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A major step for the Mid-Continent Railway Museum's 1385 steam locomotive
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MIDDLETON | OLD LOCOMOTIVE RESTORED

A major step for the Mid-Continent Railway Museum's 1385 steam locomotive

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TOWN OF SPRINGFIELD — There is still much to do and and it remains unclear when the 1385 steam locomotive will return to the tracks in North Freedom, but a major step in the multiyear, $2 million project has been completed.

The boiler, which had been under construction since 2016 in St. Louis, was lowered Thursday at SPEC Machine near Middleton onto the frame of the historic piece of old-school machinery. It brings the locomotive one step closer to running the rails at the Mid-Continent Railway Museum and returning steam to the beloved attraction in rural Sauk County.

1385 steam locomotive

Ed Ripp, right, with Peter Deets, at left, both volunteers with the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom, help secure a new 41,000-pound boiler as it is placed onto the chassis of the 1385 steam locomotive that was constructed in 1907.

“It was nerve-wracking trying to move 41,000 pounds to get it to within a quarter of an inch, and actually an eighth of an inch is where I believe we got it,” said Peter Deets, a Mid-Continent volunteer and member of a task group charged with overseeing the restoration. “It’s a milestone. This is one huge (thing) we can mark off. The fact that we have a new boiler and setting it on the frame starts a whole other series of work, but it’s nearing completion and going back together.”

The carbon steel boiler is considered the heart of the locomotive and where a coal-fueled fire creates heat that’s converted to steam to power the more than 150,000-pound beast.

1385 steam locomotive

A 41,000-pound boiler is placed onto the chassis of Mid-Continent Railway Museum's 1385 steam locomotive by a crane at SPEC Machine near Middleton on Thursday. Among the observers is Bobbie Wagner, left, whose foundation is helping to fund the $2 million, multiyear project.

The 1385 was built in 1907 by American Locomotive Co.’s Schenectady Works in New York for the Chicago & North Western Railroad, but was retired in 1956.

Mid-Continent members in 1961 scraped together $2,600 to buy the locomotive from the C&NW and from 1963 to 1998, the locomotive was used to pull cars on the museum’s 3.5 miles of track. In the mid-1980s, it pulled the Circus Train for three straight summers from Baraboo to Milwaukee and back, and in the 1990s it made trips on the mainline to Brodhead, Mazomanie and Wausau.

1385 steam locomotive

Tanner Brethorst, right, took time out of his brewing schedule at Port Huron Brewing Co. in Wisconsin Dells on Thursday to help steady a 41,000-pound boiler onto the chassis of the Mid-Continent Railway Museum's 1385 steam locomotive. Work has been ongoing for the past seven years to restore the locomotive at SPEC Machine near Middleton.

When it was taken out of service in 1998 for $125,000 in boiler repairs, a closer inspection revealed the engine, which is on the state and national registers of historic places, needed a complete overhaul. The project was initially stalled by fundraising challenges, the recession and a flood at the museum in 2008 that caused extensive damage and closed the museum for the summer.

1385 steam locomotive

Brett Morley helps position the boiler of the 1385 steam locomotive on Thursday at SPEC Machine near Middleton.

Now, more than 20 years after being taken out of service and seven years of restoration work by Steve Roudebush at SPEC Machine, at least another year of work is left. Once the engine is completed, it will be moved by truck, but only in the winter once the ground has frozen. In late 2017, the largely completed frame was moved out of a workshop at SPEC, picked up by a crane and moved onto a new set of tracks so it could be rolled into an adjacent, newly built workshop.

1385 steam locomotive

A 41,000-pound boiler is placed onto the chassis of the 1385 steam locomotive by a crane at SPEC Machine near Middleton.

Thursday’s move involved a 100-ton crane, swarms of volunteers and onlookers armed with both still and video cameras. Despite its size, workers had to meticulously place the boiler onto the frame, in some cases removing brackets and realizing that some pieces of the frame would need to be adjusted or re-fabricated. The project has received major funding from the Wagner Foundation, created by Bobbie Wagner and her late husband, Dick Wagner.

Bobbie Wagner was on hand Thursday to take in the arrival of the boiler, as was Tom Gerstenecker, vice president of sales at Continental Fabricators in St. Louis, which built the boiler.

“It’s always exciting to see them start going back together,” Gerstenecker said. “It’s even more fun to ride them.”

In the mid-1980s, the locomotive pulled the Circus Train for three straight summers from Baraboo to Milwaukee and back, and in the 1990s it made trips on the mainline to Brodhead, Mazomanie and Wausau.

In the mid-1980s, the locomotive pulled the Circus Train for three straight summers from Baraboo to Milwaukee and back, and in the 1990s it made trips on the mainline to Brodhead, Mazomanie and Wausau.

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