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Next Stop: Your House

The Illinois Railway Museum has CTA signage to spare.

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Is your name Howard? Addison? Clinton? Would a rush hour stop sign be hilarious over your toilet? Do you covet that dormitory look that only Chicago Transit Authority paraphernalia can evoke?

If so, the Illinois Railway Museum has a deal for you. The 42-year-old nonprofit, located five miles off the Northwest Tollway near Marengo, more than halfway to Rockford, is selling recently discarded CTA signs for $5 to $50 apiece through its Web site (irm.org/about/ctasigns.html). At press time, 117 kinds of signs were up for grabs.

The CTA didn't ditch these signs because they were pristine. Many include free rust, graffiti, scratches, and impenetrable subway grime. The selection changes constantly and is pretty random--system maps, generic signs like way out, station signs, even a "historic" June 2003 schedule for Blue Line trains at Western. A bit more historic are station signs with the old A-B skip-stop designations painted over and some original signage for the Midway (now the Orange) line.

Dave Diamond, the museum's assistant general manager, notes that buying an old CTA sign is a recycling twofer--not only are they "a real piece of Chicago that might otherwise have gone into the Dumpster" but the proceeds go to refurbish the museum's collection of old railroad signage, including some striking vintage neon from the interurban railways.

The volunteer-run museum--dedicated to restoring, running, and publicizing vintage trains in realistic environments--opens this year on April 2; see the schedule online for hours, including when particular vehicles in its collection of trolleys and diesel, steam, and electric trains will be running on the four and a half miles of track on the premises. "We're best on weekends," says Diamond, when as many as 200 volunteers are on the scene greeting visitors, inspecting and maintaining the equipment, and acting as trainmen, conductors, engineers, and crew on the rolling stock. The museum's sited on the Elgin & Belvidere Electric railway's former right-of-way (picked up for back taxes before McHenry County got all suburban); it's not, however, accessible by train.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/A. Jackson.

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