A look ahead at steam in 2019

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Saturday, December 15, 2018

It’s starting to be the time of the year when we reflect on the year past and what went well and what went off the tracks. For the railway preservation community, there were many strides forward. My friend Aaron Isaacs, the editor online magazine for the industry trade group Heritage Rail Alliance, reminds me that more than 60 projects were completed in the tourist railroad and railway museum field. That’s a lot of new metal, new paint, a lot of muscle, and a lot of bucks.

 There were, as always, a few things I’d like to forget about the year that is rapidly drawing to a close: The wildfires that shut down for weeks one of the nation’s best and most popular tourist railroads, the Durango & Silverton. The eviction of the Indiana Transportation Museum from its long-term home, and even worse, it appears to have been a self-inflicted wound that didn’t have to happen. The dearth of mainline steam after Amtrak refused to run chartered trains that kept way too many 4-8-4s cold. Those top my list.

 But, just as it’s been all my life, every time one door in railroad preservation closes or shuts, another opens. As I look forward to 2019, I anticipate the following good things:

 1. The 150th anniversary of the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10. Let’s hope it’s a big successful party. If it is, it can only help to spread the word about railroad history and preservation to a larger population.

 2. The restoration and operation of Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014. Let’s not forget UP 4-8-4 No. 844, which will also be part of UP’s contribution to the celebration of the Golden Spike in May. As for the Big Boy, anticipation is high for one of the biggest and most powerful locomotives ever built. None has run since 1959. It was always said it couldn’t be done. Need we hype it more?

 3. The completion (finally) of Western Maryland Scenic Railroad’s Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 No. 1309, a Mallet that will be running on a 17-mile mountain railroad often. This will be a showcase of articulated power at its best. This project needs funds to wrap it up, so to help visit https://www.flipcause.com/widget/give_now/MTk2MDk=

 4. Skookum, the 2-4-4-2 that refuses to die. It’s back in steam after 63 years. It’s an incredible story of survival, and there’s not another locomotive like it. Join us March 14-15 for a final Oregon photo charter with Skookum by calling 503-842-7972. Then look for Skookum in a new California home.

 5. A Climax at Cass and rebuilt track between Cass, W.Va., and Durbin. I’ve been a fan of the geared locomotive paradise since 1975. They have big Shays, they have a Heisler, and now, for the first time in more than 55 years of history as a state park and now a private enterprise, the Cass folks will have an operating Climax. And, they’ll be adding trackage back between Cass and Durbin along the Greenbrier River, a route that hasn’t been available since 1985 floods washed away the former Chesapeake & Ohio tracks.

 6. An Iowa Interstate QJ in steam. It happened last summer, and it’s set to happen again this coming June. Iowa Interstate will run one of its Chinese-built 2-10-2s on short trips to benefit local emergency response providers in the Des Moines area. One date is set, and another is expected to be announced later. The 2018 trips were the sleeper events of the year and featured open window coaches and 40 mph running on short frequent trips that allowed participants to both ride and photograph; the 2019 encore should not be missed.

 7. At least two big main line steam locomotives will be running. We’re already hearing about surprising developments for one locomotive that will put it back on a Class I main line. Another we’re familiar with is poised to visit regionals. The news can only get better from here.

 8. Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis 4-8-4 No. 576’s move to restoration. A fixture in Nashville’s Centennial Park since 1953, this modern engine once it is restored will run on a well maintained shortline (Nashville & Eastern) that’s already home to a commuter train operation. It departs the park on Jan. 13.

 9. Narrow gauge dreams come true: • Rio Grande No. 168 restored. The 4-6-0 will show what pre-1900 steam was like on the San Juan extension that is today’s Cumbres & Toltec Scenic. It’s not due out until late in the year, so I may add this to my 2020 list next December. •  Southern Pacific 4-6-0 No. 18’s visit to Durango & Silverton. The Slim Princess gets her Rocky Mountain High showing D&S crews what oil firing is all about before returning to her California home. Our thanks to the No. 18’s guardians, the Carson & Colorado folks, who rebuilt her, and the D&S for hosting the engine. • Rio Grande Southern back at Colorado Railroad Museum from its long,long overhaul.

The year 2019 already sounds like a great one for railway preservation and steam enthusiasts in particular. I’m ready for it. A reminder: Not every railroad or locomotive that has run before will continue to run in the future so enjoy these fine old locomotives other railroad experiences as they happen. You never know if they'll be there in the future. No regrets! Take care, and I hope I will see you on board or trackside.


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