By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
CARONA, Kan. —
Eight tons of sand on the ground near a historic Kansas City Southern steam engine means restoration is in full swing.
Engine 1023, built in 1906 and thought to be the last of its kind in existence, was moved last September from Schlanger Park in Pittsburg, where it had been on display since 1955, to the historic Carona Depot and Train Museum Complex.
Volunteers, businesses and members of Heart of the Heartlands rail club have been working to breathe new life into it, restoring and fabricating parts that had been vandalized, stolen or fallen into disrepair.
“Wednesday and Thursday, it was sandblasted, which explains all the sand laying on the ground around it,” pointed out Larry Spahn, a member of Heart of the Heartlands who took a day off work Friday to watch the progress.
Chris Helt, of Helt Construction Services in Cherryvale, began at 6 a.m. Friday applying gray primer. Wind gusts up to 25 mph necessitated stopping the primer work before it was finished. Helt said he plans to continue this week, then he will begin applying the exterior coat of glossy black.
Spahn said the sandblasting revealed parts and pieces that hadn’t been seen in a long time. He pointed out brass components and metal fittings that for decades had been hiding under rusted and faded black paint and layers of grime and oil.
“These are the air tanks, and there are the drive rods. Here’s the boiler,” Spahn said. “You don’t really get a true feeling for the size until you get up to it like this. And people haven’t been able to do that for a long time.”
At Schlanger Park, the engine and tinder car had been surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.
Spahn’s late son, John Spahn, a train enthusiast and an engineer with the Watco transportation company of Pittsburg, was the driver of the effort to get the engine and tinder car moved to Carona.
The decision was not without controversy: Opponents believed it should stay in Pittsburg, but the city didn’t have funding to repair and maintain it, so Heart of the Heartlands stepped in to direct its resurrection.
The younger Spahn died unexpectedly at age 34 last August, so he didn’t get to see the engine moved or the restoration work under way. But his father said the decision to move it was the right one, and he believes naysayers will be amazed at the transformation and their ability to access it up close when the work is complete.
The club plans to build a set of stairs up to the engine and a roof over it to protect it from the elements. Most likely, Spahn said, future visitors will be able to climb into the cab of the engine, where replacement windows soon will be installed and bright red paint will be applied to primed valves.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Spahn said. “It’s exciting to see some progress.”
ENGINE 1023 was last used as a switcher in the Kansas City Southern rail yards in Pittsburg. Larry Spahn believes that before that, it was used on a line from Kansas City to Shreveport, La.