After more than five years of restoration, a 110-year-old steam locomotive will traverse the tracks between Duluth and Two Harbors this summer with the North Shore Scenic Railroad.
"It's exciting to have steam back and to have a local engine," said NSSR shop mechanic Bob Purcell. "We've put in a lot of time and work into this thing."
It started out as a cosmetic restoration. In 2011, Bob Purcell was the general manager Cloquet Terminal Railroad Co. and on the Depot board of directors. He agreed to bring the locomotive up to the shop in Cloquet to do some cosmetic work in exchange for training for Purcell's engineers.
"We thought, sure, we could definitely do some painting and basic repair work as thanks," Purcell said.
But as Purcell started looking at the locomotive, he noticed how good shape the engine was in. After Duluth & Northeastern No. 28 was retired in 1965, it was donated to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in 1974, which protected it from drastic temperature change, rust and major decay.
"We were lucky that we started out with a locomotive that was in really good condition," said Nick Turinetti, assistant operations manager. "It's been a lot of work over the past five years, but it would have been much more otherwise."
Purcell suggested the locomotive undergo a complete operation restoration, which included rebuilding the boiler, clearing away dangerous asbestos insulation from the boiler jacket, flue installation plumbing work and painting. Rebuilding the boiler took months of work, which included taking thousands of ultrasound readings of the boiler shell to make sure the integrity was sound.
"There were pages upon pages of calculations that had to be done and submitted to the federal government. You have to show all your calculations and measurements and make sure you're accurate and error-free," Purcell said. "There was a guy from Eau Claire named Peterson who plugged in all our data and gave us a 70-page complex document with just information about the boiler."
A lot of the work was done at the shop in Cloquet, but in 2014, it was returned to Duluth to complete the restoration. Purcell retired and started working on the project full-time.
"Bob's spearheaded this whole project. He was the one that drove the initial restoration efforts. He comes in on the weekends to work on it," Turinetti said.
No. 28 was built in 1906 by the American Locomotive Company for the Duluth, Missabe and Northern Railway. It was originally labeled as No. 332, but was renumbered to 28 when it was sold to the Duluth and Northeastern Railroad Company in 1955. The 28 regularly traveled on the D&NE railway between Cloquet, Saginaw and Duluth. It was one of only five remaining steam locomotives for the D&NE by 1964, when diesel fuel was eliminating the use of steam.
"It's one of only a handful of C3s around. Companies were quick to scrap them," Purcell said. "I remember that my grandfather used to say that in every box of nails, there's a steam locomotive because they were scrapping them so quickly."
Purcell grew up around trains in Cloquet. He remembers paying 50 cents to ride in the caboose of D&NE trains as a kid.
"You could ride all the way up to Saginaw and back, 22 miles round trip. As long as you behaved and stayed out of the way, you were good to go," Purcell said. "I might have even rode this engine, I can't say for sure, but it's possible."
The locomotive will be fired up for the first time in April. It will be fired up again on May 13 for National Train Day. It will be a part of Steam Weekend June 23-25 in Duluth, running trips to Two Harbors on Friday and Saturday and shorter trips to Palmers on Sunday. From Aug. 18 to Sept. 17, the locomotive will begin regular runs to Two Harbors on Fridays and Saturdays and Palmers on Sundays. To find more information and order tickets, visit duluthtrains.com.