Big Steam look ahead to 2018

Locomotives ready for main line excursions or major overhauls in the coming year; Santa Fe power looks to tip the scales
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SteamAhead765
Nickel Plate Road No. 765 inches closer to the platforms at Metra's LaSalle Street Station in Chicago on June 17.
TRAINS: Steve Sweeney
This year, 2017, brought many chances to see big steam locomotives making excursions onto main lines. While it is too early in the operating season for most organizations to announce their operating schedule, steam aficionados can count on some old favorites returning to the rails in 2018 and some underrepresented organizations attempting to organize more frequent excursions.

For starters, the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society is developing plans to take the Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 out on the road again in 2018. Vice President Kelly Lynch says that the organization is planning several excursions in the coming year and is considering opportunities to take the locomotive to Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri.

“About half of the possible locations are places to which we have been before, but some of them are new,” Lynch says. “We had been considering going to some of these destinations in 2017, but we ran out of time to do the marketing. It didn't look like we were going to have our ducks in a row soon enough to allow for that if we had tried those additional excursions in 2017.”

A little further west, Santa Fe 4-6-2 No. 3415, operated by the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad in Abilene, Kan., will continue to pull regularly scheduled excursion trains, and will participate in additional trains scheduled on holidays and for special occasions. Smoky Valley’s Manager Mary Jane Oard says that the train is also available for private charters, and that the group is actively seeking volunteers to expand its operational capacity.

Next year will also see the Southern Pacific 4-8-4 Daylight No. 4449 return to the rails at least to head the Christmas Trains. Martin Hansen, counsel for the Oregon Railroad Heritage Foundation, tells Trains News Wire that there may be additional trips at some point in 2018, but the organization is not ready to release details. Hansen also says that work to restore the Spokane, Portland & Seattle 4-8-4 No. 700 will continue through the year.
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Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 steams westbound through Augusta, Minn., on Sept. 30.
Steve Glischinski
The Friends of the 261, operators of the Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261, maintained a busy operating schedule in 2017 and plan to expand upon it in 2018.

“In 2018 we are planning more trips with 261,” Steve Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of the Friends of the 261, wrote in a recent membership update.”
Sandberg wrote that 261 equipment will be traveling west this winter, heading to a private event in Seattle on Jan. 27, 2018, with tickets available to 261 group members and their friends.

In 2017, certain locomotives that rarely travel beyond their home grounds ventured farther into the field. In August, the Steam Locomotive Heritage Association in Hartford, Wis., took the Soo Line 2-8-2 No. 1003 to Chicago. The group doesn’t have any firm plans on the books this early in the 2018 season, but says that a large public turnout has encouraged them to consider a more frequent operating schedule.

“We saw a much higher turnout at this year's Santa Trains compared to previous years,” says Zach Hall, the association’s mechanical manager. “We think that a lot more people are getting interested in this locomotive now that they realize it exists, so we are hoping to create opportunities to bring it out more often in 2018."

Late in 2017, the Louisiana Steam Train Association, based in Jefferson, La., brought the Southern Pacific 2-8-2 No. 745 on a rare Christmas excursion into downtown New Orleans. The sold-out train and the reaction from onlookers demonstrated strong support for future excursions, Louisiana Steam Train Association president Richard Jacobs says.

“This locomotive was built locally and people were wiping tears off their faces because their dad or their grandfather had worked for the Southern Pacific,” Jacobs says. “So, we’ll definitely be pushing to do more events of this type. We will at least continue to fire the engine up quarterly and move it around our yard.”
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Santa Fe 4-8-4 No. 3751 on an excursion in California.
TRAINS: Jim Wrinn
The Federal Railroad Administration-mandated 1,472-day inspection has come due for at least one big steam locomotive, the Santa Fe 4-8-4 No. 3751, operated by the San Bernardino Railroad Historical Society in Los Angeles. The locomotive will be disassembled to permit a thorough visual and ultrasonic inspection of the boiler.

“The work will include a hydrostatic pressure test in order to check staybolts and seams,” says Wolf Fengler, a spokesperson for the group. “The information will be used to determine if any repairs are needed and recalculate boiler stresses as necessary to complete an updated Form 4 report for the FRA. The crew will also continue its evaluation of what may be needed to allow 3751 to be outfitted with PTC equipment. With the locomotive disassembled, the increased access will also be used to do a more in depth inspection of other systems as well with repairs affected as necessary.”

Fengler says that the “1,472” inspection process could be completed in as little as eight months if no significant flaws are discovered.

In Albuquerque, N.M., 2018 will bring the New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society closer to placing the Santa Fe 4-8-4 No. 2926 back to operating condition.

“Our all-volunteer crew has been busy installing steam and air lines in the cab for the bell ringer, stack lifter, dynamos, sanders and more,” says Mike Hartshorne, the association’s president. “Sheet metal and insulation for the boiler continue to be difficult work but progress is being made weekly. Plans are to make steam for testing of appliances after the holidays.”

The 2018 calendar year may hold even more excursions, as not all of the organizations Trains News Wire reached out to offered a comment. No matter how you slice the cake, big steam locomotives are looking to make a strong showing.
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