Soo Line 2719 will see its boiler certificate expire in early 2013, so I made it a point to schedule some time with her during the 2012 season. (The locomotive was granted an extension and ran until September 2013)
Soo Line 2719 Background
Soo Line 2719 was built by ALCO in 1923. The 4-6-2 Pacific worked in freight and passenger service before being retired in the mid-1950s. It was one of the steam locomotives the railroad held in reserve instead of scrapping. In 1959 Soo Line 2719 was tapped to pull a special passenger assignment, and in doing so became the last steam locomotive operated on the railroad. After that it was put on display at a park in Eau Claire, WI.
A group called The Locomotive and Tower Preservation Fund formed in 1996 to return Soo Line 2719 to operating condition. They achieved their goal in less than 3 years. The engine pulled excursions over several different railroads until 2003.
An old roundhouse where the group stored and serviced Soo Line 2719 was torn down and the engine once again was forced to outside storage. To ensure both long term protection for the engine and more operating time, the Locomotive and Tower Preservation Fund, based in Eau Claire, made the difficult decision to lease Soo Line 2719 to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth, MN.
Soo Line 2719 today
LSRM is one of the best rail museums in North America, with a large collection of steam, diesel and electric locomotives, and a wide variety of rolling stock. It operates out of the former Duluth Union Depot, and much of its collection is safely indoors.
Soo Line 2719 has been the railroad’s only operating steam locomotive for many years, but it has run just a few weekends each season. The railroad tries to cover the higher cost of operating the steam engine by charging more per ticket. Costlier tickets, a bigger time commitment for the longer rides, and perhaps unsuccessful marketing have kept the number of people riding behind this beautiful locomotive too few to warrant a more ambitious operating schedule. I made a few marketing suggestions in an earlier blog because of my concern about the small number of passengers. It’s too bad the engine could not operate very often.
The last time we covered Soo Line 2719, we shot our footage on the first three-day operating schedule of the 2010 season. Our program, on the Steam: Trackside & Inside DVD featured quite a bit of detail about the process of getting 2719 ready for the first revenue trips. Footage included coaling with the Little Giant Track Crane, firing the engine, filling the sand dome, and many other preparation steps. Of course we also covered the trips from trackside, and we had a wonderful cab ride with the late Bob Oswald.
For our 2012 visit, I wanted to concentrate on getting footage of Soo Line 2719 operating along the route, and of the locomotive running without cars on both ends of the trip.
The depot at Two Harbors is not an easy in and out. The trains approaching from Duluth must get authority to enter CN trackage and access the depot switch. Once past the switch, the trains back into the depot. Upon reaching the historic two story stone depot, Soo Line 2719 separates from the coaches and proceeds to turn on the CN wye. The engine can reach the wye from either direction, which happened while we were there.
The trip through the wye involves traversing the huge CN Two Harbors Yard. This is a former Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway (DM&IR) yard used for classifying taconite loads, many of which are emptied into the massive ore docks at Two Harbors. It harkens back to the old steam engine days to see plumes of smoke and steam rising among the long cuts of ore cars.
Depending on what is going on in the yard, it may take up to an hour for Soo Line 2719 to return to the depot. The railroad schedules a two hour layover at Two Harbors, which allows the passengers to enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of many eating places nearby. But the real steam fans forget about eating and stay to watch Soo Line 2719 go through the switches not far from the depot. The switches and track are in a long arc behind the ruins of the old DM&IR roundhouse. The roundhouse windows are broken and part of the roof is caved in, and the area is surrounded by a high fence, but it’s fun to look at and imagine it full of the giant locomotives the railroad used to pull long strings of heavy ore cars from the Iron Range down to the Lake Superior docks.
The other delight is watching the Soo Line 2719 crews using hand signals as the locomotive is switched between tracks. It’s quite a process and an opportunity to get some nice images.
Once Soo Line 2719 has been turned and returns to the depot, it will join its train for a backing move out to the mainline. For longer trains, a diesel is often used to push 2719 and train up the curving grade. During our three day visit, the diesel was used on the two car trains on Friday and Sunday and the longer Saturday train. The diesel and Soo Line 2719 both work hard and put on a good show. There’s no telling which of the many diesels in the railroad’s roster will be assigned, so there is an element of surprise from week to week.
Once back on the main, the diesel returns to the Two Harbors depot. The train, with Soo Line 2719 now facing Duluth, heads back to the city.
There will often be a meet with one of the afternoon trains at Lakeside siding. Lakeside is a Duluth neighborhood with a commercial district where quick glimpses of Lake Superior may be found. Many of the short diesel-led trips on the North Shore terminate near this spot.
As Soo Line 2719 approaches the Duluth Depot, the track parallels I-35 through the main part of the city, then backs under the highway to reach the yard and platform.
Then the fun begins again. To get 2719 facing the other direction for the next morning’s trip, the locomotive must be turned again, this time at Rice’s Point Yard. The former Northern Pacific yard is and now BNSF. It’s several miles away, and Soo Line 2719 looks a bit strange as it proceeds along the side the roaring traffic on I-35, past billboards and industrial sites, until finally reaching the flat yard. (Go to Google Maps and enter “Garfield Avenue & I-35 Duluth MN” and zoom in to see the wye. Use the satellite view to see where a large roundhouse once covered an area next to the yard).
If things go smoothly the locomotive will quickly negotiate the wye and return to the museum yard. It makes a long day for the crew but a very rewarding day for steam fans.
Soo Line 2719 – the future
There are serious efforts to get Soo Line 2719 rebuilt. It will take a lot of money and work, but it will be worth it to have another 15 years to operate this beautiful Pacific. It is likely that grant money will be available, however these will require matching funds from individual contributors. Please contribute! Send your check or money order to “LSRM Restricted Fund #2719”, Lake Superior Railroad Museum, 506 West Michigan ST, Duluth MN 55802.
Plan a visit
I highly recommend visiting the Lake Superior Railroad Museum and riding as many trips as possible, especially the Two Harbors run. Plan to spend the better part of the day exploring the museum. They really have a fantastic collection indoors, including the William Crooks, the first locomotive used in Minnesota, which was saved from scrapping by James J. Hill himself. Other stars in the collection include DM&IR #227, a 2-8-8-4 “Yellowstone”, ALCO electric Milwaukee Road #10200, other steam locomotives, early diesels, a rotary plow, and lots more. If you can, try to safely wander around in the yard to see more gems in the open air and under the platform canopies.
Then spend another couple of days exploring Duluth, MN and Superior, WI, and the North Shore area. The cities of Duluth and Superior, founded on mining, shipping and manufacturing, still have components of those industries in operation, although much of the area has been cleaned up and made very attractive to families and tourism.
If you want to railfan in the area, stop by the Lake Superior Railroad Museum Gift Shop and pick up a copy of the Twin Ports Railfan Guide, a wonderful booklet filled with maps and photos of the Duluth – Superior rail scene. Have fun and stay safe!
See Soo Line 2719 in action
Our DVD is called Steam Stars: Western Maryland 734 & Soo Line 2719. The Western Maryland chapter is a Carl Franz Fall Photo Special captured by videographer Jonathan Eau Claire and edited by yours truly. You can see the DVD preview here. The DVD is 87 minutes of thundering sound and steam action from these two fun-to-watch locomotives. We use multiple HD cameras which are tripod-mounted for steady shots. As always, narration is limited to brief chapter introductions. I hope you will add this DVD to your collection!
Thanks, Steve Mitchell www.yardgoatimages.com