The Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) is located in Chicago, Illinois.It is housed in the former Palace of Fine Arts from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Among the museum’s exhibits are a full-size replica coal mine, German submarine U-505 captured during World War II , a 3,500-square-foot model railroad (The Great Train Story), the first diesel-powered streamlined stainless-steel passenger train (Piomeer Zephr), and the Apollo 8 spacecraft that carried the first humans to orbit the Moon.
The museum had an earlier model railroad layout, dating back to the early 1940s when Minton Cronkhite built the original Museum and Santa Fe Railway; a 2,340-square-foot layout in O Scale. This layout had over 1,000 feet (300 m) of track and over 20,000 hand-laid ties. Cronkhite began construction in 1939 and the exhibit made its public debut in January 1941. Much of the rolling stock and locomotives were hand built from scratch by Cronkhite using original Santa Fe plans. It featured Santa Fe’s southwestern freight and passenger operations, including a depiction of the Grand Canyon and quickly became a favorite with children and adults visiting the museum.
In 1953 Central Locomotive Works owner Bob Smith rebuilt the layout and added several diesel locomotives to the steam loco roster. It was updated again in 1988. Wear and tear from six decades of continuous daily use gradually took its toll, and by the time of its demise the layout had only a couple of operating loops. The layout was closed in May 2002.
It was this layout that I visited in 1970 when I went to Chicago for a week long teaching assignment.
The current layout, The Great Train Story, was conceived by museum exhibit designer John Llewellyn. The layout took a year to build and made its public debut on November 22, 2002. The development team studied visitor interaction with the former layout and designed the new display in a Serpentine shape in order to bring guests into the exhibit to enhance the visual experience. Guests can also avail themselves a bird’s-eye view of the layout from the balcony that surrounds it. The Great Train Story presents 2,200 miles of scenery and stories from Chicago to Seattle along 1,400 feet of winding track.
There are seven interactive points around the layout provided for visitors to operate various functions including a lumberjack chopping down a tree, blasting for a future mountain tunnel, and an operating drawbridge over the Chicago River. Street building lights turn on when the exhibition hall’s lights are dimmed during periodic demonstrations of the Boeing 727 suspended overhead.
Alas, I have not seen the new layout. Mike and his wife Laura did see the layout when they visited Chicago during the summer. Laura was really kind and took photos of the layout. Laura told me that she was fascinated by the buildings. Here are her pictures:
This vid was taken by the Museum staff to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the opening of the The Great Train Story. A small camera aboard one of the model trains to capture a track-level view of the towns, crossings and scenery recreated in the exhibit’s Seattle-to-Chicago ride.
If you want to get some idea of of the size of the Museum and have 12 mins to spare check out this vid – I found it fascinating:
Oh, by the way, I’ve moved a visit to the Museum MUCH higher on THE LIST!!