Article From the Spring 2003 Issue of


The Journal of the New York Museum of Transportation


Wyle E. Coyote decides to be sure the "Acme Professional-Grade Roadrunner Cannon" will work right, so he turns it around, points it at himself, and pulls the trigger. Blam! Thatís what your editor feels like in this issue of HEADEND as he (finally) turns the Volunteer Spotlight on himself and pushes the power button on his computerÖ.

Jim Dierks has always liked "big things that move". His mother still recalls how she worried about her little toddler wanting to stand so close to the big drivers on the Milwaukee Road 4-6-4ís that brought Dad out from Chicago on the evening commuter trains. When the Milwaukee wasnít at work permanently wiring Jimís brain, the South Shore, Illinois Central, Chicago Transit Authority, and the North Shore all connived to reinforce the effect. HmmÖthose last four all operated under wireÖ

It wasnít just trains that captured your editorís youthful interest. In the post-WWII expansion of suburbs like Glenview, Illinois, a lot of trucks found their way down Henley Street and into the back alley, delivering among other products those distinctive Chicago-area yellow bricks (some made at the brick factory just north of Glenview, alongside the Milwaukee mainline). Big war surplus 10-wheel dump trucks groaned by, and Jim remembers being fascinated by the way the earth would sink under their wheels and spring back after the trucks passed. Sick a lot as a young kid, he recalls lying in bed making a paste out of the scrapings from cupcake papers so he could drive his toy trucks through it and make the same tire impressions that the real trucks made outside.

Noisy chain-drive Macks were the mainstays of the Skokie Valley Asphalt Companyís fleet. The Glenview Bus Company operated a mishmash of hand-me-down buses, and Jim knew each one by number and unique features. He and his friend Tony would sit by Glenview Road on hot summer afternoons and see how far away they could guess the make of oncoming cars. Even the Glenview Naval Air Station joined in the transportation theme, with prop planes during the war running carrier landing practice on the north-south runway right over the Dierks homestead (and we mean right over).

Dadís early career assignment as a 5th wheel salesman with American Steel Foundries netted Jim a few opportunities to accompany the old man on customer calls out of town. He still has the side view drawing he made of an International truck while waiting in one office, Dad closing the deal and the office ladies fawning over the "cute little boy." Jimís father is also to blame for the model railroading bug, as successive Christmases brought wooden trains, wind-up trains, and finally a Lionel train. Over time, the basement got taken over with a train table that eventually morphed into an HO gauge reproduction of the local Milwaukee Road action. This latter enterprise was a challenge, as Jim struggled to build a roster of equipment sufficient to recreate any train from 2-car locals to the Olympian Hiawatha. Since the Milwaukee made its own equipment, there was precious little available in kit form, so he had to scratch-build most of the cars. Fortunately, college intervened. The HO stuff is still in boxes.

At Cornell University, Jim studied Mechanical Engineering specializing in Industrial Design. His fifth year project was a rapid transit rail car, but on graduation he opted for a job at Eastman Kodak in their Consumer Products Division design department. His career there happily paralleled the meteoric rise of consumer photography fueled by the easy-loading Instamatic cameras and film cartridges. He had design and project leadership responsibilities on Kodakís Pocket Instamatic program and the companyís Instant program, its response to Polaroidís SX-70 system. Jim was Corporate Coordinator of the Disc program, spent six years overseas in management roles in Brazil and Japan, and eventually was blessed with an early retirement opportunity in 1991.

Back up to 25 years ago. Jim had bought a house in 1978 in the city, and the woman who sold it to him knew Mike Storey, then the Director of the New York Museum of Transportation. Mike soon called, inviting Jim to join the Board of Trustees, and he accepted. Meetings of the Board were working sessions, involving some of the Trustees who had been so instrumental in starting the museum. These people, along with Mike, had secured the charter from the State, arranged occupancy of the dairy barn at the State School at Industry, in Rush, and paid to bring in R&E 157 and other cars to form the basis of the museumís collection. Trustee Rand Warner was a big contributor to these meetings as plans were being made to extend the museumís short piece of trackage to link up with an ex-Erie depot nearby, owned by the Rochester Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, where Rand was also very involved. Other key figures on the Board at that time included Rick Holahan, representing the volunteer members who were working hard to collect Rochester Subway rail and build the museumís rail line.

Over a short period of time, the Board lost several members to business reversals, and trustee Hank Pape, who had been so active in support of the museum and the Chapter, died of cancer. Our long-unpaid Director, Mike, eventually left, and things got pretty quiet. Jim hadnít really invested much of himself in the museum up to that time, although he had done what he could to help organizationally and had developed strong friendships with some of the volunteers. The magic happened when he experienced a big weekend project at the Chapterís Industry depot. In a mammoth effort of planning and hard work, members of the Chapter (with permission) cut the Conrail branch line track, removed the rails and ties, and dragged into place a pre-assembled switch, bolting everything together in time for Conrail inspection and continuing service on the line during the following week. It was one of those special times when everything clicked, and months of effort came together in a single, inspiring event.

At least thatís how Jim felt. He decided heíd do what he could to keep NYMT alive, working directly with the volunteers. Over the ensuing weeks and months, he concentrated on putting in place the trappings of a full-sized museum. A logo was designed, regular hours of operation were established, and they were posted in the newspaper, a large sign was put up along the highway, the interior of the museum and the grounds outside were cleaned and groomed, and a gift shop was constructed. Full credit goes to the volunteers who put in long hours especially in this latter venture. The gift shop exterior walls, inside the museum, were "augmented" to the appearance of an old train station, and the shop itself received a drop ceiling, drywall, and a sales counter. NYMT-branded T-shirts, coffee mugs, and patches soon appeared. Track car ride operations were started. On the management side, responsibilities were specified, a rule book was designed and issued to all volunteers, staffing was rotated among the volunteers, money management was instituted, membership was shaped up, and HEADEND began publication, reporting our progress to our friends. Jim wasnít very good on the business end of a spike maul and had no idea how to run a bulldozer, but he did what he could to lay a foundation so that others could exercise their skills and build the museum.

He stresses that for all he tried to accomplish, the real credit goes to the many others who not only supported him but at the same time put in long hours of hard work to achieve lift-off and gain altitude. In fact, just as we were free to move about the cabin and the drinks were starting to be served, Jim was given the chance to move to Brazil to manage the Kodak camera plant there. In his long absence, these same volunteers took on the additional challenges of management at the museum and accomplished many more good things.

By the time of Jimís retirement, the museum was on a solid footing and growing. Thanks to the contributions of time and talent by so many volunteers, NYMT has accumulated more cars for its collection, continued to improve its exhibits, organized its archives, and brought transportation history to life for thousands of visitors from around the world. Jim was delighted to be able to arrange the procurement of operational trolleys, giving a big boost to our dream of electrification, and heís had a hand in much of the progress thatís occurred over the years since his return to the United States. But, heís quick to point out that the real contributions continue to come from the many others who willingly volunteer their time in so many valuable ways. He tries, in these pages, to give their efforts the exposure they deserve.

Jim feels his work at the New York Museum of Transportation is a great combination of enjoying his interests and at the same time doing good for the Jim sets up another group tour while spending the winter in
FloridaÖor is he ordering a Supreme with extra cheeseÖ?

community. He has a special affection for the museum and for the many friends heís gotten to know through his work with them. He says thank you to all of them, and canít resist inviting you to join in the fun too!