ITM Plight Draws Widespread Attention

The forced two-week removal of the collection of the Indiana Transportation Museum from its 50-year home in Noblesville, Indiana, has triggered a torrent of comments in the online railfan community.

It can be difficult to sort among fact, fiction and exaggeration because the shutdown of the museum is occurring amid a grave sense of urgency after an Indiana judge gave the museum just two weeks to vacate its current location.

The legal battle between ITM and the City of Noblesville, though, goes back to last year when the city signaled it planned to refuse to renew the museum’s lease.

The museum two years ago became embroiled in a dispute with a public agency that oversee the tracks that ITM used for years to operate excursions and its popular shuttle trains to and from the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis.

Some of the ITM collection is being sold or donated to other museums, some of it is being moved to a new ITM site in Logansport while other pieces are reported to have been scrapped on site.

Still other artifacts are expected to remain at the current location once the July 12 deadline passes and will then be considered to have been abandoned.

The judge who ordered ITM to vacate Forest Park in Noblesville also directed that the Hamilton County sheriff oversee disposition of the “abandoned property.”

Much of the discussion the past week on the Railway Preservation News website focused on how that will be undertaken.

ITM had a collection of more than 100 items. Preservation group Ahead of the Torch said among the items that have been lost are:

• Milwaukee Road SW1 No. 1613, built by Electro-Motive Corporation in 1939 as No. 867. It had recently been repainted in Milwaukee Road orange and maroon.

• Five Chicago Transit Authority 4000-series cars, built in the 1920s by Cincinnati Car Company.

• Evansville & Ohio Valley steeple-cab No. 154, a standard interurban motor built by General Electric in 1912 for a railroad in Portsmouth, Ohio, and later was acquired by the E&OV.

• Indianapolis & Cincinnati Traction Co. interurban car 606, body only. The Cincinnati Car Company built the car in 1923 and it was later used by the Indiana Railroad.

• Nickel Plate wooden coach No. 45, built by ACF in 1907.

Writing on the Trains magazine website on Friday, the publication’s former editor Kevin Keefe said that a lot of soul searching can be expected in the railroad preservation community in the aftermath of the ITM debacle.

“One lesson already underscored: the wider world with direct connections to railroad museums and tourist lines has little interest in the nobility of the cause. What it does expect, and will increasingly demand, is competent museum management with a credible strategic plan,” Keefe wrote.

Current Trains editor Jim Wrinn also weighed in by offering a number of observations, including the need for railway preservation advocates to maintain control of their facilities, including stations and tracks.

Wrinn also called for keeping healthy relations with Class 1 railroad partners because “you may need a friend there one day.”

“Know your local community. That includes the government, the chamber of commerce, the visitor’s bureau, and any other organization that might be a help or hindrance.

“Make sure your local community knows you, what you stand for, the good that you do, and the impact you make. Invite them in for a visit, a chat, and listen to them.”

Wrinn also advocated for networking within the preservation community.

He also noted that museums are not immune to issues stemming from egos, human foible and misunderstanding. Likewise, he said museums should also remember that they are there for their visitors.

“Manage your collection,” Wrinn wrote. “A balance between ambitious and realistic is desirable. Have a plan A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.

Perhaps most importantly, he said that a non-profit must always remember that its top priority is that as a business it must stay in business.

Wrinn said he didn’t want to point fingers at ITM officials or say they didn’t do what is necessarily to remain in Noblesville or to make an orderly transition to another location.

But he said it is undeniable that something went horribly wrong with ITM.

“We’ll find out more in the days and weeks ahead just what happened and hopefully lessons on how to prevent it from happening again.”

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