Steam Engine Rebuild to Begin

Volunteers and consultants will gather this weekend in Abilene to begin the massive rebuild of Santa Fe 3415, the Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad’s prized steam locomotive.

According to the Railroad, he rebuild, mandated by the Federal Railroad Administration, is expected to take nearly two years to complete, meaning that the engine will be out of service for that time.

A&SV President and General Manager Ross Boelling says the overhaul is a matter of standard maintenance for steam locomotives.

“The Federal Railroad Administration requires us to inspect and rebuild the boiler every 15 years,” said Boelling. “As you can imagine, a steam engine is susceptible to rust, corrosion and other elements that can damage the engine’s body and parts. Those parts need to be inspected and many of them will need to be replaced.”

This weekend, volunteers for the 3415 rebuild will gather in Abilene to hold their first meeting with consultants from the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Heritage Rail Management of Durango, Colorado. The first phase requires dismantling the locomotive, which leads to the detailed process of examining the boiler and other parts critical to the engine’s operation. The engine’s flue tubes will then be removed and replaced, and other repairs will be made as necessary.

Boelling noted that steam locomotives are much more maintenance intensive than diesel engines and are subject to constant maintenance. FRA inspectors annually conduct a safety inspection of the engine and any needed repairs are made before the engine operates. But the 15-year rebuild is mandatory regardless of the engine’s condition.

“A steam locomotive boiler is a high pressure and temperature vessel. As such, ensuring that proper maintenance, safety, and operating standards are followed is vital to preventing a catastrophic boiler explosion. Also, like your automobile, these behemoths are subject to normal wear and tear on non-boiler mechanical parts, including suspension, cylinders, brakes, drive train and wheels.” said Boelling.

The railroad is operating exclusively with diesel power this season and as long as the rebuild process takes to complete. Boelling said the goal is to finish the work sometime in 2025 and return the engine to the railroad’s lineup. “We definitely want to be done in time for the United States’ 250th birthday on July 4, 2026. This engine is a Kansas icon, and we don’t want it down for very long.”

The cost of the rebuild is expected to approach $600,000. Boelling said that a fund has been established through the Community Foundation of Dickinson County. A combination of donations, grants, and contributions from the public is being used to finance the project, and details of a formal campaign to complete the project are forthcoming.

Santa Fe 3415 is one of about 200 steam engines still in operation nationwide. It is the only operating steam locomotive in several Midwestern states and is a popular tourist attraction. Boelling said the engine was responsible for about 75 percent of the railroad’s Flint Hills Express excursion business last year. The engine has been featured on various television programs and in many train-oriented publications, and railroad enthusiasts from across America have come to Abilene to photograph the engine. Last year, 30 railroad photographers gathered here for a photo shoot organized by St. Louis advertising executive Dak Dillon.

As a further tribute to the iconic engine, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly signed legislation on April 18 that names ATSF 3415 as the state’s official steam locomotive, making the engine an official Kansas symbol. The legislation was introduced and championed by Abilene State Representative Scott Hill, with assistance from Enterprise and St. Andrews fifth grade elementary school students. The legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sen. J.R. Claeys of Salina.

Boelling said that the A&SV has enlisted several volunteers to help in the rebuilding effort. “When you’re a mechanic, being able to say that you’ve worked on a steam locomotive is a real badge of honor,” said Boelling, who noted that the engine’s original rebuild, completed in 2009, was the product of over 12,000 hours of donated labor from mechanics in the area. That rebuild attracted machinists from across North Central Kansas and took over three years to complete. Boelling said that the railroad is always interested in attracting more qualified volunteer help. Applications are available at the railroad’s website,

“We also are happy to receive contributions for the rebuilding effort from the public,” said Boelling, who said that contributions can be made electronically at