Soo Line No. 2719 may return to Wisconsin for display

RELATED TOPICS: STEAM/PRESERVATION | MIDWEST
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Soo2719NorthShoreScenic
No. 2719 crosses the French River on Minnesota's North Shore Scenic Railroad in September 2007.
Steve Glischinski
DULUTH, Minn. – Soo Line 4-6-2 No. 2719, owned by the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth, may return to Eau Claire, Wis., for static display. Two members of the Eau Claire City Council, Dave Strobel and Jeremy Gragert, are sponsoring a resolution to repurchase the engine and bring it back to Eau Claire. The council will take public comment this evening, and vote on the resolution at its Tuesday afternoon legislative meeting. The resolution states that the city will seek an extension of the right to purchase the locomotive until Feb. 1, 2019, with an additional 120 days to move the locomotive from the museum. If LSRM won’t agree to the extension, the city would purchase the locomotive immediately. Strobel said he’d prefer the extension since it would allow time to develop a plan to move and house the locomotive locally.

According to city documents, it would cost an estimated $31,000 to move No. 2719 from Duluth to Eau Claire on a flat car, and another $59,500 to build a shelter to protect it. Strobel said the cost could be born by the city and private donors. However, in 2015 when the city first considered bringing it back to Eau Claire, officials estimated constructing a shelter for it could cost as much as $135,000.

The Pacific was on display in Carson Park in Eau Claire from 1960 until 1996, when it was removed and restoration work was begun by the the nonprofit Locomotive & Tower Preservation Fund. It was returned to service in 1998. The engine moved to Duluth in 2006, and operated on the museum’s North Shore Scenic Railroad from 2007 until it came due for its mandatory federal inspection and overhaul in September 2013.

The story of how 2719’s future may play out is a complex one that goes back to when the engine was removed from Carson Park and restored. The Locomotive & Tower Preservation Fund restored the locomotive 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. The engine was sold to the Locomotive & Tower Preservation Fund in 1996, but the city retained the right to purchase the engine back from the Fund for $1.

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, steam trips came to an end. No. 2719 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. The engine made its last run on Sept. 14, 2013, when it came due for its federally mandated inspection.

In 2015, the city regained title to the engine and considered moving it back to Eau Claire. Due to the cost of the move and erecting a shelter for it, the city instead elected to sell it to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum for $2, but with a stipulation it could repurchase the engine within three years. That three-year term is up Aug. 2.

Unsaid in any discussions has been future operation of the locomotive. The Lake Superior Railroad Museum currently operates Duluth & Northeastern 2-8-0 No. 28, which was restored to service in 2017. LSRM Executive Director Ken Buehler said the museum’s plan is to restore 2719 to service when No. 28 is due for its federally mandated inspection and overhaul. If the engine is returned to Eau Claire, it is unlikely to ever operate again.

No. 2719 was purchased from American Locomotive Co. in May 1923, at a cost of $47,091.64. No. 2719 and its sister No. 2718 (now on display at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wis.) gained a measure of fame pulling excursion trips in the late 1950s. The Minnesota Railfans’ Association chartered the two engines for several trips from Minneapolis into western Wisconsin. On June 21, 1959, No. 2719 pulled the last steam-powered train on the Soo Line, a round trip excursion from Minneapolis to Ladysmith, Wis.

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