There's nothing like the toot of a train whistle and the call of a conductor to put you in the mood for adventure. Luckily, the Illinois Railway Museum in Union offers just the ticket.
The giant open-air museum boasts more than 450 pieces of rail equipment, from a horsecar that ran in the late 1800s to the first air-conditioned car to run on the CTA's rapid transit lines. Its 168-acre main campus encompasses indoor and outdoor exhibit spaces, interspersed with shady picnic spots.
The museum opened in North Chicago with a single electric car in 1953 and moved to its current location in Union in 1963. Now, says Edward Rosengren, marketing director of the IRM, "the collection represents over a century of railroading."
Visitors can tour the grounds on the streetcar loop that boards at an 1851 depot, or climb aboard a restored train car for a five-mile, locomotive-powered ride through farmland and prairie to the scenic Kishwaukee River. Expect a carload of train facts from the enthusiastic volunteers who operate the trains and narrate the trips.
For young children, the popular Day Out With Thomas festival, Aug. 19-21 and Aug. 27-28, features a ride with Thomas the Tank Engine, plus live music, puppet shows, storytelling and balloon animals. (Special admission rates apply.)