Illinois Railway Museum Used Bookstore

1920s Electric Pullman

I’ve gotten used to the fact that my mother, who is from Germany and has lived in the States for over 40 years, always manages to run into other Germans. Wherever she is. Seriously. One time we were in a ghost town in the middle of the desert in California near the Nevada border and ran into Germans who were driving around the western US.

For me it’s not Germans that I’m always running into, but books. Usually used books. They seem to show up in the most unexpected places. Take, for example, my recent outing to the Illinois Railway Museum (IRM) in Union, IL. The IRM is the largest railway museum in the country and you’d expect them to have a bookstore, or at least a museum gift shop that has some books. Well, they have both a museum gift shop and a bookstore. What I didn’t expect them to have is a USED BOOKSTORE.

The used bookstore at the IRM is not near the “official” museum bookstore or gift shop. Those are located next to the depot where you can board and ride the historic train that they’re running that day. We took a ride on a 1920s era electric Pullman, pictured above, that ran between Chicago and Milwaukee. The used bookstore is deeper into the museum grounds and set a bit back from the main thoroughfare. It’s in a box car that’s attached to the Union Pacific engine pictured below (on the far right).

Used bookstore is attached to the Union Pacific engine.

I walked into the bookstore shortly before closing time, so didn’t have a lot of time to look around. I’ve no special knowledge of trains, but I do like them. I grew up two blocks from the Cicero, IL train yard, so whistles, the rumble of diesel engines, and the banging of steel couplings were the background soundtrack to my childhood. My dad was an engineer for the Chicago Railway Company where he designed box car doors and other train components. I’m pretty proud of the fact that he held some patents for various box-car component designs. I now live in a neighborhood that’s hemmed in by much-used train tracks to the west and to the south. Getting “stuck” at crossings by commuter and freight trains is a daily occurrence. My record is watching five trains rumble by in one day.

Below are some pictures of the used bookstore. I spoke with Joe, one of the volunteers, a super nice guy who refrained from being photographed. He’d love for more people to know about their operation and offerings (both the museum and the used bookstore).

The used bookstore entrance.

Inside the used bookstore–browsing heaven for the train enthusiast.
I bought a copy of Paul Theroux’s The Old Patagonian Express.

An excellent cause. The used bookstore has everything from personal narratives & novels to technical manuals & company histories and more about trains from around the world.

Joe explained that many train related magazines are now coming out in digital editions, so they have had to give away and/or recycle hundreds of pounds of magazines. I grabbed some copies of Rail & Wire (the IRM’s magazine), Slim Gauge News (from 1973), and Timber Transfer (Friends of the East Broad Top Railroad in PA).
If you live in the area and are looking for a volunteer opportunity . . . .

Rare books are locked up, but many of the books on their shelves might be priced at only $35 whereas online they’ll go for $125. Joe said they’re more concerned with finding good homes for the books they have than competitive pricing. If you’re looking for a specific book for your train-related book collection, just write to the used bookstore at the main museum address (Illinois Railway Museum, 7000 Olsen Road, Union, IL 60180). It might take them a while to get back to you, but Joe said they do reply to all inquiries. They do not, however, order books for people.

Closed for the day.

If you live in the area, I highly recommend a visit to the IRM. They have a huge selection of trains that’s astounding to behold–from old steam engines, to the Nebraska Zephyr, to desiel engines. We spent about five hours there and only saw a fraction of their trains. Several of their trains have been used in period movies such as Babe Ruth and A League of Their Own.

They also have some historic buses and I bought a post card of the bus that I used to take from Cicero to the Ford City Mall. What a find!

Visit the IRM website at

If you’re looking for a haunted house, check out their TERROR ON THE RAILROAD every Friday and Saturday night in October through the 29th.

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