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Local News

Catch the trolley

No. 141 rolls ahead to yesteryear

BERWYN – Picture this: It's still early in the 20th century, you're nine years old and you can't sit still from excitement as No. 141 rolls down the tracks from Berwyn to the Brookfield Zoo, which is located way out in "the country."

Or, you're 23, and it's 5:30 a.m. as you run out the door to catch the No. 141 to get to your job at the Hawthorne Works in Cicero, which puts food on the table for you, your wife and two kids.

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.

For many, it was the primary way to get to work, to the store, to Hawthorne and Sportsman's Parks race tracks, and to far off, almost-exotic places, like La Grange.

After a 66-year journey filled with abandonment, neglect and finally resurrection, No. 141 will once again beckon to be boarded on June 1 following a dedication ceremony at the Illinois Railway Museum in 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.

Freshly painted in its original colors, the streetcar has undergone a restoration effort by a passionate band of volunteers, some who remember riding No. 141 when horse drawn carts were still sharing the streets.

Former Berwyn resident Frank Sirinek is one of those volunteers. Sirinek still recalls the blue streetcar in it glory days and has gone on to become the project manager for its modern restoration.

"It was a long struggle to restore it, it didn't come over night,” said the 80-year-old train enthusiast and former Illinois Bell Telephone employee.

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.

“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,” he said. “What's nice about our volunteer group is each one has a talent and they put that talent to work.”

Most of the work was done at the museum in Union. Specialized work, like overhauling motors, was done in the Chicago area.

“We tried to keep things as close as possible to keep in contact with the various vendors," Sirinek said.

He estimates 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.

“You can understand how we all felt," Sirinek said. "It ran flawlessly from the beginning."

For his part, Sirinek said the restoration took him back to a less complicated time.

"I've always been a train lover," he recalled. "I grew up in Chicago and was surrounded by trains and trolleys. When we came out to Berwyn, our better-off relatives would pick us up at the end of the line for Sunday dinner."

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If you go:

WHAT: Chicago & West Towns Streetcar 141 Dedication

WHEN: 1 p.m. Sunday, June 1

WHERE: Illinois Railway Museum, 7000 Olson Road, Union

ACTIVITIES: Take a ride on Streetcar 141, and catch vintage music performers

PRICE: $14 adults, $11 for children ages 3 to 11. Children under 3 get in free.

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