City agrees to sell Soo Line 4-6-2 to Lake Superior Railroad Museum

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2007 September 09 120
No. 2719 crosses the French River on the North Shore Scenic Railroad in 2007. The city of Eau Claire agreed on Tuesday to sell the locomotive to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum that operates the North Shore Scenic.
Steve Glischinski
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. – After a long evening filled with discussions, tabled motions and last minute negotiations, Eau Claire City Council members say they will sell Soo Line 4-6-2 No. 2719 to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum – with one big condition.

Under terms of the resolution passed by the City Council Tuesday evening, the City will purchase the locomotive from the Eau Claire-based Locomotive & Tower Preservation Fund and immediately sell it to the railroad museum. The city retains repurchase rights for three years for any reason and at any time.

As part of the agreement, the museum said it would design and pay for signage at Eau Claire’s Carson Park, where the engine was displayed for decades, giving the history of the engine, its significance to local rail history, and its current location.

Soo Line management gave the locomotive to the city in 1960. The city sold it to Eau Claire’s Locomotive & Tower Preservation Fund in 1996. The preservation fund restored the locomotive to operating condition, but leased it to the Lake Superior museum in 2006 because no railroad near Eau Claire was willing to let the engine operate over its tracks. The city retained an option to repurchase No. 2719 from the preservation fund for $1 and return it to Eau Claire. That option would have expired June 30. The city plans to sell the locomotive to the museum for $2.

Restoration and recent history
The Locomotive & Tower Preservation Fund restored the locomotive in the 1990s by raising its own funds and with money from the Federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act. Since state and federal monies were involved, the city of Eau Claire was approached and sponsored the project. The contract to rebuild the engine was between the city and the contractor.

Restoration was completed in 1998, and for the next four years, the engine made several trips over Wisconsin Central and short line Wisconsin Great Northern. But when Canadian National purchased WC in 2001, main line trips came to an end. It was stored in the Union Pacific roundhouse in Altoona, Wis., until the building was torn down in 2004. The engine then sat outside in UP’s Altoona Yard until it was leased and moved to Duluth in December 2006. The engine returned to service in 2007, and made regular trips on the museum’s 26-mile North Shore Scenic Railroad between Duluth and Two Harbors, Minn.

On Sept. 14, 2013, the Pacific-type engine made its last run when it came due for its federally mandated 1,472-day inspection. Since it does not own the locomotive, the museum decided to focus its efforts on another steam engine in its collection, Duluth & Northeastern 2-8-0 No. 28, and No. 2719 was stored. The museum says when No. 28 comes due for its federally inspection in 15 years, No. 2719 will be returned to service in its place.

Nitty gritty and what's next
On Tuesday, City Council members said they wanted to give local groups more time to develop viable proposals to restore and return the engine to the Eau Claire area. While no such proposals have currently been put forward, council members indicated they had heard from constituents that they wanted more time to do so. 

As a result, two council members offered an amendment that called for the preservation fund and the museum to continue their lease agreement for three to five years to allow local groups more time to return the engine to the city. However, Eau Claire City Attorney Stephen Nick pointed out there were several legal problems with the wording of the amendment. The council tabled discussion, and Nick quickly conferred with Lake Superior Executive Director, Ken Buhler, who says the museum could not agree to a lease. Instead, Nick and Buehler agreed to the three-year buy back arrangement. The council then resumed discussion and approved the resolution and amendment by unanimous vote.

The Board of Directors of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum must still approve the agreement before it is final.

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