Railroad fans who enjoy steam engines have one last opportunity this weekend to ride in a train powered by Abilene’s Santa Fe 3415 locomotive before it is taken out of service for required maintenance.
According to the Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad the 103 year-old engine will undergo a special overhaul mandated by the Federal Railroad Administration every 15 years. Although it only requires a complete safety check of the engine’s boiler, the railroad plans to make other improvements to the engine that will further extend the antique locomotive’s life.
A&SV President and General Manager Ross Boelling said that while the railroad’s volunteer crew does regular day-to-day maintenance work on the iconic locomotive, the upcoming task requires actually taking the engine apart and examining the condition of each component in order to determine the extent of needed repairs before actual work on the engine can be done.
“Steam locomotives are just like your automobile. These big engines are subject to normal wear and tear,” said Boelling. “But unlike your car, steam engine parts cannot simply be purchased and installed. They must be made from scratch, and that takes time.”
Boelling said the procedure may take up to 18 months, meaning that the engine will be out of service during that time.
Santa Fe 3415 logged over 1.8 million miles from the time it was built in 1919 until it was retired in 1953. The engine initially ran regular routes between Kansas City and Chicago, and later, the Santa Fe used the engine on its southwestern routes between Kansas City and Forth Worth.
The engine was donated to the City of Abilene in 1955 where it sat in Eisenhower Park for nearly 40 years. When the Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad was founded in 1993, the city agreed to donate the engine to the new railroad organization, where enthusiasts had the goal of making the engine run again. In 1996, the engine was moved from the park to the former Rock Island track now used by the A&SV. The railroad used a combination of grants from the Kansas Department of Commerce and the Department of Transportation plus an estimated 12,000 hours of volunteer labor to complete the project. Since its introduction to the A&SV engine lineup in 2009, the locomotive has only been used on holiday weekends and other special occasions.
The estimated the cost of the renovation is about $350,000. The work will be done by A&SV volunteers and specialists from the Durango and Silverton, a popular steam railroad in Colorado. Boelling said the railroad is working on a series of grants to help fund the renovation project. The A&SV is also accepting contributions from the general public.
The steam engine will power the A&SV’s normal Abilene to Enterprise excursion runs on Friday and Saturday at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., while Sunday’s trains will run at 2:00 and 6:00 p.m. The engine will also power dinner trains on Friday and Saturday evenings at 6:00 p.m. lThe Friday train will be catered by Lucinda’s Katering of Abilene and will feature a brisket dinner. The Saturday train will be catered by Kansas Legends of Abilene featuring the Bookville Hotel’s famed fried chicken dinner. All excursion and dinner trains will leave from Abilene’s historic Rock Island Depot.
Boelling said steam excursion tickets are $40 for adults and $20 for children ages 3 to 11. Dinner train tickets are still available for $85. All tickets can be purchased from the railroad’s website, www.asvrr.org.
Boelling added that on Saturday, as part of the Dickinson County Heritage Days celebration, the A&SV will run short rides from the Heritage Center to Jeep Road between 10:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. featuring the railroad’s vintage 1945 diesel locomotive pulling the railroad’s prized 1902 MKT wooden passenger car. Passengers can purchase lower cost tickets on the Heritage Center grounds for $10 for adults and $5 for children 3 to 11.