Tom Kacich | interurban train fan has quite a photographic record | Columns

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For an institution that had been in existence for less than 55 years, the Illinois interurban electric car traction system that circulated through central Illinois still generates waves of nostalgia among the people who have used it and even those who have used it. never had the opportunity.

Even more than 65 years after the last passenger train of the Illinois Traction System passed through Champaign-Urbana – on June 11, 1955 – townspeople, amateur historians, and railroad fans love to swap stories and stories. photographs of the big cars that crossed the meadow and then slowed down to operate in the streets of the city.

This was the time before every family had a car or two, and long distance – which for a time belonged to millionaire Champaign and future U.S. Senator William McKinley – was the fastest and cheapest way to travel. visiting friends or relatives in other parts of the upstate. Illinois communities, shopping, or catch a soccer game in St. Louis.

That’s why a cache of photographs recently posted to a private Facebook group by a Chicago-area railroad fan has been a treasure trove for fans of the Illinois Traction System and its revamped successor, the Illinois Terminal Railroad. They come from the collection of Robert D. Heinlein, 83, of Schaumburg, and were posted on the private group “Illinois Terminal Railroad Fans of Facebook” by his 54-year-old son, Kevin.

“He’s been a rail fan his whole life. He was there on those fan trips. He traveled downstate when he was younger, ”said his son, a motorcycle mechanic who lives in South Elgin. “He has met a lot of people on these trips and he has acquired other people’s collections over the years.

“Now that he’s older, you know what, it makes him happy to think that I’m interested in his business and having fun with it,” Kevin said. “I like to see the whole story. I grew up in train because that’s what dad did. Family vacations, we’ve always had trains somewhere. I’m just sharing this with people who appreciate this stuff.

“It surprises me how well some people know. They were born 20 years after the system disappeared and yet they are going wild about it. “

Robert Heinlein held various positions during a 36-year career with the Chicago Transit Authority, most notably in public affairs where he helped produce films, maps, newsletters and other publications. After that he worked for 20 years at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, near Elgin.

Kevin said he made copies of around 3,000 slides from his father’s collection, which includes not only Illinois Traction, but other power lines as well, including the Chicago North Shore and the Milwaukee Railroad, the Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad and the St. Louis area systems.

“I just started doing it. It gives me something to do at night, ”Kevin joked. “Trains aren’t really my thing, but the equipment is cool. I like to see this. I love old cars and seeing old buildings.

Her father’s photos generated hundreds of positive remarks and stories.

“There was a photo of the Illinois terminal, I can’t remember which city, but there’s a Marine crossing the street,” Kevin said. “Someone commented ‘He’s my uncle, and he’s on his way to this or that bar.'”

Kevin hasn’t finished posting his father’s entire collection.

“I probably still have a few hundred computer photos to take into account,” he said. “I tease my dad because he doesn’t have pictures of children or grandchildren in his wallet, but he has a picture of a Chicago streetcar over there.”

Michael E. Marquez