Train in Vain
city has option to buy steam locomotive housed at Duluth museum
Since it first took to the rails in 1923, the Soo Line 2719 has traveled countless miles – and its journey may not be finished yet. There’s an outside change the historic steam-powered locomotive, which was once displayed in Eau Claire’s Carson Park before spending years as an excursion train and a museum piece in Duluth, Minn., could return to the Chippewa Valley. However, that plan faces an uphill climb.
The Eau Claire City Council is expected to vote on the future of the locomotive on June 9 after taking two inconclusive votes in early May. Several council members, including Dave Strobel, want the city to buy back the train (which would cost a mere $1) and see if funds could be raised to restore it to working condition or possibly return it to Eau Claire for display as a historic attraction.
“I don’t want Eau Claire to relinquish their ownership and interest in the train.” – Eau Claire City Councilman Dave Strobel, on the Soo Line 2719 train
“I don’t want Eau Claire to relinquish their ownership and interest in the train” – at least until city leaders determine whether there’s a future for the engine here, Strobel said.
While it has been housed at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth, Minn., for the past decade, the train is still technically owned by an Eau Claire-based group, the Locomotive & Tower Preservation Fund. The engine had been on display in Carson Park from 1960 to 1996, when it was sold to the preservation group, which raised money to restore it and ran it as an excursion train until the early 2000s. It was later leased to the museum in Duluth, which also ran it as an excursion train before moving it indoors because of needed refurbishing. In February, the Locomotive Tower & Preservation Fund told the city it was willing to sell the train – although the group later tried to rescind the offer.
Earlier this spring, the city put out a request for proposals from potential buyers for the train; the only response came from the Duluth museum. At its May 12 meeting, the City Council considered a proposal to buy the train and resell it to the museum for $2. While the motion received 5 votes in favor and 3 against, it failed to pass because 6 votes were needed for approval. (Two members were absent and one seat is vacant on the 11-member council.) A motion by Councilman Eric Larsen to buy the train and wait a few months to sell it also failed on a 4-4 vote.
City Council President Kerry Kincaid expects a version of the resolution to sell the train will be on the council’s June 9 agenda. Kincaid said she’d prefer the city sell the train to the museum, believing that institution is best suited to preserve it for the long term. Wanting to return the locomotive to Eau Claire and actually coming up with the necessary funds to move, refurbish, and house the train are very different things, she noted. (One estimate of such costs was $200,000.)
“For almost a decade, they have invested money in keeping it running,” Kincaid said of the Duluth museum. “It’s been an excursion train to the delight of many passengers. They have a sophisticated and aesthetically pleasing railroad museum that invites visitors from all over. … To me they’ve proven already that they deserve the locomotive.”