It all started around Christmas, 2009. Every year, my niece, Kelli, makes me a CD of songs she thinks I’ll like. I’m supposed to be giving her something in return, but after gifting her with her own blog, I ran out of ideas. She, being the wonderfully-understanding person that she is, said, “That’s OK. Just take me and my children on one of your adventures.” We made a half-hearted effort to get together last year, without success, so this year we determined to do it, no matter what.
Saturday, July 30th was hot and muggy, but we set forth, like the intrepid adventurers we are, for the barren wasteland that is western McHenry County, to the Illinois Railway Museum in Union. I found out almost immediately just how amazing a niece I have. She somehow scored a family pass at the Aurora Library, so the admission that normally would have cost us $48 cost us $0. Yup. Nothing. And this was my Christmas present to her, remember.
On summer Saturdays, they have several rides running. We climbed on board the electric train and rode it a couple miles to the end of the line. Here’s the train at the depot.
Here’s what the inside of our car looked like.
The scenery along the track was amazing. I particularly enjoyed passing the soybean fields.
After about 15 minutes, the train stopped. The conductor explained that they’d like to go further, but they had to stop here because the tracks crossed a river just ahead and there was no bridge. I was OK with this. The conductor walked the length of the two cars, and we headed back the way we’d come, past the same soybean field.
The East Union Depot was moved to the museum from Marengo. It was built in 1851.
After a snack in the diner, we wandered through a few of the display barns.
My favorite moment of the day happened as we were passing that teal and orange car in the photo above. An old guy was sitting in a chair sketching the end car. As I walked by, I asked him what year the car was made. He said 1941. I nodded and kept walking. Turns out the guy had a real passion for trains. Kelli was behind me and got stuck listening as the guy explained everything there was to know about the car, including the maiden names of all the women who ever rode on it. I wandered down to the end of the row, looking back at Kelli and the old guy every so often, and chuckling to myself. Here’s a photo. It didn’t turn out, but it was too good a moment to miss.
This taught us a lesson that we forgot to our own peril several other times during the day — Don’t talk to any slow-moving men unless you want to know everything they know about trains.
We were walking about outside when a guy drove up in an electric bus and offered us a ride.
We climbed on board. Here’s Carter with his two sisters in the background.
We went about 200 yards and were stopped by a train, so we got off.
We toured several sleeping cars (second photo from the left, above) and dining cars (below).
We were about done-in by the heat by this point. We headed back to the depot and climbed aboard the Zephyr, a luxury train from the 1930s, which still had the original air-conditioning. It was better than no air conditioning, but just.
The Zephyr took the exact same trip the electric cars took earlier in the day, so we got to see the soybean fields two more times. Here’s a shot of it coming into the station.
For the entire 30 minutes or so that we were on the train, a conductor paced up and down the aisle of the car, glaring at everybody as he went by and yelling at anyone who got their shoes anywhere near the seats.
That was it for the train-museum portion of our adventure. Our next stop was Corbin’s Exotic Pets in Marengo. The sign on the door was promising:
The sign just inside the door wasn’t quite as promising, however.
It was, indeed, closing. Most of the lights were off, the air conditioning wasn’t working, many of the cages were empty and several of the tanks contained only dead fish. There were a few snakes and lizards, but it was all creepy and depressing, so we didn’t stay long. It’s too bad. I’m not sure there’s anywhere else in McHenry County where you can get one of these.
Sally joined us for supper at Nick’s in Crystal Lake, known chiefly as a place where you can throw peanut shells on the floor and enjoy decorations like this.
And they had real onions in their onion rings. (Just for the record, I bought supper for everyone, so it was kinda a Christmas present after all.) It was a delightful day and a good time was had by all, although a better time would have been had if the temperature had been 70 instead of 90.
Oh, wait. I forgot. No whining.