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Train Festival 2009 ~ July 23rd to 26th, 2009

by Elizabeth Guenzler

For four days in late July, the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan hosted Train Festival 2009. It was organized by Jason Johnson with many partnering organizations and started out as a fundraiser for the overhaul of Pere Marquette 2-8-4 1225. This turned out to be a gathering of steam engines from throughout the country, with Nickel Plate 765, Southern Pacific 4449, the newly-built Leviathan 63, Flagg Coal 75, Little River 110, Viscose 6 and other tank engines making the journey to Michigan. But it was far from just steam engines on display. Hourly and all-day rides, live steam, model railoads, shop tours, caboose and handcar rides were available and there was something for everyone, not only those interested in railways. Over the four days, 30,000 people attended the event.

When Train Festival 2009 was announced, it was definitely an event that I wanted to attend. I was very relieved that it was not happening until July as my ability to cross the border for the first five months of the year was non-existent while I waited for approval of my fiancee visa application to move from Victoria, British Columbia to Lynnwood, Washington. This move occurred in June so I was settled by the time Train Festival occurred. Chris Guenzler was going to be attending as well and we made plans to ride the two all-day and one hourly trips together.

Bob and I started this journey on July 22nd, flying to Chicago and going to Comiskey Park for a Chicago White Sox vs. Tampa Bay Devil Rays game. The next day we rented a car and drove to Michigan.

The first stop was Durand to visit Durand Union Station which was not open when I visited before.

Myself in front of the Durand Union Station sign. We then drove into Owosso and checked into the hotel.

A very fitting welcome sign to the City of Owosso.

Station sign on the former Grand Trunk Western station in Owosso.

The Grand Trunk Western station which is now an Elks Lodge.

July 24th

After breakfast at Bob Evans, we drove to Train Festival and checked in.

My admission ticket to Train Festival 2009. We found the boarding area for the hourly trips led by Little River 4-6-2 110. Chris met us here and soon we were aboard for new mileage and a new steam engine.

My hourly train ride ticket.

Little River 110 and the train curving to Henderson on the hourly trips.

Looking to the rear of the train with Great Lakes Central GP35 385 bringing up the rear.

The passenger cars used for the hourly excursions were a mixture of former Metra (nee Chicago, Burlington and Quincy) bi-level cars and VIA (Canadian National) coaches that the Steam Railroading Institute owns.

An agricultural scene between Owosso and Henderson.

Two views of the return trip.

Little River 4-6-2 110 at rest between trips. We then wandered throughout the grounds.

Southern Railway FP9 6133, owned by the North Carolina Transportation Museum, made the trip to Owosso for display and tour. The locomotive was built by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors in 1950. Operated by the Southern Railway, it was the property of the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific. 6133 was donated to the North Carolina Transportation Museum in 1980 and restored by the volunteers to its original green/ imitation aluminum paint scheme.

The display board about Southern Railway 6133. Each locomotive at Train Festival had these signs which I was very impressed with.

A small-scale replica of Norfolk and Western 611 was most unique.

611 steams!

Nickel Plate 2-8-4 765. It was one of the Berkshire fleet known for its "superpower" technology and aesthetic charm. Once a fast-freight and passenger engine for the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad - more commonly known as the Nickel Plate Road - the 765 is now a celebrated icon of American innovation and goodwill ambassador. Powered exclusively by volunteers as part of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society's educational programs, the locomotive has been restored to the way it looked and sounded when it was originally built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1944.

The plaque, mounted on the tender of 767/765, explaining the locomotive's preservation in 1963 as a "monument to a great period of development in our country -- the era of steam railroading." In the 1940's and 50's, the City of Fort Wayne, Indiana and the Nickel Plate Road sustained an interesting love-hate relationship. The iron roadbeds of the Nickel Plate, New York Central, Wabash and Pennsylvania railroads surrounded Fort Wayne. The Nickel Plate was nestled within the city; its West Wayne Yards were only blocks from downtown. The railroad's busy route on the northern end of the city kept Fort Wayne from expanding and persisted to displease motorists, who were constantly held up by the trains. Fort Wayne had already dealt with the problems inherent with ground level roadbed, as the Pennsylvania and Wabash to the south had elevated their tracks decades prior. To the north, a heated battle between the railroad and city ensued for years, with citizens chanting, "Elevate the Nickel Plate!"

With ground broken in 1947, the elevation of the Nickel Plate Road began in 1953 and ended in 1955 with a formal celebration that saw Nickel Plate Berkshire 767 parade across the elevated tracks, breaking a ribbon among station platforms crowded with spectators. A less informal event had been held some time before, when Nickel Plate Berkshire 765 became the first actual train to traverse the new rails. After earning the reputation as the "best of the west end" on the Fort Wayne Division, Berkshire 765 had been stored during its retirement in the enginehouse of the Nickel Plate Road in Fort Wayne. At the end of the steam era, several of the eminent Nickel Plate Berkshires locomotives were stored at the Nickel Plate's relatively new East Wayne yards, which had replaced the cramped quarters of the more urban West Wayne. Both 765 and 767 were among the sleeping sisters in the engine house and after sufficient slumber, 765 was fired up in 1958 to supply heat to a stranded passenger train in Fort Wayne. As other steam locomotives were scrapped, the engine would be saved at the request of the city that had once demanded the trains off the streets.

The City had asked for 767, but 765 proved to be in much better cosmetic and mechanical condition and, unlike other engines on the Nickel Plate, had been stored indoors for several years. During an inspection, 765 was deemed to be an ideal candidate for donation to the City of Fort Wayne. The roundhouse was asked to quietly change the locomotives' numbers and 765 -- renumbered as 767 -- was placed on display in Lawton Park within sight of the Nickel Plate elevation in May 1963. The real 767 was scrapped in Chicago in 1964. Fort Wayne's engine became a downtown showpiece, but after years of exposure to the elements, a group of local enthusiasts formed the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society to secure the locomotive for restoration. Seven days shy of the locomotive's 35th birthday on September 1st, 1979, 765 moved under its power for the first time in twenty-one years. The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society had become the first non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation in the world to restore and operate a mainline steam locomotive.

After a series of test runs on the Toledo, Peoria & Western in 1980, 765 would begin its rise to stardom as a fan trip favorite. Leased by the Southern Railroad for 22 trips in 1982, the locomotive earned its stripes on routes through mountainous terrain and rocketed across the midwest in later excursions out of Chicago, Fort Wayne, Cincinnati, and Buffalo, New York, to name a few. 765's reach extended as far east as New Jersey and south to Georgia, and found a calling on the head-end of the New River Trains through West Virginia, carrying behind it the longest passenger train excursions in history. Throughout the 1980's and early 90's, the FWRHS successfully partnered with CSX, New Jersey Transit and Norfolk Southern. 765 was also seen in the company of other locomotives such as Nickel Plate 587 and Norfolk & Western "Northern" 611 and their respective caretakers.

For 14 years, the locomotive proudly displayed the sights, sounds and smells of a bygone era of railroading, accumulating over 52,000 miles service entertaining and educating hundreds of thousands. In 1993, the 765 entered the shop for a complete overhaul that has since returned the engine to the condition it was in when it was first constructed. In 2005, a freshly rebuilt 765 left the restoration shop, on its way to make railroad history once again. In 2012, it became the first steam locomotive in over 25 years to traverse railroad landmark Horseshoe Curve in Altoona Pennsylvania and in 2016, topped 70 miles per hour on an excursion outside Chicago. Between 2012 and 2015, the 765 operated as part of Norfolk Southern's 21st Century Steam Program.

Myself in front of this steam engine that I would be riding behind for the first time tomorrow.

The cab area of Nickel Plate 765.

The builder's plate of the steam engine.

The display sign of 765.

Two Lima Locomotive Works products - Nickel Plate 2-8-4 765 and Pere Marquette 4-8-2 1225.

Pere Marquette 2-8-4 1225. The largest and most impressive piece in the Steam Railroading Institute's collection, it is one of the largest operating steam locomotives in Michigan. 1225 was built in October 1941 by the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio for the Pere Marquette Railway. The locomotive was used for ten years between Detroit, Toledo, Flint, Saginaw, Grand Rapids and Chicago; hauling fast freight for the products of Michigan factories and farms, including war material when Detroit was the "Arsenal of Democracy", producing huge volumes of vehicles, aircraft and armaments. The Pere Marquette Railway merged with the Chesapeake and Ohio in 1947, but the 1225 continued in service until its retirement in 1951 in favour of diesel locomotives. In 1957, the locomotive was saved with the help of Forest Akers; Dodge Motors' Vice President and Michigan State University Trustee, who saw it as a real piece of machinery for Engineering students to study. Displayed as an icon of the steam era, it sat at MSU until 1969, when a group of students took an interest in the locomotive. The Michigan State University Railroad Club was formed at that time with the ambitious goal of restoring 1225 and using it to power excursion trains that would bring passengers to football games at the university. In 1982, under the newly-evolved Michigan State Trust for Railway Preservation Inc, the donated locomotive was moved to the former Ann Arbor Railroad steam backshop in Owosso where the restoration continued until 1985 when it moved under its own power for the first in 34 years.

There was a continual stream of people wanting to go in the cab of all the engines and learn about them.

The display board about "The Polar Express Locomotive".

Flagg Coal 0-4-0 75 owned by John and Barney Gramling of Indiana. It is a 40 ton saddle tank locomotive built by Vulcan Iron Works of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvnia in 1930. No. 75 went into service in December 1930 as Flagg Coal Company 2 in Avoca, PA where it was used as a switch engine. In 1935 it was sold to the Solvay Process Co. in Jamesville, NY and renumbered 75. There, it was used to push four-wheel hopper cars from the steam shovel to the crusher at the rock quarry. In the early 1950's the Solvay Process Co. disbanded their railroad operation in favour of trucking and in 1953, No. 75 and twelve other locomotives were sold to Dr. Groman and his planned Rail City Museum in Sandy Pond, New York. There, the locomotive sat untouched until 1991 when John and Byron Gramling purchased it with the intent to restore it to operating condition. The father-son duo painstakingly disassembled the locomotive, moved it to their shop in Ashley, Indiana and over the course of the following ten years returned it to service, completing it in October 2001. Since then, the steam engine has since travelled as far as Florida, Michigan and North Carolina as a living, breathing ambassador of American steam railroading.

Another view of Flagg Coal 75 in steam.

The display board about this steam engine.

Southern Pacific 4-8-4 4449. It was built by Lima Locomotive Works in May 1941 and received the red-and-orange "Daylight" paint scheme for the passenger trains of the same name which it hauled for most of its service career. No. 4449 was retired from revenue service in 1957 and put into storage. In 1958 it was donated, by the railroad, to the City of Portland who then put it onstatic display in Oaks Park, where it remained until 1974. It was restored to operation for use in the second American Freedom Train, which toured the 48 contiguous United States for the American Bicentennial celebrations. Since then, 4449 has been operated in excursion service throughout the continental United States.

To travel to Owosso from Portland, Oregon was a huge undertaking which was jointly coordinated by The Steam Railroading Institute, The Friends of the 4449 and The Friends of the 261 of Minneapolis, MN. It travelled across the country on an Amtrak-sponsored trip hauling thousands of passengers going through such cities as Spokane, Fargo, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago and Lansing.

The display board about the Daylight locomotive.

Little River 0-4-0T 1. Not too much is known about this engine, including when it was exactly built, although the frame and wheels were built in 1908. It is most likely a combination of numerous locomotives of its type. No. 1 was purchased from the LaPorte County Steam Historical Society in LaPorte, Indiana in 2000 and after three years of restoration, made its first run in over 35 years in 2004. It serves as a back up to Little River 4-6-2 110 at the Little River Railroad in Coldwater, Michigan.

Close-up of the front of the steam engine.

Display board about the engine.

Little River 4-6-2 110. Built in 1991 for the Little River Railroad in Tennessee, it is now the main locomotive for the Little River Railroad in Coldwater. It is the flagship steam locomotive of this operation and was specially ordered by Colonel W. B. Townsend, so as to combine the power of a logging (Shay) locomotive with the speed of a traditional passenger train locomotive. It was further distinguished by the fact that it was the smallest Pacific type engine ever built in the United States to run on standard gauge track. During its many years of operation, No. 110 was in daily service. For instance, when Elkmont, a logging camp, became a tourist mecca, No. 110 made two round trips a day transporting tourists and vacationers between Walland and Elkmont. Each trip was twenty-six miles each way and the two daily trips from Walland to Elkmont were climbs of more than a thousand feet in elevation.

The builder's plate of Little River 110.

The display board about Little River 110.

Viscose 0-4-0T 6. It was built for the American Viscose Company in Roanoke, Virginia. and in the early 1960's it was sold to the Gem City Iron & Metal Company in Pulaski, Virgina. In September 2004, it was purchased by Scott Symans of Dunkirk, New York went through a three-year restoration to operating condition . Viscose Company 6 has been operated on the New York & Lake Erie Railroad out of Gowanda, New York on several occasions, as well as on the Lorain & West Virgina Railway in Wellington, Ohio.

The display board.

It was not just steam engines on display. Huron and Eastern GP40-2 9712, ex. Central Michigan 9712, nee CN 9654. Since 2009, it has been re-numbered 3036.

Grand Trunk Western bunk car 584388 was also available to tour.

Great Lakes Central GP35 391 (ex. Tuscola and Saginaw Bay 391, nee Ann Arbor 391).

A view of the Steam Railroading Institute grounds, with the turntable in foreground and the Great Lakes Central shops in the background.

Looking through the turntable. Built in 1919 with a 90-foot length, it was put in service on the Pere Marquette Railway at the engine terminal in New Buffalo, Michigan. It served a 16-stall roundhouse and was in use until 1984 when the Chessie System ceased operations at the terminal. Today, the relocated turntable functions much as it did during the steam era. The Steam Railroading Institute uses it to turn the equipment, provide service to the backshop, and for demonstrative purposes for visitors. Pere Marquette 1225 used this turntable during its service despite its short length. SRI, upon purchasing the turntable, added an additional ten feet to the length of the bridge making it easier to accommodate 1225 and other large steam locomotives and rolling stock.

Central Pacific 63 "Leviathan", a replica built to the same standard and patterns of the original 1868 Schnectedy Locomotive Works engine. Built by David Kloke, Train Festival 2009 was the debut of this steam engine. It was purchased by Stone Gable Estates in 2018 for operation on the Harrisburg, Lincoln and Lancaster Railroad in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. Stone Gable Estates relettered the locomotive as Pennsylvania Railroad No. 331, a now-scrapped steam locomotive that pulled Abraham Lincoln's funeral train.

The front of "Leviathan". We then made our way to the model railroad tent where layouts of various gauges were drawing spectators.

O Gauge model of Southern Pacific 4449.

There was a large train and city display made entirely of Lego.

O gauge model of a Chicago and North Western commuter train. Outside were even more trains.

Live steam miniature layout with a Shay-powered logging train. Then it was time to ride the live steam operations.

A 4-6-2 2936 and New York Central RS-3 8362.

Pennsylania Railroad 6347.

Another live steam engine.

Milwaukee Road 261 in live steam.

A Norfolk and Western leads a train around the tracks at the live steam area of Train Festival 2009.

Pennsylvania Railroad 8991.

Cocalamus Creek Trolley Company streetcar. This is live steam train that I chose to ride.

Myself enjoying my ride as captured on film by Bob Alkire.

A Norfolk and Western SD40 with a train load of passengers.

My second ride was behind the N&W SD40.

Souvenir/concession stands were also popular and Bob and I came away with several souvenirs from each of the groups. Here is the Steam Railroading Institute's tent.

The Friends of 4449 were well-represented.

Friends of 261 had a presence as well.

Click here for Part 2