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Hesston Steam Museum 5/11/2013

by Chris Guenzler

After we finished up at Porter, Elizabeth and I drove out to the Hesston Steam Museum for our first visit to it.

When you drive in between the crossing gates this is the first thing you see.

You pass between these two unique objects.

Next you see these two signs.

Hesston Steam Museum History The Beginning

The desire of a few local steam buffs to perpetuate the use of steam power necessitated the purchase of suitable land for an annual reunion. Twenty-two acres (our present main show grounds) was purchased and hundreds of thorn apple trees cleared. A dam was built in Mud Creek to form Duck Lake as a source of water for the engines. The group, then called La Porte County Threshermen, held their first show and reunion in 1957. Traction engines were the main feature and provided most of the power. A sawmill was added in 1959, the electric plant in 1961 and the Browning crane in 1962. At the suggestion of Bruce Achor, a couple of members purchased a steam locomotive from Elliott Donnelley of Lake Forest, Ilinois in 1964, who took an interest in the accomplishments at Hesston. With his generous financial assistance, during 1965-1968, the remainder of our 155 acre site was purchased and a unique dual gauge (24"/36") railroad was constructed. The La Porte County Historical Steam Society, Inc. was chartered as a not-for-profit organization on December 16, 1968 and the original La Porte County Threshermen club was absorbed and dissolved. In 1969, IRS granted recognition as a 501(c)-3 not-for-profit corporation.

The Railroad

Weekend (Memorial Day to Labor Day) operation of the railroad began in 1969. Additional buildings were erected and more equipment arrived for restoration and exhibit each year. The Shay locomotive restoration was completed and dedicated August 30, 1975. Unfortunately, Mr. Donnelley passed away in late December 1975. His family donated the 14" gauge railroad that had operated on his Lake Forest estate and it was removed by society members during 1976 and moved to the steam grounds. Construction on the new site started in 1977. Completion in July 1982 was marked with a Golden Spike ceremony.

A Tragic Fire

A $2.5 million fire on May 26, 1985 destroyed most of the large railroad equipment. Nine cars, the Henschel, and a diesel locomotive, along with many tools and small parts were lost. Also badly damaged were the Shay, Porter and India locomotives. Members purchased two Plymouth gasoline locomotives and with a Melodia coach purchased with a grant from the La Porte County Tourism and Convention Bureau, railroad operation (but not steam) resumed in time for the 1985 show. In early 1986, permission was received from the insurance company to begin salvage operations.

The India locomotive was bulldozed out of the engine house rubble on March 13, 1986 and taken to the main shop for restoration. Just 89 days later, it was back on the rails and under steam. The next day, construction started on two 24" gauge passenger cars. Dr. George Mohun of Novato California contacted us, offering four locomotives and eight flat cars, the remains of the Mecklenburg Pommersche Schmall Spurbahn Railroad in East Germany, intended for a steam tourist railway near San Francisco. This railroad was never constructed and the equipment was stored on his ranch for 17 years. After an inspection trip, funds were borrowed and the equipment was purchased.

The equipment arrived on April 14, 1987. The brand-new, yet 47-year-old, CSK was immediately placed in the shop for cleaning and inspection. It was fired up for the first time in August 1987 and now serves as our regular locomotive for weekend operation. The India locomotive was retired in 1988 after a crack developed in the copper firebox, not quite making it to 100 years of operation. In 1990 the Orenstein & Koppel 0-8-0 was moved to the shop for a heavy restoration. In 1997 it was temporarily de-superheated, and in 1998 was reflued by the Hesston shop crew. Also in 1998, work started on construction of an enclosed passenger coach for the 24" line. In November 1998, two 36" gauge passenger coaches were purchased and transported from Cedar Point at Sandusky, Ohio.

Our Visit

We checked in for our visit and were told to look around the grounds and car houses all we wanted.

This steam tractor sits out near the parking area.

This soda fountain would be finished by next week's opening of the Hesston Steam Museum.

Three steam tractors are uncovered in this building.

This little Whitcomb switcher needs a lot of work.

Views of two of the three tractors.

Views of the Hesston grounds.

Chesapeake and Ohio caboose 90345 built by American Car and Foundry in 1949, painted as Chicago, South Shore and South Bend 345, is on display here.

The Hesston sawmill.

100 Years of power.

A crane.

A steam device of some kind.

A locomotive boiler.

A small water tower.

13hesston Jct.

The duck pond.

View of the grounds.

Three gauges of track used at Hesston.

The smallest gauge railroad station at Hesston.

100 Years of power.

Flat car with a load.

The main station here.

There is a covered open air waiting area.

A baggage cart.

Another baggage cart and scales.

The Cider Shed.

This view shows all the gauges of track used at Hesston.

Steamroller and a tree in bloom.

More steam tractors undercover.

The lumber shed at Hesston.

These Niagara steam engines came from Kiddieland in Chicago.

Looking down on the cars.

This car also came from Kiddieland in Chicago.

Some of the regular flight of cars used at Hesston.

A stock car.

A caboose.

More passenger cars.

Stet & Query Central 5.

A view of the storage shed. We walked over to another of the storage sheds.

More steam engines were here.

A little of the Hesston history on the wall.

A Hesston scene.

View looking down on the stations.

View of the smallest gauge train storage shed.

An Amtrak unit.

Men at work.

That engine belongs to this Erie car body.

Duck Lake.

East Southern Mail.

Hesston Junction Station.

The smallest train station.

Rules of the Hesston Steam Museum train rides.

Adolf Myer 0-4-0T 4 built by Skoda in 1940. In 1971, it was sold to the George Mohun Steam Museum and later acqured by Hesston.

Mecklenburg Pommersche Schmalspurbahn 0-8-0 99-3361 built by MBA in 1938. It was acquired by Hesston in 1989 after being at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri since 1972.

New Mexico Lumber 3-truck Shay 7 built by Lima in 1929. In 1931, it was sold to dealer Hofius Steel and Equipment Company in Seattle, Washington then 1937, it was sold as Oregon Lumber Company 7 in Baker, Oregon. In 1960, the company merged to be Edward Hines Lumber Company. The engine was sold in 1964 to Elliott Donnelley in Hill City, South Dakota. It was leased to the Black Hills Central as their 77 then in 1970, moved to Hesston and later donated to the LaPorte County Historical Steam Society.

Switcher of unknown origin.

United Fruit 2-6-0 17 built by H.K. Porter in 1920 as Cia. Agricola del Panama 63 in Boca de Toro, Panama. In 1957, it was transferred to Cia. Agricola de Guatemala 17 in Bocar del Tjora, Guatemala. Then in 1965, it was sold to Donald Gilmore.

Hickory Corners Central tender.

Flying Dutchman Railroad DDT 12 ton switcher 15, built by Plymouth in 1958 for Silcott/Carpenter Steel.

The Oregon Lumber Company on the tender on the other side of the New Mexico Lumber Three Truck Shay 7.

One last view of the larger locomotive shed.

Dual gauge track. With that last picture it was now time to leave the Hesston Steam Museum and we headed towards North Judson, but stopped at Michigan City.

Here is the old Michigan Central station built in 1915. We stopped at Arby's to pick up lunch before driving down to North Judson for our first of the Bart Jennings trips. At the junction of the road into North Judson, we pulled over to call Let's Talk Trains, after which we drove the rest of the way to North Judson.