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One of Don Ploch’s favorite activities as a youth was riding trains that basically ran through the back yard of his rural LaSalle farmstead. So it makes perfect sense that he answered the call in 2002 to spearhead the ongoing renovation of the 1894 Cisco Train Depot.
“A train went through my farm as a kid and I actually would ride the locomotives. That’s something you don’t see today,” said Ploch, a retired electrician who has lived between Cisco and Argenta for about 25 years.
And though he doesn’t get to ride local trains anymore, Ploch gets plenty of time to reminisce about the busy railroad days as he rehabs the Cisco depot, which has seen 10 years of steady improvements as it heads toward its eventual destination.
“Eventually, we want to make it a small railroad museum,” said Stan Seevers of the Cisco Area Economic Development Corporaton, the agency that oversees the depot structure.
About $10,000 worth of improvements have been made over the past decade, with another $10,000 needed before it officially becomes a museum. To help with that effort, a model train show will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 20-21 at the Cisco Center, which previously housed students as the Cisco Elementary School. The show will feature four different model railroad layouts, breakfast and lunch, door prizes, vendor tables, and a silent auction.
Keeping history alive
The depot – still on its original foundation and in its original location – beckons back to a time where busy railroad lines made Cisco a “bustling little town,” said Ploch. The depot includes a waiting room, ticket office and freight room.
The Cisco depot still has the historical look of a 138-year-old building, but now boasts a few modern conveniences. The pot-belly wood-burning stove that used to provide heat has given to a modern furnace and central air, and electricity was provided to the building for the first time in 2003.
Work on the structure fits into the historical perspective that CAED has taken with displays in the hallway of the Cisco Center. The building now houses the Willow Branch Township Library and local Head Start program, but those wandering between offices will see the original Cisco Grade School sign from 1883 in a glass case. The sign made several stops before returning to Cisco several years ago, according to Seevers.
As for the depot, it has a new roof in addition to the utility improvements but still needs new windows and some other work done before it opens to the public.
But when Ploch volunteered to help with the renovation, he promised to be in it for the long haul.
“I think it’s a good thing to raise money for. The town deserves it,” he said.
Tracks still used
The train depot no longer processes passengers, but the tracks that run right by it are still used by TopFlight Grain Co-Operative, which now owns the downtown tracks.
Another local connection is that Randy Bennett of Cisco is the engineer of Decatur Junction Railway Company.
That is the current firm that provides the grain cooperative with transportation for the grain.
Back in its heyday, the rail lines were owned by Illinois Central Railroad and referred to as “The Hack Line,” “Puddle Jumper” and “Old Barney.”
The depot building will be open during the Oct. 20-21 model train show.