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IRM’s Pullman Library

By September 3, 2018Features

By Fred Ash, Illinois Railway Museum

In addition to its extensive rolling stock collection and demonstration railroad, the Illinois Railway Museum (IRM) has two distinct library/archive operations. Neither is located on-campus. The Strayhorn Library in Marengo collects and catalogues railroad books, documents, ephemera, and photo collections donated by members and heirs. The Pullman Library in Union contains freight and passenger car information specific to the Pullman and Budd companies and predecessors.  The bulk of the collection, described below, is operated under a licensing agreement with Bombardier Corporation, successor to Pullman and Budd.

While the Pullman Library’s scope may sound limited, the collection is so extensive that its exact size is difficult to estimate.  Current guesses are that the number of drawings on linen, velum, tracings, and other media total between one and two million.  Fortunately, IRM inherited indexes – several covering subsets of the whole– facilitating research and order requests.  Drawings cover every imaginable manufactured item, from individual bolts, to furniture, and even ashtrays designed over the decades. Car floor plans, elevations, and electrical diagram copies are common research requests. Every car has a specification and drawing list, which should be the first request made for any specific car. These vary in content. Freight car lists may be five pages long, while a typical mid-1920s passenger car runs 50-80 pages. Some lists run to hundreds of pages.

Ordering thus requires several steps—at minimum, an initial inquiry, getting the drawing list, placing a specific order to get a pricing estimate, signing a license agreement with payment, and then IRM fulfilling the order.  Along the way, there will likely be additional telephone or email discussions about specifics. Like IRM’s restoration and rail operations, all library staff members are volunteers working limited schedules, something to keep in mind when considering turn-around times. To order, please read the instructions at: http://www.irm.org/pullmanlibrary/materials.html 

That site includes contact information and much detail, but here are a few pointers.

  1. When making an initial request, provide the reason for the request (modeler, lawyer, or car owner).
  2. Provide your full name, the organization you work for (or consult with, if applicable), mailing address(es), e-mail address(es), and phone number(s)
  3. With all e-mail correspondence, always remember to “Reply to All”!
  4. If the drawings are to be digitally used for model purposes (i.e. creation of CAD drawings or 3-D renderings), this must be stated. Failure to do so may void the license agreement.
  5. Include your schedule and the media desired. IRM attempts to meet reasonable time constraints, but may not be able to meet your schedule.
  6. IRM will send you an estimate form and a license form.  The license is free, but a complete (all pages including the estimate), signed copy must be returned by post.
  7. Checks are not cashed until the requested materials are shipped.

Library volunteers are led by Bob Webber.  Theirs is a closed-stack system with no public access to the indexes or original drawings, even by other museum members. A 36-inch black and white scanner/printer produces high quality, full size print copies, but digital files are also available.  With each order the library’s catalogue of digitized images grows.  Research fees and drawing sales make the Pullman Library self-supporting. IRM does not budgeted funds for the library, although it provides some maintenance, IT support, insurance, and utilities.

Color graphic items in the collection cannot, as yet, be easily reproduced.  These include designs for interior murals used in cars, tail signs, and larger-scale promotional materials. B&W painting and production specifications may aid graphic research. Painting specs, for example, include drawings of the fonts and even individual cars names.  Pullman Library users know that it may not have all desired drawings because materials in the collection are construction (“as-built”) related. Pullman’s operating department, however, had its own shops to modify and remodel cars.  Many of those drawings survive at Chicago’s Newberry Library and may be ordered from that institution.  The Smithsonian and the California State Railway Museum also have extensive Pullman collections.

Lesser known parts of the Pullman collection at IRM include its collection of over 10,000 photographs and negatives, many on 8×12 inch glass plates.  The latter tend to be early car interiors. The library also holds technical catalogues; source materials from and about suppliers; the Budd, Pullman and predecessors company’s corporate records; and related items which may be helpful with restoration work.  Drawings from the Chicago Surface Lines, the Town of Pullman, and the New York Central System are important sub-collections

The Pullman Library is scheduled to move to a purpose-built, climate-controlled building on IRM’s main museum campus in 2019.  This will improve access to some drawings now stored in baggage and freight cars.  At the same time, it promises to reduce expenses, facilitate order fulfillment, and improve security. The Pullman Library looks forward to continuing to provide the preservation community with the technical and historic resources it requires.

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