Needless to say when he & my mom had my sister and me, he tried to pass along that same love of trains. You could say the hobby just didn’t “take” for us girls. I enjoy riding trains – especially during my time in Japan, Austria, and traveling throughout Europe, but I am not much of a train lover compared to my dad.
Fortunately, my kids and nephews are big train fans! They enjoy the trains that my dad bought for me & my sister as kids. We put them up, especially around Christmas time, and have fun running them as a family. They also like checking out Grandpa’s model train at his house.
It’s no surprise that we also seek out train-related sights to explore with my dad and the kids. We’ve done Day out with Thomas at local railroad museums when the kids were younger. Those were nice events, a bit overcrowded and commercialized, but we all agreed that the Illinois Railroad Museum is MUCH better than the Thomas the Tank Engine themed day.
In a brief, one-phrase review, I’d call the Illinois Railroad Museum a Train Lover’s Paradise! According to its website, it is America’s LARGEST Railroad Museum. Since I have friends with kids age three and under (this is prime train / Thomas the Tank Engine-loving age), I thought I’d share some pictures and details of our visit to the train museum.
The museum is sort of in the middle of a rural area, but it was easy to find. You certainly can’t miss it – the grounds are quite expansive with numerous buildings and rail lines. Here were a few shots that I took with my phone:
As you can see above, with the picture of the boys, there are a lot of great backdrops for pictures. We saw some teens getting pictures taken (perhaps senior pictures?) that day, though it was a bit overcast.
I liked the vintage signs and diner that they were in the process of restoring. They do have a food court in the diner, but we opted to pack a lunch instead.
There is a lot of history here as the museum “rescues” trains and cars that are out of service, so they aren’t scrapped. If I remember correctly, we rode on a streetcar from the 1920’s (see picture of big sister “hugging” little brother on the street car), a retired CTA train, and the Nebraska Zephyr built in the 1930’s and retired in the 60’s. (Dad, if you’re reading this, please correct me if I’m wrong!)
Here’s my dad, excited to watch them get the Nebraska Zephyr from the shed. Isn’t it a pretty looking diesel train?!
We rode on the Nebraska Zephyr for about a 30 minute ride. It was so comfortable sitting in the cushy, Lazy Boy-like seats in the first class car that I fell asleep! With each train we rode, we learned a bit about the history of the train and the time in which it was used. I think the 1920’s streetcar was my favorite! The old steam locomotive (the black train above) was a fan favorite, as you can see all the guys checking it out. My son watched it from afar near some switching tracks. I attempted some sort of artsy picture of him by the tracks, but didn’t really succeed!
Everyone who went to the Illinois Railroad Museum seemed to find something they enjoyed seeing or doing. There was even a playgroud for the kids too! It’s very family friendly and a perfect destination for train lovers!