Class I steam is alive and well – on rails other than the main line

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Thursday, September 17, 2009

by Jim Wrinn

Santa Fe, Union Pacific, Southern, Southern Pacific, Boston & Maine: The illustrious list of Class I railroad steam locomotives that are back in operation or on the way to steaming is impressive; the notion that the only steam in captivity today is about short lines and industrial railroads is far from the truth. But what’s even more remarkable about this list is that this new round of engine restorations isn’t taking place on Class I railroads. Museums and tourist lines are doing their part to keep Class I railroad steam alive. Consider recent developments that showcase the rare case of small engines from big railroads that are coming back to life.
Illinois Railway Museum’s recent test firing of UP 2-8-0 No. 428, following 15 years of work, is a pleasant development for those who follow Mr. Harriman’s railroad. In recent years the road’s big steam heritage has been displayed in UP’s two corporate steam giants, 4-8-4 No. 844, and 4-6-6-4 No. 3985; for a taste of smaller UP steam, Heber Valley’s UP 2-8-0 No. 618 runs on a Rio Grande branch in Utah. IRM General Manager Nick Kallas says No. 428’s restoration isn’t complete — there’s still much work to be done in what’s basically a from-the-frame-up rebuild. The Consolidation has character and history: The engine was among the last active steam locomotives on the UP roster, running into the late 1950s on lines near Grand Island, Neb. A check of Trains’ files shows the engine at work on a charming branchline that Lucius Beebe would have fawned over.Union Pacific 2-8-0 No. 428 on mixed train No. 83 between Grand Island and Ord, Neb. Oct. 28, 1958. Stan Kistler photo None other than legendary photographer Stan Kistler caught the engine on one of the many wooden trestles along the Ord branch between Grand Island and Ord, Neb. He shot No. 428 on mixed train No. 83 on Oct. 28, 1958. 

No. 428’s return is worth anticipating, and so is the exit of one long-time representative of the UP shield. While odds are that the 844 and 3985 will roll on for years, Heber’s 618 is down to less than a month of tube time and a drop-dead date of next May for its Federal Railroad Administration 15-year inspection.


Not far away from IRM, also in the Land of Lincoln, Monticello Railway Museum test fired its Southern 2-8-0 No. 401, equipped with a new boiler. Southern steam — dating from only the first three decades of the 20th century because of economics, depression, and war — is among the most ancient. No. 401 was built in December 1907. But No. 401’s new boiler means the engine will be in service, as long as her keepers maintain the pressure vessel, well into the 21st century. That’s not the only good news for southeastern steam fans of Class I railroads: Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga is expecting to outshop Southern 2-8-0 No. 630 in 2010, as is Knoxville’s Three Rivers Rambler with Southern 2-8-0 No. 154.


Santa Fe steam lovers have enjoyed 4-8-4 No. 3751 for years, and this year in Kansas 4-6-2 No. 3412 put another ATSF survivor back on the road. The 1919 Baldwin’s restoration was brief: Work began at its home at the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad in 2005 and wrapped up in early 2009. Another Santa Fe 4-6-2 is in the offing: Texas State Railroad is about to install a new boiler on No. 500, former Santa Fe 1316, built in 1911.

Elsewhere, Rio Grande Scenic’s Southern Pacific 2-6-0 No. 1744 is getting major boiler work at Bob Yuill’s Historic Machinery Services near Birmingham, Ala., and Steamtown’s Boston & Maine 4-6-2 No. 3713, a Lima product of 1934, is edging along, although, sadly, it won’t be ready for the 2010 National Railway Historical Society convention in Scranton.


Of course, Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 relaunched its career this year, and Louisville & Nashville 4-6-2 No. 152 continues to run on Kentucky Railway Museum trackage as it has for years.
The big picture is this: It’s a pretty good time to enjoy Class I steam … on museum and tourist-line rails. We’ll talk more about the Midwestern steam renaissance in the Preservation column found within the pages of our December 2009 issue.

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