Steam Railroading Institute History
How we got here…
The Steam Railroading Institute, dedicated to educating the public about steam-era railroad technology, is the product of the Michigan State Trust for Railway Preservation Inc. For many years, the MSTRP centered on a single steam locomotive, former Pere Marquette Railway No. 1225. After 1225’s retirement, the locomotive was donated to Michigan State University in 1957, and through the efforts of MSU and Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Board Member Forest Akers. Displayed as an icon of the steam-era, it sat at MSU until 1969, when a group of students took an interest in the locomotive. The Michigan State University Railroad Club was formed at that time with the ambitious goal of restoring 1225 and using it to power excursion trains that would bring passengers to football games at the university. After toiling away at the locomotive for many years, the Michigan State University Railroad Club evolved as the Michigan State Trust for Railway Preservation and started its corporate run in July of 1979. Recognizing the daunting task that was ahead of them, the early MSU students saw the necessity to form a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation and in 1981, Michigan State University donated 1225 to the newly formed MSTRP. The locomotive was moved to Owosso to former Ann Arbor Railway Backshop in 1982, and restoration of the locomotive continued until 1985, when it moved under its own power for the first in 34 years. Since 1988, #1225 has been maintained in operable condition, and serves a the largest piece of operating steam equipment in the MSTRP/ SRI collection.
In the past forty years the Michigan State Trust for Railway Preservation and its Steam Railroading Institute have grown tremendously, now housing two steam locomotives, two diesel locomotives, and a fleet of passenger cars, plus numerous pieces of rolling stock. Situated on the site of the old Ann Arbor Railroad’s steam shops and roundhouse, the Steam Railroading Institute offers visitors a firsthand look at the intricacies of working steam locomotives and the equipment that operated with them.
Below are some significant moments in the history of the organization:
MSU Railroad Club is formed after student Steve Reeves uses an open letter in the State News to rally other rail history buffs
At a meeting of the East Lansing club, a bold idea flourishes: restore former PM 1225 to operating condition
Members begin dismantling 1225, donated to MSU in 1957 and displayed next to Spartan Stadium as a monument to the age of steam
1225’s boiler is filled and checked for leaks under pressure in first hydrostatic test
Repairs bring first successful hydrostatic test of locomotive’s boiler
1225 is fired up in stationary test
Search begins for larger permanent display site
Michigan State Trust for Railway Preservation, Inc. is set up as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational corporation
1225 is donated to MSTRP by MSU and moved just off campus
1225 is moved to former Ann Arbor Railroad steam locomotive shop in Owosso, MI and leased as corporate headquarters
1225 chugs down the track under its own power for the first time in 34 years
1225 makes 12-mile trial runs between Owosso and Chesaning
MSTRP operates first excursion trains
1225 goes to Huntington, WV for the National Railway Historical Society’s annual convention.
Canadian National (CN) railroad donates machine tools for further restoration work
Extensive repairs are finished on the boiler syphons and 90-square-foot firebox
“Engineer for and Hour” program starts as a visitor attraction and way to raise money and fulfill the mission statement: To educate the public of steam era railroad technology…
1225 is listed on National Register of Historic Structures
MSTRP acquires Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad combine and CN Burro crane
Michigan State Trust for Railway Preservation, Inc. founds the Steam Railroading Institute (SRI)
SRI acquires Pere Marquette 90 foot diameter (later lengthened to 100 foot) turntable (built 1919 by the American Bridge Co.) from New Buffalo, MI
Two display rail cars are unveiled at grand opening of SRI
Warner Brothers arranges to use 1225’s image in “The Polar Express,” an animated feature based on the children’s Christmas story book of the same name, premiering in theaters in November 2004.
Restored Flagg Coal Company 0-4-0T #75 steam locomotive comes to SRI
SRI buys Tuscola & Saginaw Bay Railway Co. site in the Owosso yard for its permanent home and visitor center
June 12-13, 2004:
Grand opening weekend for SRI visitor center
Steam Railroading Institute purchases 2-8-0 #76 from the Ohio Central Railroad.
#1225 and the Steam Railroading Institute partner with Bluewater Chapter NRHS for the longest excursion that the engine has hauled since 1991. To do so, #1225 traverses RailAmerica’s former Grand Trunk Western Bay City Subdivision, then spends two days hauling excursions from Kawkawlin to Grayling, Michigan over the former New York Central Mackinaw Division, now Lake States. nearly 1400 passengers are hauled over the two days.
May 27, 2006:
SRI begins regular weekend passenger excursions to West Owosso behind Flagg Coal Company #75. The loco would return for three months in 2007 and one month (August) in 2008.
PM 1225’s overhaul was completed just in time for the North Pole Express, returning to service in the best shape it has seen in a long time. SRI volunteers finished re-plumbing the locomotive in September, and the final phase of the project, installing the superheater units, was completed in November.
Pere Marquette #1225 hauls first ever “Photo Freight” in conjunction with Steam Specials/ Historic Transport Preservation
#1225 hauls trip from Owosso to Mt. Pleasant-Clare and return — first official excursion (other than NPE) since Grayling 2005.
#1225 and the Steam Railroading Institute partner again with Bluewater Chapter NRHS for round trip between Kawkawlin and Grayling, Michigan, once again traversing RailAmerica’s former Grand Trunk Western Bay City Subdivision and Lake States Railway’s former Michigan Central and Detroit & Mackinac lines in Northern Michigan.
#1225 and SRI set new records for North Pole Express, hauling just shy of 7000 people and making 17 trips in 9 days.
Pere Marquette #1225 operates the earliest it ever has in preservation in a calendar year, hauls first ever “Winter Photo Charter” as part of the second charter conjunction with Steam Specials/ Historic Transport Preservation. Highlight of the event is a night shot taken at the ex-GTW Owosso passenger station, now Elks Club of Owosso.
SRI returns former “Engineer for and Hour” program for #1225 (absent since 2004), now renamed as “Your Hand on the Throttle” as a visitor attraction and way to raise money for 2010 rebuild.
Awarded Conditional Commitment of Federal Highway Fund Transportation Enhancement Grant, to be administered through the Michigan Department of Transportation. This grant awards SRI $347,000 in matching dollars upon the raising of a $283,000 match.
Works begins on the disassembly of #1225 in preparation for its 15-year FRA inspection. Tubes and flue removal begins, and appliances are removed from cab of locomotive.
Through its Non-Profit Capacity Building program, the Cook Family Foundation of Shiawassee County awards SRI nearly $25,000 towards establishment of a capital campaign through the hiring of consultants in both non-profit finance and fund development, and allowing SRI to join a handful of organizations as “Capacity Building Champions.” See details here: Cook Family Foundation Capacity Building Champions
Work continues on #1225 disassembly — by the end of June, approximately half of the nearly 270+ tubes and flues are removed. Ultrasounding of the firebox of the locomotive begins.
SRI is awarded a $30,000 grant by the North American Railway Foundation towards the afore-mentioned Transportation Enhancement Grant, to be used specifically towards firebox work for the #1225. Flue and tube removal on the #1225 is completed; Superheaters are stacked and stored away for later testing and eventual re-installation.
SRI passes a milestone, having received nearly $25,000 in member and private donations towards the match. Including the two afore-mentioned grants, nearly $80,000 has been raised to date. Ultrasounding of firebox continues, and interior of boiler shell is sandblasted.
SRI announces the #1225 Club, allowing members to pledge $1225 towards the match for restoration for the Pere Marquette #1225. Announced via Constant Contact, this club raises nearly $26,000 in pledges in three weeks, pushing total funds raised over the $100,000 mark.
In addition, Rosie Marie Bjorkland, in memory of her husband John Bjorkland, donates his book collection to the Steam Railroading Institute, with the understanding that whatever material is not retained for SRI’s own collection should be sold to help fund the #1225 Project.
In short, as we near the end of a very fruitful year, much work has been completed towards the disassembly of the engine and the funding of the match for the locomotive’s restoration, but much has yet to be completed. Won’t you help us make this dream a reality.