PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Don Hubbard was 19 when he watched crews from the Kansas City Southern Railroad put Steam Engine No. 1023 in Schlanger Park.
On Sunday, the 76-year-old watched as the historic landmark left the park, inching along on its 20-mile trip to Carona Depot in rural Cherokee County, Kan. There, it will be refurbished and permanently displayed as part of the train museum complex.
“I just showed up because I was curious,” Hubbard said shortly before 8 a.m. as preparations got under way and a crowd began to gather. “My dad, Art Black, was the caretaker of the park, so I’ve known that engine for a long time.”
Similar sentiments were repeated by dozens of onlookers who gathered in parking lots and driveways along the route.
“We’ll miss this old train,” said Elaine Castagno, of Pittsburg, as the 125-foot-long transport loaded with the engine just barely cleared the intersection of Fourth and Rouse streets. “It’s been here for so many years.”
Moving 104 tons
Pittsburg resident Lyn Linder described Sunday’s moving process as “an engineering feat.”
“It’s fascinating,” she said as she and her husband, Brent, watched the procession inch along Rouse Street, halting frequently so crews with Tilton & Sons House Movers could tighten chains and make adjustments.
The Carthage, Mo.-based moving company has been preparing for the move since February. Owner Orren Tilton filled pages with complicated scale drawings of the route and the engine, calculations and formulas.
“The steel moving structure we created weighs 40 tons, the engine itself weighs 104 tons, and there are 92 wheels on the ground,” he said.
Larry Spahn, a member of the Heart of the Heartlands Club that coordinated the move and has assumed responsibility for restoring and displaying the engine, said he rose early Sunday morning after a restless night thinking about it.
“The day finally arrived,” Spahn said. “A lot could happen (along the way). But they double, triple, quadruple checked everything. The trick will be the four railroad crossings and the three major intersections.”
But by the end of the journey, the procession had successfully navigated each intersection and made it to Carona by early afternoon.
There, Heart of the Heartlands will oversee restoration work on the engine, slated to begin immediately provided the weather cooperates, Spahn said.
“It’s very weather sensitive. We have to sandblast it down to bare metal, and you can’t do that while it’s damp because the sand cakes together. Then we have to paint it, which requires a certain temperature for it to cure,” Spahn said.
Built in 1906
It’s a costly endeavor — one for which the club doesn’t have a final price tag. The paint, for example, costs $300 a gallon. The interior is completely rotted out, the exterior is rusting, and the windows are broken.
But it’s worth saving, say members of the club. Built in 1906 in Pittsburgh, Pa., it is the last known Kansas City Southern steam engine. After being put out of service in Pittsburg, Kan., on Sept. 17, 1955, it was moved from rail yards on East 23rd Street to Schlanger Park as a way to share the line’s history with the community and visitors.
With no dedicated funding source, however, Pittsburg Parks & Recreation Director Kim Vogel said the engine fell into disrepair and was vandalized, and the city couldn’t afford what it would take to restore and properly display it.
The Heart of the Heartlands club will display it on a concrete pad south of the Carona Depot museum, will rebuild the window frames and doors, will erect a roof to shelter it from rain and sun, and will build a platform and stairs to enable visitors to enter the engine.
Perhaps the most drastic change will be that the train will not be fenced.
“Instead of looking like it’s a prisoner behind barbed wire, we will try to have it open to the public. There won’t be a fence,” said Spahn. “We probably will have it closed off to have people from getting hurt when we’re not there, but it will be open during our open houses the first and third weekends of June, July and August.”
Bryan and Jennifer Ganer and their children, Sean, 7, and Piper, 4, said they were glad they made the trip from Liberal, Mo., to watch it leave for its new home.
“We were down here Thursday night when they pulled it up to the parking lot, and we wanted to see it off,” Bryan Ganer said. “My grandfather worked for the Santa Fe Railroad in the 1950s, and I’ve always had a love for trains. This is a big deal. A big deal.”
Judy Niegsch, a Pittsburg resident who has taken a photograph of the preparation process nearly every day since February, agreed.
“It’s so interesting. It’s something you’ll never see again in your life,” Niegsch said.
“We used to drive by it every day on our way to and from home, and we’d say, ‘There’s the old 1023.’ It will be strange, not saying that anymore.”
Tilton & Sons House Movers relocated the engine’s 20-ton tender box in February.