By Jeff Schmid
In 1985, the St Louis Chapter of the NRHS was meeting in the lower meeting room at Boatmen's Bank in Webster Groves, MO. At the October meeting, during the "new business" portion, it was announced that a group had begun restoring Frisco steam locomotive 1522 at the Museum of Transport (MOT). Having done a cosmetic restoration of Norfolk and Western steam locomotive 2156 for the dedication of the recently re-developed St. Louis Union Station, the group had just received permission from the MOT to restore 1522. This was the beginning a 17 year association between the Chapter and the 1522 group. The relationship was to prove very profitable and worthwhile to both groups.
1522's initial restoration to service took 33 months, and in that time interval several Chapter members joined the 1522 group, and vice-versa. Updates on 1522's progress were a monthly event at Chapter meetings. During that time the 1522 group formed a 501(c)(3) Not-For-Profit-Corporation, the Saint Louis Steam Train Association, typically referred to as the SLSTA. Officers and a Board of Directors were elected. The 1522 was formally leased from St. Louis County by the SLSTA. At the March 4, 1987 Chapter meeting, the Chapter voted to donate $3000 to 1522's restoration.
By May of 1988, 1522 was ready to roll. On May 4, the engine moved via Union Pacific from the MOT to St. Louis Union Station for a dedication ceremony on May 7.
It would be hard to overstate the significance of 1522's move on Union Pacific. At that time (and continuing to the present) UP has had a policy of no steam but their own. It speaks highly of the reputation of the SLSTA, the MOT, and the Chapter, that UP made this unofficial exception for 1522 for over fifteen years.
In the latter 1980's the Norfolk Southern (NS) steam program was very active. The Chapter had chartered trips using NS steam locomotives, but now there was a home-town favorite. A round-trip excursion from St. Louis Union Station to Decatur, IL on NS was scheduled for October 22, 1988, using 1522 for motive power. The trip was a success, although it returned quite late. Thus began 15 years of collaboration between the SLSTA and the Chapter in running trips.
The schedule for the NS steam excursions for any given year was often put together at the annual meeting of the Railway Passenger Car Alliance (RPCA) held every January. Chapter and SLSTA members became fixtures at these meetings, and it was assumed that the Chapter would do another NS trip with 1522 in 1989. However, since the Decatur trip, the SLSTA had put new brass side rod bearings on 1522. NS said that before offering the Chapter a trip, they would require a break-in trip for 1522 to ensure the engine would perform reliably. The SLSTA responded that they would like the opportunity to do a break-in trip, and when would NS like to do it? NS replied that, despite their requirement for a break-in trip, they would not offer to operate it.
This was a major hurdle to overcome. Why would any railroad offer a shake-down trip to facilitate an excursion on another railroad? Despite moving 1522 from the MOT to Union Station, UP still had the no-steam-but-their-own policy. Burlington Northern (BN) at the time was very anti-steam. They had recently refused to move steam for big events in other locations despite much political pressure. In fact, following a Transport Museum Association Board Meeting at the MOT during 1522's restoration, a retired CEO of BN was shown the locomotive under overhaul, and said, "Great job, but it will never run on BN." But, for lack of any alternative, the SLSTA sent a letter dated March 29 to the current BN President requesting a break-in trip. Amazingly, on April 5, BNSF said it would consider the proposal favorably, and a break-in trip was hastily arranged. BN requested no publicity so it was a stealth move. 1522 crew members were only told to come to Union Station on the evening of April 28. The engine moved to the former Frisco Lindenwood Yard, and about 10 PM the 1522 departed under cover of darkness with a 28 car train for Valley Park, Missouri. The train was turned on the wye and returned to Lindenwood where 1522 dropped off the cars. Then 1522 returned to Union Station successfully 'broken in' with no problems. This led to 1522 being approved to power the Chapter's trip to Moberly, Missouri on NS on May 27, 1989. Perhaps, more importantly, it indicated the BN would consider future operations of 1522. But bigger plans were already in the making.
The Chapter had been given the nod to host the 1990 NRHS National Convention, headquartered at St. Louis Union Station. An ambitious gathering of steam locomotives was arranged, including UP 844, NS 1218, Cotton Belt 819, and of course Frisco 1522. Again, the solid relationships among the Chapter, SLSTA, and the railroads paid off. BN approved a round trip with 1522 to Newburg, Missouri, and NS and UP both permitted their passenger equipment to be used off-line on BN. On June 16, 1522 hauled the Newburg trip and most people agree it was the highlight of the Convention. As an extra bonus the following Monday, 1522 was cut in behind the 844 on the UP's outbound Convention trip to Kansas City, with 1522 being set out at the MOT following a run-by at Webster Groves.
The euphoria following the Convention was dampened a few months later, however, when 1522 suffered an overheated pilot truck bearing in October while enroute to the Twin Cities to power an excursion. The engine limped home, and the SLSTA quickly began considering converting the pilot truck axles from solid to roller bearings. One by one the engineering challenges were worked out, but the conversion would require entirely new wheels, axles, bearings, and bearing boxes. This would come at a steep price, but the Chapter rallied for their home-town favorite steamer and in June 1991 voted to donate $8000 to help with the work. The Chapter appointed a Monitoring Committee to keep track of progress on the bearing conversion. At the July 10, 1991 Chapter meeting, several members of the SLSTA and the Monitoring Committee addressed the Chapter, and the Chapter voted to increase the total donation from $8000 to $19,000. Then, at the September 4, 1991 Chapter meeting, the members voted to donate, if needed, an additional $5000 to cover the cost of fuel for a break-in trip. Also, a member of the Chapter Executive Committee was elected to the SLSTA Board.
The bearing conversion took up most of 1991, but by October 1522 completed several break-in trips on BN to validate the new work. Unfortunately the break-in trips occurred too late to schedule any 1991 excursions on NS. It should be noted that Chapter members who owned private rail cars were very generous in allowing their equipment to be used on break-in trips for 1522 as well as public excursions operated by the Chapter. Former Frisco sleeper Cimarron River and lounge Chouteau Club were fixtures on many of these trips.
With 1522 healthy again, NS approved Chapter trips for June 27 & 28, 1992. These trips ran from the NS Luther Yard over to the old Nickel Plate line to Coffeen, Illinois. This Nickel Plate route was now a secondary main line for NS, and maximum speed was limited to 25 MPH. Some thought the low speed might make for a boring trip, but to the delight of the passengers, the leisurely pace was enlivened by no less than seven run-bys.
In November of 1992, the Chapter hosted excursions on UP on November 7 & 8. Many SLSTA volunteers helped in staffing the trains. This helped SLSTA members learn about the on-board complexities of running excursions and strengthened the SLSTA-Chapter partnership.
1993 dawned with the Chapter being offered another NS trip with 1522, this time from Luther Yard to Centralia, Illinois on June 5 & 6. The Chapter was already committed to operating trips to and from the National Convention in Chicago a few weeks later, but decided there was enough will power in the group to do the NS trip.
NS had no means to turn the train or locomotive in Centralia, so after the passengers detrained, the train proceeded south on the BN to Sesser, Illinois, where it was wyed and returned to Centralia. BN employees and families were allowed to ride the train on the move to Sesser. Once again, good relations with the NS and also BN made this whole trip possible.
Perhaps the pinnacle of mutual benefit and cooperation between the Chapter and SLSTA occurred in 1994, when the Chapter operated the first two days of a four day inbound trip to the 1994 NRHS Convention in Atlanta. In a rather non-typical turn of events, the initial request to BN for a trip as far as Birmingham, Alabama originated from the Chapter already in May of 1993, with BN approval coming a few months later. This resulted in the unusual situation where the trip was approved even before the Chapter had committed to operate any segment. In fact, the original assumption was that the route would be down the BN River Subdivision through Cape Girardeau, but there was sentiment within the Chapter to run via Springfield, Missouri, which added another day. BN approved this as well. Moreover, the NS designated the SLSTA as the sponsor of the entire four day inbound trip, regardless of which group was operating the trip and selling tickets. The fact NS would allow their trainset to run off their railroad for four days, three of them on BN, again speaks volumes about those railroads' regard for the Chapter and the SLSTA. The Chapter operated the first two days, from Union Station to Springfield, MO; and Springfield to Memphis. Other groups handled the third and fourth days from Memphis to Birmingham, AL and Birmingham to Atlanta.
One complication of the trip was that when the train was operating on NS, that railroad would not permit cars in the train that were not painted Tuscan Red. This meant that SLSTA support cars Firefly and Black Gold could not be in the train past Birmingham. The 1522 crew had to rent a truck to carry support tools and supplies while 1522 operated on the NS.
BN also handled the return of 1522 and its support cars from Birmingham to St. Louis via Memphis and Cape Girardeau. The 1994 Convention trips were very lucrative for the Chapter and SLSTA.
The Chapter and 1522 had by this time handled trips under the NS excursion program for seven years, and there seemed to be no reason why this relationship would not continue. But the railfan community was stunned a few months after the Atlanta convention when word came from NS that they would be discontinuing their excursion program.
Moving on into 1995, SLSTA personnel assisted Chapter volunteers in reconnecting the track next to the Abbott Shed at the MOT. But no Chapter trips were run with 1522 for several years, although, the 1522 stayed active traveling to various events on BN (now the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) after their merger). The lack of a trainset was a big deterrent to any kind of public excursion. However, in response, the Chapter purchased ex-Amtrak coaches Silver Maple and Silver Larch at a major Amtrak auction at Beech Grove, Indiana. A 'road test' of the cars was arranged on 1522's annual shake-down trip on July 5, 1996, and the cars rode well on the round trip to Newburg, MO, on BNSF.
Unfortunately 1522 had more bearing problems and was out of service for large periods of time in 1997 and 1998. At the June 1998 Chapter meeting, the membership voted to approve up to $15,000 for repairs to 1522. This amount was not given in a lump sum, but was distributed as invoices for work were submitted. But, on the first trip following lengthy repairs, the engine derailed on BNSF in North St. Louis in June of 1999. The resulting damage required much of the work to be done over. Finally in June of 2000 the 1522 was ready to roll, with the trailing truck axle and all six axles of the tender converted to roller bearings.
In the meantime, there were suggestions that Amtrak might consider operating steam-powered public excursions, using their operating authority on the railroads. There were challenges, including the fact that Amtrak inspectors had to approve any non-Amtrak coaches, as well as any steam locomotives. In response, the SLSTA invited Amtrak inspectors to observe the 1522's overhaul throughout 1998. Fortunately 1522's support cars Firefly and Black Gold had been rebuilt to Amtrak mechanical standards and certified by Amtrak inspectors. Ultimately the rebuilt 1522 was inspected and approved by Amtrak. A request was made for a trip to Hannibal on BNSF, which was approved. The Chapter put together a train and scheduled trips to Hannibal and West Quincy for September 30 - October 1. This was the first steam-powered excursion operated by Amtrak. Again, the Chapter and SLSTA can be proud of this pioneering achievement.
Everything started out well on the Saturday trip, but as the train headed north along the Mississippi River, word came that there had been a landslide in the St. Louis suburb of Spanish Lake. A southbound BNSF freight had struck the slide and derailed, totally blocking our train's return to St. Louis!
Chartered buses were lined up to take the passengers back to St. Louis, and the Sunday trip was cancelled. 1522 and the excursion train were stored in a siding south of Hannibal. On Monday, October 2, a skeleton crew went up to Hannibal and brought the engine and train back to St. Louis. Although the trip interruption and cancellation were a big disappointment, the Chapter and SLSTA handled the situation expertly and professionally.
With Amtrak's willingness to operate 1522-powered excursions, the Chapter decided to host the 2001 National Convention. Once again the good relations that the Chapter and SLSTA enjoyed with Amtrak and BNSF paid off. 1522 powered an excursion from the Amtrak depot to Hannibal-West Quincy on Thursday, June 21. The train was all private cars, with an Amtrak locomotive on the rear end to supply electric power to the cars. 1522 then powered a similar consist to Newburg and return on Saturday, June 23.
The following year, on Saturday, March 23, 2002, a unique Chapter-SLSTA collaboration occurred. A special trip with 1522 ran from the BNSF North St. Louis Yard to West Quincy, MO and return. The trip was for Chapter members only, in recognition of the many years of support given by the NRHS volunteers. Because it was not an excursion open to the general public, BNSF was willing to operate the train under the insurance which the SLSTA already had in place.
The winds of change never cease to blow, however. By 2002, 1522's boiler was near the point where it would require removal of flues to do a major inspection as governed by Federal regulations. Major firebox work would also be needed. Insurance premiums were rising, and it was increasingly difficult to make a profit on excursions. In June, a majority of the SLSTA Board of Directors voted to dissolve the organization at the end of the year.
But, there were still a few months of life in 1522 as well as widespread support for another excursion with the locomotive. The Chapter sponsored two more trips, on Saturday and Sunday, September 28 & 29. The trips ran from the Amtrak station to Newburg and return. The Sunday trip ran late and passengers unloaded and saw 1522 alive for the last time. The locomotive and support cars arrived back at the MOT a little after midnight on September 30, 2002, and 1522 was shut down, perhaps forever.
Once again, the trip could not have happened without the groups' excellent relations with the railroads. Amtrak authorized the trip and allowed use of their station. BNSF operated the trip to Newburg and return. UP handled the 1522 and support cars to and from the MOT. Add in the many years of working with NS, and there are scarcely any other groups who achieved such hard- earned respect among so many major rail companies.
In a final gesture of gratitude, at the December 2, 2002 Chapter meeting, members of the SLSTA presented a check for $25,000 to the Chapter, which was answered with a standing ovation. This brought to a close the nearly 18 year relationship between the two organizations.
In summary, the symbiotic collaboration between the Chapter and SLSTA rewarded both groups handsomely. Both groups depended in large part on their joint activities for revenue. A glance at the respective rosters shows the great extent to which the organizations shared a common membership. Finally, through mutual cooperation, the parallel goals of railway history and preservation were served very, very well.
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