Last fall, the Union Pacific Railroad donated locomotives to the Railroading Heritage of Midwest America (RRHMA) for refurbishing and restoration. Steve Sandberg, COO for the RRHMA, says there are a few updates on the progress at the former Rock Island Railroad shops.
“It’s been a year now since these mighty steam locomotives rolled in here from Cheyenne, Wyo., donated by the Union Pacific Railroad,” said Sandberg. “We’re in the process now of stripping down the boilers for recertification and inspection of the pressure vessel.” The inspection includes ultrasonically testing all the steel to ensure the public’s safety when it goes back on the lines. The shop and surrounding property are also being restored by the RRHMA.
Neither the shop nor the property is currently open to the public, but that will change in the next few years, said Sandberg. “We’re still in the process of restoring the property and fixing up the track and the rail so it’s safe for people to go for a short train ride and learn about the history of the railroad industry and what an important role it played to Silvis and the Quad Cities area. This was a major hub for economic development in our country. The industrial revolution, tractor manufacturing and the rail industry played a vital role in bringing those critical components into the area.”
The engines and cars aren’t being restored just to sit around at a museum. “We do have specific events at times in which people can come in,” said Sandberg. “We’re working on setting up tours for the future, but right now, the focus is on restoring these old locomotives and passenger cars so that they can become part of the community, and we can open the facility up for special events. Our organization has membership all over the United States. We currently have the bulk of our members in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. We operate historical educational excursions, but we also do things like Christmas trains and harvest festival trains, where we give families family entertainment opportunities to come out for a train ride, have fun and learn about railroading.
Two locomotives that were among the donations served two different purposes during their careers. The Union Pacific 39805 was built in 1943 during World War II. Its purpose was high-speed freight passenger operations, including quickly moving troops to either coast for deployment at up to 80 miles per hour. The 5511 was built in the mid-1920s and was a slower locomotive for pulling long trains or for when urgency wasn’t vital. It was retired, or sent off on secondary rail lines, when more high-speed locomotives came in during the 1940s. The 39805 was retired in the late 1950s as diesel locomotives took over the railroad industry.
The RRHMA relies heavily on their staff and they’re always looking for more. “We have employees and volunteers that come from all over the country. A lot of them are skilled labor, whether they’re doing welding or electrical work or working on painting rail cars. There are opportunities if you have some skills, and you’d like to get involved.”
Click here for more information on the RRHMA, including information on the engines being restored, future projects and volunteer information.