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Remembering 17 Years of Railroad Days

By Dennis Clark

Published December 1, 2022 in The Burg


I remember as if it was yesterday sitting in the Railroad Days Council meeting that was going to determine the end to Galesburg Railroad Days. We had lost major funding for the next year and a $33,000 budget was going to a limited $13,000 budget. Consensus was to end the event or change the name and I stated anything is possible ... Bingo, they made me chairman. I made an agreement with Jim Clayton that he control rail activities and I would take care of all other activities. Jean Jacobs became Secretary and her support was invaluable. Dedicated council members put their efforts forward and the next few years were rough but Railroad Days was saved.

Slowly new activities and attractions were added, display rail brought new displays (Steam engines, Lincoln funeral car and specialty railcars).

We acquired a safe high quality carnival and placed it in the perfect location on the square. We brought back Fireman's Water Fight and the Model Train & Toy Show remained the Midwest's largest event of its kind.

This attraction covers 35,000 square feet and amazingly brings tourists from 14 states and 3 foreign countries. We also got 25 non-profit groups involved in some way. When Railroad Days includes attractions that draw tourists to Galesburg then the city and nonprofits prosper.

The years brought many challenges, changes, adaptations, inclusions and eliminations of attractions and activities. All possible with the many individuals that stepped up and became involved in making the Galesburg Railroad Days a successful community celebration.

This description of Railroad Days is somewhat a quick overview of the many years I was involved and now I need to respond to the question by Jeff Holt, “What did I enjoy about Railroad Days?”

People, I totally enjoy people and completely love watching and sharing joy at a celebratory event. Watching kids smile and scream on Carnival rides, the grandeur of watching people amazed at decorative detail during tour of Lincoln Funeral Car. The sense of history when a steam engine blows its shrill whistle while rolling down the track. Kids expressing glee in a Big Wheel Race. Spectators were amazed at the detail of cars in the car show.

Little kids petting animals at a petting zoo and laughing while feeding the goats and pigs. People in awe while Michael Krebs (President Lincoln) presents a historical message with precision is definitely a lifetime memorable moment.

Watching people totally enjoying festival food. Ribs, I love ribs and the great grill masters that entered the Rib Cookoffs. Enjoyed riding the Historical Tour and was thankful for all the volunteers. I sensed the community pride for the art and crafts presented by the artists associated with the Art Center as well as all the musical entertainment performed over all the years. I love creating memories for myself and others, tourists and those less fortunate to travel.

The Railroad Days Council always tried to make it a comprehensive community event for the family. Galesburg is fortunate to be a national centerpoint for the railroad and all of its history.

It was a privilege to serve as chairman for Railroad Days for all those years, I stepped down after the passing of Jim Clayton and appreciate Julie King and Tony Oligney-Estil for becoming co-chairs.

Do you love people and enjoy fun activities and creating joyous memories for others? Then you should get involved in Railroad Days.

I wish to thank all the volunteers for their efforts and wish Galesburg the best in the future.

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