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‘80s steam star 1385 starts time in rehab

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Monday, February 17, 2014


We're looking at the front truck of a a Ten-Wheeler, the "4" in 4-6-0, but it is sitting under the rear of the frame where the cab goes in this shop view. All photos, Jim Wrinn.

C&NW No. 1385 is stripped down to the bones in this shot at SPEC Machine in Middleton, Wis., on Sunday, Feb. 16.
MIDDLETON, Wis. – I checked in on one of the Midwest’s most famous locomotives of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Chicago & North Western 4-6-0 No. 1385. Back then, she was a famous museum engine and later a mainline starlet. But the years caught up with her, and it’s time for her keepers to put miles back into her instead of taking miles out.

The 1907 Alco was the subject of an open house Saturday and Sunday at SPEC Machine, which is rebuilding the running gear and frame while the boiler, tender, and cab undergo repairs elsewhere.

Three sets of 63-inch drivers from C&NW 1385 are cleaned and ready for work in the effort to restore the Ten-Wheeler.
Thanks to a good weather weekend in the midst one of the coldest and snowiest Midwest winters in recent years, and a train show nearby in Madison, several hundred people turned out for the open house to see the locomotive that was the mainstay power of Mid-Continent Railway Museum at North Freedom, Wis. The engine’s notoriety really took off in the early and mid-1980s after C&NW decided to use the R-1 Class locomotive as a roving good will ambassador on its system in the years before Union Pacific bought the C&NW. C&NW learned, as did Union Pacific and Southern Railway, that an operating steam locomotive wins you lots of friends and can put a good face on just about any situation.

Here's what greeted the public arriving for the open house for C&NW 1385: the sand dome from the engine, still on a palet, and resting on a pile of snow.
I found out a lot in a 45-minute visit tot the shop. Repairs to the frame and wheels are just beginning, but SPEC, located in a rural farming area northeast of Madison, Wis., is dedicated to making it happen. The shop rearranged the shop machinery in its building and cut a hole into the side of the structure to get the Ten-Wheeler’s running gear into the building. The early word is that workers have found little that surprises them; the wheels may need new tires; everyone is certain the engine will be back at work at the museum’s operating railroad near Baraboo, Wis.

I look forward to this, because, unlike the good folks in the Midwest who enjoyed the engine’s ramblings, I missed most of it. The 1385 hasn’t run since 1998, and my first and only visit with the Ten-Wheeler in steam was in 1996. While she’s not as big of a locomotive as other mainline steam superstars of the modern era, she’s got a lot of regional character. Here’s to seeing her back in steam.

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