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Riding trains at the Hesston Steam Museum 7/26/2015 and the trip home

by Chris Guenzler

Dave Smetko and I drove across Ohio stopping for a bathroom break and getting KFC Strips for lunch at an Oasis on the toll road. We made our way across Ohio then in Indiana stopped for petrol at a Speedway station before exiting the toll road at La Porte, then drove north to the Hesston Steam Museum. This was my second visit here but in 2013, they were not running although Elizabeth and I took pictures of everything here; go back to that story to see the equipment. This time I was going to ride all three gauges of trains at the Hesston Steam Museum.

Hesston Steam Museum History

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 in 1964, purchased a steam locomotive from Elliott Donnelley of Lake Forest, Illinois who took an interest in the accomplishments at Hesston. With his generous financial assistance, during 1965 to 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 years old, CSK was immediately placed in the shop for cleaning and inspection. It was fired up for the first time ever 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 Trips

Dave and I pulled into the Hesston Steam Railroad parking lot and we heard a whistle; I saw a train along the south of the property and walked over to get my first pictures of a train at this museum.

The 24 inch gauge steam train ran along the south side of the property.

This train arrived at the station and Ted Rita gave Dave and I one ticket each to ride a train here.

This was our first train we rode the 7.5" gauge track which takes you just over a mile on your ride.

The station area from where the 7.5" gauge departs. The train left here and now we will take a ride. They allowed me take photographs from this train, something you can not normally do.

I hope you enjoyed your ride on the smallest gauge railroad at the Hesston Museum. Now we walked over to the main station area where I bought Dave and I all the tickets we needed to ride the other two gauges.

Stet and Query Central 24" gauge 4-6-4 1 built by Wagner and Sons in 1938 which used to be at the Fun Fair Amusement Park, and was Mr. Donnelly's first one-quarter scale locomotive, arrived into the station.

The engineer must lubricate the steam engine as is done with the full-size ones such as Nickel Plate Road 765 which we rode yesterday.

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

Trains of both gauges side by side. We boarded the 36" inch gauge train which gives you the longest ride at the Hesston Steam Museum at 2.5 miles. Sit back, relax and take a ride aboard this train.

First we see a 7.5" gauge train depart.

I hoped you enjoyed your ride aboard the 36 inch train ride at the Hesston Steam Museum.

Flying Dutchman Railroad 15 had pulled our train. Now we had one last gauge to ride here which was the 24 inch train, whose ride is just over a mile long.

The 36 inch gauge train departed first on their final runs of the afternoon. Now sit back, relax and enjoy the final train ride of the day on the 24 inch gauge train.

Chesapeake and Ohio caboose 90345 built by American Car and Foundry in 1949, painted as Chicago, South Shore and South Bend 345. I hope you enjoyed your ride behind Stet and Query Central 1. A special thank you to the Hesston Steam Museum for having us here today.

Dave and I headed back towards the toll road and when we neared the South Shore Railroad bridge over our highway, I said, "Never a train when you need one!" Just then we saw a headlight coming our way and we pulled off the highway.

A South Shore Line train returns to Chicago from South Bend. What were the odds that we would catch a train here on a Sunday afternoon at the time we were here? We were both amazed at our luck. We returned to the toll road and made our way back to Dave's home in Streamwood which was not an easy journey. First we had to take a detour via Interstate 79 then hit bumper-to-bumper traffic as there were just too many cars on the road. Once we got on the Tri-State Tollway, we moved right along and Dave and I used the brand new connection on the O'Hare-Elgin Expressway, arriving at Dave's house at 7:23 PM, ending an excellent trip together. Cathy had steaks ready so it was a good dinner then I finished the NKP 765 trip story before falling asleep in the Tigger Room.

7/27/2015 Dave awoke me at 5:00 AM and drove me back to the Metra Hanover Park station where I waited 25 minutes for Metra 2204 to take me back into Chicago. It run as an express train after Bensenville so was a quick good ride into the Windy City called Chicago. My first stop was the Amtrak ticket counter where I bought a roundtrip to Milwaukee just to kill some time this morning. Next I went to the Metropolition Lounge where I checked in for Train 3 then labelled the Hesston pictures and started writing the story until the Red Cap arrived so I could check my bigger piece of luggage.

I went to McDonald's for hot cakes and sauage then waited to board my train to Milwaukee. I was doing this for the ride as well as the Guest Reward points I would receive. I called Keith Schmidt in Milwaukee to let him know I was coming his way then boarded the train and wrote the Hesston story as I headed north. I finished after then train entered Wisconsin and we stopped at the Milwaukee Airport stop and a few minutes later, arrived at the Milwaukee Amtrak station which was under construction. When I detrained and detoured around the back of the train, I stopped for this picture.

My Hiawatha Service train in Milwaukee. I went into the station but had no luck getting on-line. Here you line up to go out to the train when the construction foreman comes to get you. The Wifi on the train did not work so I could not upload my next story and the train lost twenty minutes because of track work and freight train interference. We arrived in Chicago and I went straight to Gold Coast for two Char dogs which I took back to the lounge then accessed the Internet and uploaded this story so far. Elizabeth sent me the corrections and I uploaded them, then surfed the Internet, learning that the eastbound Southwest Chief, due in at 11:15 PM tonight, had major engine problems and our train should meet them between Fort Madison and La Plata. I packed and the conductor scanned my ticket before I was first in line to go out to the train then everyone walked out to the Southwest Chief and I was first to board my sleeper for the trip home.

Southwest Chief 3 7/27/2015

This version of the Southwest Chief had Engines 4 and 91, baggage 1731, transition 39032, sleeper 32016 "Pennsylvania", 32111 "Texas", diner 38031, lounge 33041 and coaches 34094, 34134, 31029 and 34027. I was in Room 10 of "Texas" and Lucy was my sleeping car attendant for this trip. The train left Chicago on time as I watched my new DVD "Wheeling through the Rathole featuring the Nickel Plate Road Berkshire 765". It took us 50 minutes to just get to Naperville and I received a 5:00 PM dinner reservation and after that DVD, I put on my CD of "Young Dubliners With All Due Respect".

I went to dinner and had the Flat Iron steak and the Tiramisu dessert cup, after which I took a fresh air break at Fort Madison just before the rain started. We then hit heavy showers and were slowed by a flash flood warning as I watched a concert. It amazed me just how much water there was as every stream or river was flooding the surrounding low countryside. We made it back to track speed at Gibbs and then stopped at La Plata. I had put on Ian Anderson "Homo Erraticus", and just west of La Plata we met the 10+ hours late eastbound Southwest Chief. I finished the CD then called it a night.

7/28/2015 I awoke 7:00 AM CDT and after cleaning up, went straight to the dining car for my breakfast of French Toast and bacon then made up my room and listened to some music which included the Scorpions' "Pure Instinct" and Aerosmith's "Music From Another Dimension". We stopped at La Junta and I reported to the conductor the sewage smell that had been recirclating through the car since Chicago and also called Amtrak Customer Service. I had been in this same car, "Texas", on a round trip from Los Angeles to New Orleans and the car did that the whole trip both ways several years ago. They said they would work on it at Albuquerque.

The train left La Junta 35 minutes late and I put on my Queensyche "Empire" CD. I learned that that Southwest Chief we passed last night west of La Plata arrived in Chicago at 3:32 AM, well over 12 hours late. Our train next arrrived in Trinidad and I put on my Metallica "Death Magnetic" CD for the trip over Raton Pass into New Mexico and a fresh air break at Raton where all the Boy Scouts detrained. After La Junta I ran my AVG 2015 and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware programs and my laptop was in prefect shape. We climbed Raton Pass, entered New Mexico and went through through the Raton Tunnel before the train dropped to Raton and I took my fresh air break.

Later I had a 12:30 PM lunch reservation, seated with a family going to Dana Point from Michigan. I had the Angus Beef Burger along with vanilla ice cream. While I did that I charged my cell phone then watched another concert on my computer. Meanwhile, the train stopped in Las Vegas, then run by Starvation Peak, did the Chapple "S" curves, crossed the Pecos River then climbed Glorieta Pass. The eastbound train was running 48 minutes late so the meet should be at Fox today and we went by them at track speed; that train had two private cars on the rear end.

We climbed the rest of the way to Glorieta then dropped through Canyoncito and Apache Canyon to our next stop at Lamy. I talked with good friend Randy Jackson on the phone and we caught up on things on the way to Albuquerque, our next fresh air break. I put on my CD of Jethro Tull "A Passion Play" and the train arrived there at 4:34 PM and I took a fresh air break. The maintenence crew came onto the train and he threw a switch which was in the wrong position. The train departed at 5:14 {4:45PM} and was on its way to Gallup. I had a 5:30 dinner reservation and enjoyed the Flat Iron steak, seated with an actor from Chicago taking his first train ride, a philosopher from Modesto and my friend going to Phoenix.

After dinner, I put on the DVD "Keith Emerson Band in Moscow" and we reached Gallup with no delays, departing there at 7:37 PM, 29 minutes late. I then watched the movie "Evolution", during which the train stopped in Winslow. At Flagstaff I took a fresh air break then an acquaintance from Trainorders, Danny, came riding up on his bicycle for a visit. We left Flagstaff at 9:21 PM, 26 minutes late and I made up my bed for the last night on the train.

7/29/2015 I arose just while the train was stopped before San Bernardino along Cajon Boulevard and packed up my room. We were delayed by freight train interfrence just a mile from the station platform at San Bernardino and once there, I took a final fresh air break. We left there at 6:25 AM {5:32 AM} and next ran to Riverside. From there it was a great ride through Santa Ana Canyon and on into Fullerton, where I detrained this morning. It had been another great trip aboard the Southwest Chief. I walked across the bridge to wait for my Pacific Surfliner back to Santa Ana and made it with three minutes to spare.

Pacific Surfliner 564 7/29/2015

I was welcomed aboard Pacific Business Class by Conductor Victor D'Agostino II and it was a quick ride through Anaheim to Santa Ana where I detrained a very happy passenger. It had been a great trip with Fostoria Iron Triangle Park, Nickel Plate Road 765 and finally riding all the gauges at the Hesston Steam Museum plus two great Southwest Chief trips. Now it is time to rest. I took a taxi home ending this fantastic trip.