DeKALB – History rolled through downtown DeKalb on Monday afternoon when a train assembled exclusively from 1940s and 1950s passenger cars barreled down the Union Pacific railroad.
Residents gathered along Lincoln Highway to witness the retro passenger train travel down what is primarily a freight line. A rare exception for a passenger train was made Monday to allow attendees of the National Railway Historical Society convention in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to be transported to Chicago.
For Sycamore resident Karen Kuhn, the train brought back memories of a time when railroad transportation was the best way to travel.
“The era of long-distance train travel was special,” Kuhn said. “We didn’t want to miss this opportunity.”
Elrond Lawrence, spokesman for the National Railway Historical Society, agreed the “streamline era” was a special time for the railroad industry. He was glad to see his organization give train enthusiasts a chance to see or ride a one-of-a-kind machine.
Lawrence said Monday was the only time to see that passenger train because it was assembled from privately owned cars from across the country.
“Each train is a little bit unique because you will never see the same one twice,” Lawrence said of the custom trains the organization makes each year for its convention. “It’s rare to get all this equipment on one train.”
The highlight of this year’s train was the classic Cedar Rapids car – a 1948 Skytop observation car that gives passengers a 360-degree view through glass paneling.
Monday’s viewing was one of many encounters with historical trains for DeKalb resident Sherrie Albright. She was taking pictures for her 80-year-old father, who could not make the hour drive to DeKalb.
Trains have been part of Albright’s life since she was a child, and she still remembers the HO scale train sets covering the pingpong table in the basement of her childhood home. She still makes frequent trips with her family to places such as Old Sacramento in California to take in railroad history.
“I think they’re so beautiful,” she said of the vintage trains.
Although the train had old cars, it had plenty of power. Observers had about 20 seconds to watch the train as it roared through the downtown area with the power of a modern-day Union Pacific locomotive.
“It went way too fast,” laughed DeKalb resident Shirley Rohrer.
But it was still impressive enough to put a smile on the face of Kitty Jouris’ grandson, who clung to the metal railing on the corner of Fourth Street and Lincoln Highway as the train zipped past.
“He absolutely loves trains,” Jouris, of DeKalb, said.