What’s a steam fan to do? Answer: Reflect and look forward

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Monday, December 14, 2009

This is the time of year when I realize that most of the fireboxes on the nation’s operational steam locomotives have gone cold. For most of the museums and tourist railroads, the engines are back in the shop, the volunteers and professionals in charge of them are tearing engines apart for much needed work, and the prospect of another steam season is months away. It’s also a time when I count the “wins” and “losses” for the year – engines that have come back, and others that left us. It’s also a time to look ahead to 2010 with anticipation… and regret.

At the top of this year’s remarkable “wins” was the debut for Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 at Hoosier Valley Railroad in May. Three years after the big Lima-built Berkshire’s restoration was complete, she finally found a place to run off some miles on the ex-Chesapeake & Ohio line in northwestern Indiana. Her appearance at Trainfestival 2009 in July was another successful outing. Given that the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society has plans to equip 765’s tender with roller bearings, I’m anticipating more good things from this engine in 2010.

Two other important “wins” I count this year:

  • Mount Rainier Scenic’s restoration of Rayonier Inc. Willamette No. 2. This Shay “knock off” is one of 33 built by the Pacific Northwest logging equipment dealer that realized it could “one up” Lima with its own refinements. The engine is right at home in Mount Rainier’s logging railroad setting.
  • The debut of David Kloke’s replica of Central Pacific’s 1868 4-4-0 Leviathan was a real bright spot. How many people can say they fulfilled their dream and built an operating steam locomotive from scratch! The engine was another hit at Trainfestival 2009 and also drew a crowd to Monticello Railway Museum in September. 
Events I’m looking forward to the most in 2010:
  • A chance to ride the rebuilt Virginia & Truckee during a Trains & Travel photo special on March 15. Tom Gray’s Longview, Portland & Northern Consolidation puts on a show on this railroad with grades in excess of 2 percent. This is the first chance to get out and photograph the route, so I expect it will be an excellent opportunity to see the investment in the former V&T.  
  • Niles Canyon’s Tank Fest II in March. The Pacific Locomotive Association is doing this in two phases: the first is March 14 with Chris Baldo’s Mason County Logging 2-6-2T No. 7 and one of its two 2-6-2Ts: Quincy Railroad No. 2 or Robert Dollar No. 3. The following weekend, Niles Canyon is offering up all three of those engines, plus the California State Railroad Museum’s Granite Rock 10, an 0-6-0T so that will be four tankers in steam at once!
  • The debut of Monticello Railway Museum’s Southern Railway 2-8-0 No. 401. With a brand new welded boiler and oil firing, this 1907 freight hog will be in service for years to come in central Illinois.

Of course, here’s hoping there’s lots more to see and do in 2010!

Some engines I will miss in 2010:

  • Union Pacific 2-8-0 618 at Utah’s Heber Valley Railroad. The engine goes down in May for its 15 year inspection. This has been a great opportunity to see a smaller standard-gauge engine from a Class I railroad in action.
  • Sumpter Valley 2-8-2 No. 19. This beautiful narrow gauge Mikado will be missed in eastern Oregon, where it wanders amongst the gold dredge tailings, when it goes out in June for its 15 year inspection.
  • Pere Marquette 2-8-4 No. 1225. The Steam Railroading Institute’s star was supposed to finish her tube time next May, but leaks put those plans aside. She put in great performances in recent years. Let’s hope her repairs are minor and her absence is short lived.
  • Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261. Only one thing left to say on top of the anguish expressed elsewhere regarding the failure of the Friends of the 261, the operator, and the National Railway Museum, the owner, to come to an agreement to keep this Northern polishing mainline rails: Thanks for the memories.
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