Historically Sidetracked


I have had a great interest in trains since I was a young child, so earlier this year I naturally started volunteering at the Illinois Railway Museum. I wanted to get up close and personal by restoring trains, and hopefully operating them in the future. This put my manual skills to the test, which became rewarding and fun.

Under the direction of my mentor, Bob Kutella, I helped with various projects that are currently in progress at the museum. I worked on a 1920’s boxcar from the Baltimore and Ohio by removing rust so it could be repainted, I helped with woodwork, constructing a trolley pole base for a Cleveland PCC car, and my latest work was restoring a 1936 Russell snow plow that was owned by the Chicago Great Western Railroad. 

The most exciting project for me has been the plow. It arrived at the museum earlier this year. It was just about to be scrapped before it was brought to the museum, a truly lucky save. It was in a rather sorry state. The paint was in bad shape and had a considerable number of rust spots to the exterior. The floor boards were rotted through and there was some fire damage where an old stove might have been. The pipes inside the plow were in a terrible mess since the scrappers were trying to throw out as much as they could. My job was to remove the rust using a needle chipper and a wire wheel grinder, and to bore holes in wood supports for the interior frame. Later I helped paint the exterior.

A great deal of progress has been made on the plow. The left side has been primed and repainted and the right side is also being worked on. Some of the piping has been replaced and the plow blades can now swing open. Sitting up in the high cab of the plow and pulling the lever to let the air tanks push the blade was a remarkable experience. As cold weather approaches, the plow’s windows and doors will be boarded up in preparation for the winter season. I hope to work again on the plow soon so it can finally be brought back to its original condition next summer. It was such a pleasure to witness the progress, and to work with a skilled and enthusiastic team of volunteers.

Thomas Bernacki
Senior at Loyola Academy High School, Wilmette, IL

Visit Illinois Railway Museum