A Steam Locomotive Back on Track

Steam locomotive reanimated by the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion after a 10-year project.


| September/October 1982



A 'fire hoop' was used to heat each of the tires.

A 'fire hoop' was used to heat each of the tires of the steam locomotive so they could come off the wheels and be replaced or re-machined.

It all started innocently enough. Most of us belonging to the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion at Rollag, Minnesota, had heard about a steam locomotive that was operating in St. Paul. Some of us had even gone to view its decrepit glory. We were all impressed and delighted that this image from our childhood was still to be seen in real life. The existence of this anachronism was due to a serendipitous condition existing at Kopper's Coke, a coal gasification plant in St. Paul; namely, an extremely cheap supply of coal and a need to shuttle coal cars in the rather extensive yards at Kopper's. In the past the company had owned at least two 0-6-0 switch engines, both of which had been originally used by the Soo Line for yard work and discarded when the internal combustion locomotive took over. One of these machines is now part of an eating establishment in southern Minnesota and the other is the subject of this article.

Engine #353, made by the American Locomotive Works in 1921, was purchased by the WMSTR in January, 1972. Our organization decided to lead where James J. Hill dared not go, we would bring the railroad to that center of commerce, Rollag, Minnesota. Little did we realize at the time what the difficulties and financial pitfalls of railroad building were. Little did we realize that perhaps there were some projects beyond the capabilities of a bunch of well-meaning and very eager Norwegian immigrant descendants. The next ten years would take us through a college of hard knocks and prove for all to see what we could do if we tried hard enough.

The locomotive was sitting outside the beautiful old roundhouse at the headquarters of the Minnesota Transfer Railway in St. Paul. The Transfer very graciously offered us a stall in the building for the work that was to come on #353. One cold day in February 1971, a group of about 12 loyal WMSTR members attacked the worn out behemoth with all manner of wrenches, bars, torches, and just plain muscle and in a long day stripped every bit of pipe, valve and gauge from 353. The job of removing the 36 bolts that held the boiler to the saddle required more concentrated effort.

Our plan was to divide the work of restoration between the 'Fargo bunch' and the 'Minneapolis-St. Paul bunch'. So one day in March 1972, a crane lifted the boiler from its home and placed it onto a low-boy trailer headed for Fargo and the yard outside Larson Welding and Machine. Following the boiler were two other trucks carrying the tender and its running gear. How many necks turned that day to watch that trio carrying their strange load along the freeway at 60 MPH? Now to work!

The boiler was sound but the firebox was in much need of repair. Old repair jobs in it needed re-doing, stay bolts needed replacement and some work on the flue sheet was necessary. One of our members devised a plan of repair which was submitted to the boiler inspector in Minnesota. Again our wonderful membership in WMSTR came through by providing three certified welders who could do this sort of work and who would give evenings and weekends to the project as it sat in one of the work bays at Larson Welding in Fargo. Four corners of the firebox were removed, new corners shaped and welded back in, stay bolts replaced, and the bottom row of flues taken out, retipped, and put back. One of our members tore down the duplex air compressor and rebuilt it, the old cab was torn off and a new one fabricated, the boiler exterior was sandblasted and primed, the super heater was taken out and a bypass constructed for the super heater header, new mesh and baffles put into the smoke box, all holes into the boiler retapped and strengthened.

Meanwhile the running gear was pushed into the roundhouse in St. Paul and the metropolitan boys got busy devising a plan. It was decided that the running gear needed to be torn down completely and built up from the bottom. The frame was jacked and blocked, the three driving pairs were rolled out towards the door, and the frame was torn down to bare frame. Parts were labeled and laid out on the floor. The cylinders, pistons, and piston valves looked just fine but everything else was in need of adjustment, replacement and cleaning. The crank pins were out of round and the connecting rod brasses were in bad shape and needed to be made over. One of our crew designed a machine to attach to the crank pins to turn them down.