Effort underway to restore steam engine | News, Sports, Jobs

Effort underway to restore steam engine | News, Sports, Jobs

Photo courtesy of John Pickard
Soo Line Steam Engine #730 is pictured here after it’s shelter was repainted in the fall of 2021. John Pickard, son of Soo Line retiree Kenneth Pickard, has decided to continue past efforts to maintain upkeep on Soo Line Steam Engine #730.

GLADSTONE — Fundraising has begun to help restore a preserve Soo Line Steam Engine #730, a cherished piece of Gladstone history that rests alongside the southbound lane of US-2. Engine #730, which was dedicated to the City of Gladstone in September of 1960, has been seemingly neglected since it’s last overhaul over 20 years ago. With burnt out lights and pigeons slowly taking over the engine’s shelter, John Pickard, project coordinator for the restoration of the Soo Line Steam Engine, felt that it was time to take action.

“I took on the project because I kept watching it get worse and worse,” Pickard said. “It was really nice 20 years ago when they fixed it up with the lighting and everything. But now the lights are burnt out and pigeons have moved in, so that is where we are at.”

In 1911, Engine #730 was built by the American Locomotive Company in Schenectady, N.Y. Used exclusively in passenger service, Engine #730 traveled a total of 3,612 miles during its time in operation, the engine’s last run being its return from Sault Ste. Marie to Gladstone on June 28, 1960. Engine #730 was dedicated to the City of Gladstone because it was a large rail “hub” within the Soo Line.

“It was a big deal,” Pickard said. “Gladstone was started with the railroad. It was one of the main ports for the Soo Line.”

Engine #730 holds a special place in the hearts of many retired Soo Liners. Hired by the Soo Line in 1954, Jack Soderman spent his entire life working on steam engines. Upon retiring, Soderman and 13 other Soo Line employees would participate in annual upkeep of Engine #730, washing and painting the relic every summer. Of those volunteers, Soderman is the only one still alive.

“[Engine #730] means everything to me because I was brought up working on it,” Soderman said. “I have worked on a lot of engines, but that one I am certain I worked on.”

One of the 13 Soo Liners who has passed was Pickard’s father, Kenneth. Ken had worked on the Soo Line for 42 years, with Engine #730 being the first engine he had ever worked on. The upkeep of the engine was never a hassle for these retirees, the annual gathering of the old friends acting as a social event for them to participate in.

“Everyone said [my father] looked forward to getting together every summer. It was more a fun thing to get together and go and clean and paint the engine,” Pickard said. “So we would like to see it protected for many generations.”

With Soderman being the only surviving retiree, annual upkeep on the engine eventually came to a halt. It was not until July of 1999 that the engine was cared for once again by John Larkin, president of the Escanaba Lake Superior Railroad. After pledging $50,000 to paint the engine and remove asbestos, Engine #730 was taken to the Escanaba Rail Shop for it’s makeover. Upon returning to its home in Gladstone during the fall of 2000, Engine #730 was welcomed to a new canopy shelter that was equipped with light fixtures.

The new shelter, however, welcomed a critter that would contribute to the most recent decline in Engine #730’s condition — pigeons.

“20 years ago if they would have put a bird net around it, it would not be like it is today. So that is what we are looking at,” Pickard said. “We have to get this bird netting around it to be able to start painting and cleaning.”

Past efforts to solve the pigeon problem include investments in a sound board that replicate the sounds of birds that prey on pigeons, like peregrine falcons. Rather than scaring the birds off, however, the sound boards have provided a nice space for the pigeons to perch and build their homes.

More recent efforts to rehabilitate the state of Engine #730 began in the summer and fall of 2021, Pickard approaching the City of Gladstone to see if he could clean and paint the engine once again. The first item on the agenda for those participating in the restoration project is bird netting. Pickard has been collecting donations to help cover the expense of the netting and accompanying pieces to assemble it. The grand total reaches just over $3,000.

“We haven’t secured the funding for the bird netting yet and that is what we need to do,” Pickard said. “We have to raise $3,500 to just order the netting. Once we get that secured, we can go about painting and cleaning again.”

Members of the community, including local businesses, have already chipped in to Pickard’s cause. Apprentices of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Local 10-11 of the Upper Peninsula have agreed to undertake the cleaning and painting of the engine as a public service project. Pickard has also received generous donations from Wayne Johnson, president of Great Lakes First Federal Credit Union, and from the Gladstone Lions Club.

“We are not trying to get the engine running again, or even move it at the moment,” Pickard said. “We just want to protect it.”

New lights for the engine have been donated by WPPI, the utility provider for Gladstone, and Gladstone Public Works have been involved in the recent washing and weed-picking around the engine. Additionally, the Gladstone Downtown Development Committee donated new signs for all sides of the engine’s shelter, which read “Gladstone” and “Soo Line.”

“We are buying everything locally for the project, and it has been really nice,” Pickard said. “The paint is coming from Sherwin Williams in Escanaba … the bird netting itself will come from Iverson’s in Gladstone … and the Building Trades Union of the UP said they would donate needed lumber.”

While Engine #730 is owned by the City of Gladstone, it’s current home is on Canadian National Railway’s property. Pickard hopes to coordinate with the railway to help preserve the current home of the engine.

“It is a funny situation. I talk to people on the railroad and they don’t know what they want to do with it. I call Canadian National Railway up in Canada and they are not even aware that it’s on their property,” Pickard said. “People locally don’t know anything about it. It feels like it has been forgotten.”

After restoration and clean-up of the engine has concluded, Pickard hopes to transform Engine #730 into a historical marker. Complete with a parking area and historical kiosk, the engine would be included in local brochures as a tourist attraction for those passing through the Gladstone area.

“People stop every day and take pictures, yet some people drive by and don’t even notice it,” Pickard said. “But with this new awareness, people will start looking out for it now.”

Fundraising ideas, from a golf outing to selling t-shirts, are currently being considered by Pickard. Those looking to help preserve Engine #730 can address donations to the City of Gladstone c/o Soo Steam Engine #730, 1100 Delta Ave., Gladstone, MI 49837.

“You don’t see any steam engines like this going down the tracks anymore. It is a whole different world with the diesels of course,” Soderman said. “The engine is just something that the railroad was born with.”

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