EJ&E 765: another forgotten park engine

Posted by Kevin Keefe
on Friday, October 16, 2020

Elgin, Joliet & Eastern 2-8-2 No. 765 -- the only surviving steam locomotive from 'Chicago's Outer Belt' -- sits forlorn in a park in Gary, Ind. Kevin P. Keefe
“There is nothing in this world as invisible as a monument.” — Robert Musil

I had already decided to visit Elgin, Joliet & Eastern 2-8-2 No. 765 last week when I stumbled across this quote by Musil, an Austrian novelist and philosopher, but it seems perfect. Tucked away in obscure Gateway Park, along E. Fourth Avenue (U.S. 12) just east of downtown Gary, Ind., the 765 is about as invisible as a monument can be.

But not to me. I have a thing for lonely park engines, and last week it was time for a return visit. 

I didn’t like what I saw. Partially obscured by a line of trees, the locomotive has no protection; a previous chain-link enclosure has disappeared. A flimsy plywood barrier protects the cab only on one side. Access is easy on the engineer’s side away from the street. But there’s nothing to take, really — the 765 was picked clean of jewelry a long time ago. No headlight, no bell, no gauges, certainly no builder’s plate. Not even the barest suggestion of a sign to tell a visitor what they’re looking at. 

As anyone reading this knows, the 765 — like all steam locomotives — has a good story to tell.

The big Mikado had a plaque when it was first put on display on September 8, 1962, in a ceremony that included EJ&E President Thomas Beven and Gary Mayor George Chacharis. The J was a hometown powerhouse, owned for generations by U.S. Steel, one of the city’s largest employers. Proudly carrying the Chicago Outer Belt nickname, the railroad encircled Chicago in a 131-mile arc that at one point stretched from Porter, Ind., all the way up to Waukegan, Ill., with its main yard and shops in East Joliet.

The 765 was the perfect choice to represent EJ&E’s steam heritage. The J rostered a total of 80 2-8-2s over the years, purchased between 1913 and 1930, mostly from Alco but also 7 from Lima in 1923 and two classes from Baldwin in 1929 and 1930. Gary’s engine rolled out of the Eddystone plant in 1929, among a group of six engines numbered 761–766.

In happier times, the 765 hammers down the EJ&E at Frontenac, Ill., with a freight train for Joliet at 1 p.m. on November 11, 1947. Robert Milner
Those latter-day Mikes were beefy machines, each weighing in at 330,000 pounds, with rather large boilers for engines whose design traced back to the beginning of the superheater era. They delivered 58,707 pounds of tractive effort via 63-inch drivers and 28- by 30-inch cylinders. 

On any other railroad, the 765’s career might have ended in 1948 when the EJ&E dieselized. But U.S. Steel ownership meant a new lease on life when the 2-8-2 along with 25 other Mikes were shipped north to another USS road, Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range. Assigned to DM&IR class N6 in the new number series of 1312–1337, the 2-8-2s went to work in general switching service. They were removed from the roster in 1962.

The 765 had become DM&IR 1330 when veteran Minnesota photographer Bob Anderson caught up with the engine on August 22, 1959, as he visited the Missabe’s Mitchell terminal west of Hibbing.

“The railroad ran a fantrip that day to Mitchell and it was during the steel strike of 1959, so nothing was moving, at least iron ore anyway,” Bob told me. “The 1330 was parked at the enginehouse. Simply because it appeared serviceable and was there, I have to believe it was one of the last steamers used for switching the mines. By this date, there were enough SD9s to pretty well handle most of the yard and switch jobs.”

Not long thereafter, the 1330 made its transformation back to EJ&E 765. Sources indicate the city of Gary asked the railroad for a steam engine, and presumably took decent care of it for a while. But the city’s long decline after the 1970s obviously rendered the locomotive a low priority.

After the EJ&E dieselized in 1948, No. 765 was transferred to sister U.S. Steel road Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range, where it became DM&IR 1330. Robert C. Anderson
At least one legitimate party tried to rescue the 765. In the early 1980s, the Illinois Railway Museum fixed its acquisitive gaze on the 2-8-2 and made a push to bring it to Union. IRM General Manager Nick Kallas remembers staging a presentation to Gary’s City Council, back in the administration of Mayor Richard Hatcher.  

“At the time we didn’t have a 2-8-2 and the 765 would have been perfect,” Kallas recalls. “But they ultimately decided it was too much of a treasure, part of Gary’s heritage. Maybe they just didn’t want it to go to Illinois, a standard line we used to hear.”

It’s a shame really, because IRM had everything lined up perfectly. It would have been relatively easy to use panel track to back the engine out along U.S. 12 to a South Shore team track near the EJ&E. Both the J and Chicago & North Western agreed to move the engine to Union for free, via their interchange at West Chicago. “We were very disappointed,” says Kallas.

Walking around the derelict 765, I could feel Nick’s pain. The 765 deserves better, not just as a worthy machine but also as a symbol for a generation of EJ&E railroaders. How many times did they run her across the Milwaukee Road diamonds at Rondout, or replace her flues and turn her tires at Joliet, or switch her around the maze of tracks at Chicago’s South Works?

All that history deserves better representation than it’s getting at Gateway Park. I’m loathe to bash the city of Gary — it has more than its fair share of urban burdens. But once upon a time, the city wanted the 765 and accepted it with open arms. Steam locomotives — like all monuments — shouldn’t be rendered invisible.

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