Steam train arrives at AETA showgrounds

Lisa Depies
A STEAM LOCOMOTIVE is hauled to the Antique Engine & Tractor Association grounds in rural Geneseo. The club recently purchased a train set and club members plan to have it operational by their September Working Farm Show.

Passenger rail arrived in Henry County ... on the back of a semi trailer.

On Saturday, June 20, a convoy of semi trucks pulled into the Antique Engine & Tractor Association grounds off Route 92.

On the back of each trailer were pieces of a railroad set purchased by the group.

“The ultimate goal of every steam engine fan is to own a train,” said Lora Lea Miller, a member of the Antique Engine & Tractor Association’s long-term planning committee.

Other antique engine showgrounds, such as ones in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, and Freeport, own and operate trains, and members of the Antique Engine & Tractor Association ultimately hoped to add one to their own showgrounds.

“We always though it was something we’d do someday,” said long-term planning committee member Dusty Olson.

“We’d talked about it since Day 1,” said Bill Cole, a fellow long-term planning committee member.

Someday came much sooner than many anticipated.

After a member spotted a magazine ad advertising the train set, the club decided to jump on the opportunity.

“It was the most complete set that had come up,” said Olson.

In total, the railroad contained a Porter 0-4-0 steam locomotive, two eight-ton Brookville diesel engines, two riding cars, extra cars, 2,500 feet of track, switches, tools and more. The entire system runs on a 30” gauge track.

“After a member stumbled across it in the magazine, things just snowballed,” said Antique Engine & Tractor Association president Curt Jacobs.

“You don’t get the opportunity to buy a train every day,” said Miller.

Only two months separated the initial discovery from the train arriving in Henry County.

The set was offered for sale by its Navar, Ohio-based owner.

“It had been owned by four men. Two of them died, one lost interest and the final one wanted to get rid of it so he could get a motorhome and travel,” explained Miller.

Several club members, including Miller and fellow long-term planning committee member Larry Colo, traveled to Ohio to inspect the train. They were joined by steam-engine expert John Schrock of Michigan.

“It hadn’t run for five years, so we wanted to go through it an inspect everything,” said Colo.

Once a decision was made, a group again returned to Ohio to purchase and load the train.

“There were a lot of logistics needed to figure out how to load the train on the trailers,” said Colo. A crane was rented in Ohio for the endeavour.

Once loaded, truck drivers Chad Jacobs, Darrell Hutchinson, Dick Gradert and Adam Herrick had the job of bringing the entire train set to Illinois.

Chad Jacobs drove the truck hauling the steam engine — a sight that caused more than a few other drivers to look twice.

“A lot of people drove past pointing, and I had a few pull up next to me to take pictures,” he said.

With the 2015 Antique Engine & Tractor Association fall show planned for September, club members will spend the next few months preparing the train and laying track.

“There’s a lot of excitement among members,” said president Curt Jacobs.

“We’ve had new members join solely because of the train,” said Olson. “We hope having it at the grounds will be a big pull.”

“It will be a big plus for attracting people to our show,” said Cole.

Colo agreed, “We have a lot of train enthusiasts in the area, and the train will bring a different group of people to us.”

“Railroad people are a different breed. Tractor and gas engine people are a different breed, but they all love a steam engine,” said Miller. “We hope this will be something that can keep the legacy of the club going. It will be another fun attraction at the show.”