Volunteers restore old Chicago streetcar in Union

UNION – Working mostly in Union, a band of volunteers will soon reveal a restoration project that restarts a historic streetcar for service nearly 66 years after it stopped running for thousands of Chicago area residents.

Project Manager Frank Sirinek, a former Berwyn resident, and a group of volunteers from the Illinois Railway Museum officially started restoring the No. 141 in 1997 following a long journey for the old streetcar marked by abandonment, neglect and family resurrection.

The Chicago and West Towns Railways' No. 141 transported thousands of area residents from the late 1800s until it came to the end of its line in 1948. The company operated five streetcar lines that served Berwyn, Brookfield, Cicero, Forest Park, La Grange, Maywood, Oak Park and River Forest.

“I had to beat people over the head for money and get on my hands and knees to beg for people to come out and work,” said Sirinek, an 80-year-old train enthusiast. “What's nice about our volunteer group is each one has a talent and they put that talent to work.”

That work will conclude on June 1 when the volunteer group hosts a 1 p.m. dedication ceremony at the Railway Museum, 7000 Olson Road, Union.

Those who never rode on a streetcar and those who can still remember their favorite seat on the old No. 141 are welcomed again to climb aboard and take a ride during the ceremony.

Replaced by the popularity of the automobile and other forms of mass transportation, the No. 141 streetcar became a passenger of sorts itself, taking its first trip on the back of a flat bed truck to become a farm storage shed in the Naperville/Lisle area.

No. 141, originally built in 1924 by McGuire-Cummings Manufacturing Co., in Paris, Ill., made its last run on April 10, 1948. From there it was taken to the power house at the corner of Cermak Road and Harlem Avenue — just south of Joe Rizza Ford — and scrapped. The shells of the no longer relevant streetcars were sold and used as shelter.

While the actual restoration started in 1997, museum volunteers began collecting the necessary replacement parts 20 years prior, Sirinek said. Finding the parts took a massive effort, and at one point, took volunteers to Milan, Italy, in the 1980s, where they were invited to rummage through piles of parts.

Sirinek estimated that it took about $100,000 to restore the streetcar, with funds coming from donations big and small, and some grants. On March 3, 2013, No. 141 made its first run since 1948 — albeit about 150 yards— under its own power.

"It was a long struggle to restore it," he said. "It didn't come over night."

– Stephen Di Benedetto contributed to this report

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