Lichter's lesson: 'Talk'

A steam locomotive owner reminisces as crews load his charge for shipment west
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Roland "Skip" Lichter standing in front of his locomotive, Polson Logging 2-8-2 No. 2 on Tuesday, Oct. 3. The locomotive will depart North Freedom, Wis., this week for Oregon and a new place to operate.
TRAINS: Steve Sweeney
NORTH FREEDOM, Wis. — Ask, and Skip Lichter will likely answer.

Is there a lesson to what happened with his locomotive?

“Talk. Sit down and talk. Sit down and discuss things,” Lichter says. “That’s the lesson for every outfit in the country.”

For those who are uninitiated, Lichter’s Polson Lumber 2-8-2 No. 2, formerly motive power for a list of defunct Pacific Northwest logging railroads, and the long-gone Cadillac & Lake City Railway in Michigan, is leaving its Wisconsin home of 35 years for Oregon after a bitter legal dispute.

Right, wrong, or otherwise, Lichter wanted to operate a locomotive that he owns exclusively on museum property. Museum board members had other plans.

Once an arbitrator ruled in Lichter’s favor and awarded him costs to move the locomotive anywhere in the country, he took bids.

“I had 23 inquiries, I visited 9 places. I boiled it down to three. And two of them took themselves out by their own positions,” he says. “I went to Florida, Cleveland (Ohio). I was up north … I was all the way out West. I did a lot of investigation…”

Ultimately he chose to move the locomotive to the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad where, among other things, the railroad has access to a World War II blimp hangar for dry storage. And talking about that brought a smile to his face Tuesday, while a core crew of four from Oregon worked with local volunteers to load the locomotive onto a trailer. When there was a pause in activity, or it looked like the crew might be puzzled, Lichter offered advice, turned bolts, and moved a skid-steel full of wood shims. He pulled away, finally, and said something about “experts” having things under control.

He talked with his friends on Tuesday, men such as Carl Ulrich, for instance. He’s the man who brought the locomotive in from Michigan. Besides getting a deal by buying it for scrap value, Ulrich has a golden story about going around freight agents directly to a yardmaster to get the engine moved on a Lake Michigan car ferry.

And Lichter talked to Ken Hojnacki, who claims the distinction of being the last person to operate the locomotive on steam or compressed air at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom. He spoke with Ken Ristow, a steam locomotive engineer by profession who splits his time between full-size engines and well-patronized Milwaukee County Zoo trains. He’s worked on No. 2 with Skip for years and hates to see the engine leave.

Other men who showed to watch Tuesday’s process say they’re Mid-Continent museum members and tell Trains News Wire they wish there was something they could have done.

Leaning on a car in the parking lot near the No. 2, Lichter said he’s moving on. Even if it weren’t for the litigation, it’s clear from stories he tells that bad feelings between him and museum folks had welled up in him for years.

Just then, his daughter, Jill, walked up and said crews were about to load No. 2’s tender on a flatbed. Another story about Lichter raising his children at the museum emerged — they all grew up there with the trains as kids, he said.

And he turns and asks a favor, to visit Oregon and see it run.

OK, it’s a plan.
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