Soo Line No. 2719 to stay in Duluth – for now

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No. 2719 leads a photo special at Palmers, Minn., on the North Shore Scenic Railroad on Sept. 8, 2011.
Steve Glischinski
DULUTH, Minn. – The City of Eau Claire has given up its effort to move Soo Line 4-6-2 No. 2719 from the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth back to the Wisconsin city. The engine was donated to the city by the Soo Line in 1960. Under terms of a contract with the city reached in 2015, the locomotive was sold to the museum for $2, but with the stipulation that Eau Claire could repurchase the engine within three years. In August 2018 the city of exercised its option to repurchase the locomotive, paving the way for the eventual move of the Pacific back for display. The locomotive has been in Duluth since 2006, and operated on the museum’s North Shore Scenic Railroad from 2007 to 2013.

After it repurchased the engine, the city estimated the cost of the moving it to Eau Claire at around $35,000, but the museum had gotten quotes that put the cost to load and move it by flatcar at close to $120,000. Then the city would have had to build a structure for the engine and get it from the railhead to the display area.

Bowing to financial reality, the city council has passed a resolution that would allow the engine to stay in Duluth, under certain conditions. The resolution directed city staff to retain ownership of the engine but to seek a long-term lease with a viable organization – it does not specify Lake Superior Railroad Museum. The lease would require the engine to be brought to operating status in three to five years, and that the lease not be longer then 20 years. At the end of its operating life, the resolution said, the engine should be returned to Eau Claire.

The sticking point for the museum could be a lease. If Duluth doesn’t want to lease it and if future negotiations fail, the city stipulated it will issue could a request for proposals for either a long-term lease agreement or even a buyer from other organization, the resolution said.

Ken Buehler, Lake Superior Railroad Museum executive director, says a meeting with members of his board of the directors and the city is scheduled for April 26. “We are negotiating a lease, but in the past the museum board of directors has favored ownership of the engine,” Buehler says.

The Soo purchased No. 2719 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.

The Pacific was on display in Carson Park in Eau Claire from 1960 until 1996, when it was removed and the nonprofit Locomotive & Tower Preservation Fund began restoration work. It was returned to service in 1998. With no railroads available to operate the engine in the Eau Claire area, in 2006 the Pacific was leased by the museum and moved to Duluth. It operated until 2013 when its mandatory federal inspection came due. The museum had set aside and sent payments that totaled $48,000 to the Locomotive & Tower Preservation Fund to help partially fund the future rebuilding of the engine, but the location of those funds is unknown.

Now the parties are back to square one. The museum would like to see 2719 operate again on its North Shore Scenic Railroad between Duluth and Two Harbors, but is understandably reluctant to invest money into a locomotive it does not own. It also currently has an operational steam locomotive, Duluth & Northeastern 2-8-0 No. 28, which can operate for the next 13 years under current federal regulations, so 2719’s return to service would be a number of years away. The city, for its part, wants to retain ownership but see the engine operate again – ideally in Eau Claire – but that doesn’t seem possible under present conditions.

Through the next few months the saga of 2719’s future will continue to play out.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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