The golden years of train travel

Published: Apr. 2, 2020 at 10:24 AM CDT
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If you like railroad history, then you might have to put the Rock Island Depot Railroad Museum in Fairbury on your "to visit" list.

The depot is located at 910 Bacon Road in Fairbury. Opening day for the depot was Valentine's Day of 1914. "This building had to be built because the original depot had burned down in 1911," depot museum volunteer Jawon Remmenga said. "Fairbury was getting bigger, and they wanted to have a district office. We have space upstairs where the district managers had offices, and we had dispatch up there, too. It was a very big building that had a lot of activity."

On the main level, you can see where passengers would wait for trains like "The Rocket" to take them to places like Denver or Albuquerque. "We don't have passengers anymore. I wish we did," Remmenga said. "This town was based on the railroad. All of the men who worked on the train crews lived here."

The depot certainly had it's hey day, but then the Rock Island Railroad ended, and the depot stood vacant. It fell into disrepair. Finally, the building was sold to the local historical society, and the entire community worked hard to bring it back to it's original condition. "The state roads department was helpful with a grant. We had a lot of help with individual donors, and a lot of help from people who just wanted to come down and work," Remmenga said.

The building is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours are given at the depot on weekends, or by appointment. There's even a big room upstairs that can be used by the community for birthday parties or other gatherings. The volunteers say a new donation has been made to the depot, which will become a new exhibit. It's from a former resident of Fairbury named Mike Austin. Turns out, his father and grandfather both worked at the depot. Mike has passed away, but he left a big amount of railroad artifacts to the depot. Those involved with the depot are thankful to Mike and Ann Austin for the donation.

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