- Our Sites
- The News-Gazette
- NewsTalk 1400 WDWS-AM
- Lite Rock 97.5 WHMS
- 107.9 WKIO
- Community News
For over 100 years, railway towers dotted the landscape of Illinois and the entire country, providing the essential operation of traffic control throughout the nationwide railway system.
As computer-operated switchers became prevalent, the towers began to disappear, and the last one in Illinois using manual levers was shut down in Springfield three years ago.
But at the Monticello Railway Museum, a new tower with old-school manual switches has been built and will be on display at the museum’s annual Railroad Days this weekend. And it won’t be long before the two donated mechanical switching machines will actually be in use at the MRM.
“These towers used to be everywhere,” said Bill Crisp, Railroad Days event chairman. “Each town had a crossing, and interlockings and junctions above railroads.”
The tower was made possible through a $25,000 donation from museum volunteer Doug Nipper of Danville in the memory of Richard P. Stair, a founding member of the Railway Museum. The two-story “Stair Tower” will be formally dedicated at a public ceremony at 2 p.m. Saturday, and will be open for tours during the Sept. 21-22 Railroad Days event.
MRM volunteer director John Sciutto said the most recent addition to the museum is based on a 1900 Illinois Central Railroad floor plan. The two mechanical switching units were donated by the Warren County Historical Society and a patron in Gibson City.
“As railroads got busier, safety became paramount, and towers were built in the early 1900’s,” added Sciutto, who also serves on the Railroad Museum’s board of directors.
In the Monticello tower, the operator will be on the second floor and eventually operate levers to switch trains from one track to another.
Another addition to this year’s gathering are hand-cranked kiddie cars that will operate on a small train track of their own in the children’s area. The five Hodge’s Hand Cars – likely built in the 1950s – were formerly a kids favorite at Miller Park in Bloomington.
Railroad Days will also offer a chance to ride three full-sized trains, including a mixed train pulled by a Southern Railway steam locomotive. Additionally, a freight train and diesel powered passenger trains will be in operation.
An expanded children’s area will include face painting, bounce house, the Hodge cars, barrel train, pump car and other activities.
The River Ramblers Bluegrass Band will entertain both days, and on Sunday the Norfolk Southern locomotive simulator will be available.
There is a charge to attend the event. Additional information is available at www.mrym.org.