You have New York City, New York as the Gateway to North America on the Atlantic Seaboard. You have San Francisco, California as the Gateway to North America on the Pacific Seaboard. These two major cities are at each end of Interstate 80. What is so important about Interstate 80? It passes through the southern region of the metropolitan area of Chicago, Illinois, which is known as the Hub of North America. How is Chicago the Hub of North America? It has one of the busiest airports in the world (O’Hare). The Chicago metropolis is served by seven major interstate routes and eight U.S. Routes. As for railroads, Chicago is a railroad haven being served by more railroads than any other metropolis in North America, and it is the home of the Pullman National Historic Site. In fact, Trains Magazine calls Chicago the Railroad Capital of America. The city is the home of many industries and corporations, and there are many great historic sites and museums. Among those museums is the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry focusses on, of course, science and industry. There are many exhibits focusing on the different aspects of science, but with Chicago being an industry mecca, it has exhibits on the different industries. A trip to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry takes you to many worlds all under one roof.
Some of you are saying, “You know? Chicago is known for so many great things. It has great sport teams and is considered the greatest sports city in America. It is a great railroad city particularly for railroad watching. As for the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, it is about science, and it is about industry. If it was called the Chicago Museum of Railroads, I will be delighted to visit this museum. However, it is called the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry which is about science and industry and not railroads. Therefore, I have made it a science to not visit this place.”
It is called the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Yes, it has science exhibits focusing on different aspects of science. However, it is also a museum that focusses on industry. Industry is a general term as you have all kinds of industry like farming and manufacturing. There are many exhibits on industry. One of these exhibits focus on the industry of transportation, known as the Transportation Gallery. It focusses on air travel, sea travel, automobile travel, and it is here where you will find ‘The Great Train Story’.
Some of you are saying, “I have heard this before. Little train, little train choo, choo, choo. Goes down the track, woo, woo, woo. This is such a dorky story for kids. I have no interest in this stuff.”
You are so very sorely mistaken. That is not what The Great Train Story is. What is The Great Train Story? You will be amazed. The Great Train Story is a large model train display. The display depicts different regions from urban to rural to mountains to flatlands to major cities to small towns to the farms to the ocean ports. Each section of this display has a story to tell.
Some of you are saying, “Well, that sounds like something to see.”
It is, but there is more to the Transportation Gallery at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.
While in the Transportation Gallery, you will notice a steam locomotive. What is this steam locomotive? It is called ‘The Empire State Express’, Number 999. The name come from the fact that it was used by the New York Central System to pull trains between New York City across the state of New York to the city of Buffalo. The real special thing about this locomotive is that it was once the record holder for the fastest train ever. Sadly, that record was broken ten years later, but it is here at the museum where you can easily board the locomotive. No, you are not able to test the speed of the locomotive while it is in the museum.
Also, in the Transportation Gallery, you can also see a replica of ‘The Rocket’, and earlier style locomotive. Originally built in England, it was this locomotive that future steam locomotives would be designed after. Its wooden boiler and steel stack and large driving wheels, it had a unique and attractive style like many of the nineteenth century locomotives. You can also climb aboard the Number 532 streetcar. Sadly, it does not go anywhere, but you can get a glimpse of a trolley ride when trolleys where the form of transportation in many major cities.
Some of you are saying, “Well, I guess that is all they have about railroads.”
Along with the industry of transportation to include railroad transportation, you also have another industry that uses railroads: the mining industry.
Welcome to the Old Ben Number 17 Coal Mining Company. Well, it is not an actual coal mine, but it is a replica of an Illinois mine. Therefore, you will not have to worry about coal dust or being trapped in a real mine. Oh, while you are waiting, you will not be out in the elements but inside the confines of the museum. Well, it is time. The tour guide gives you the safety brief. It may not be a real coal mine, but the safety briefing is still important. Now, you step onto the elevator that takes you deep into the mine. You arrive at the bottom. You walk into the room and wait. For what? The mine train pulls up. Oh, you get to ride this one. You get onto to the cramped car, and you ride around. You reach your stop and get off. The tour guide tells you the different things about mining and how things work. Oh, be advised. This is a replica mine, not a real one. You arrive at the end of the tour, and you head back up to the surface, I mean, museum.
You think this is it. You are not finished yet.
Climb aboard the Pioneer Zephyr and enjoy a fast luxury ride. Well, the train never leaves the museum, but you can tour the train and see what it was like to travel in style in the glory days of train travel. It will feel like you are on your way across the Midwest of America, but you will forget that you are in a museum.
Now, are you still going to say that you are not going to visit this museum? You have been given many reasons why you should. Along with the railroad displays, there are many other great things to see here to include the U-505 Submarine, ‘Yesterday’s Main Street’ and Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle. It is also the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere. You will need a few hours and maybe an entire day to see everything here.
The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry is at 5700 South Lake Shore Drive (U.S. Route 41) at the north end of Jackson Park. It is open year-round, but hours vary by time of year. Parking is paid underground garage parking which can be helpful during the cold winter months. You can get all of the information you need at https://www.msichicago.org/.
Whenever you are in the ‘Windy City’ of Chicago, Illinois, make sure you get enough wind to get you to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. See the Great Train Story, the Empire State Express, the Rocket, the 532 and the Pioneer Zephyr. While there, mine some coal in the coal mine. On second thought, you better not do that as other visitors will need to see the coal as well. Most important of all, enjoy your visit at the museum.