For more than 55 years, old No. 1023 has been a familiar sight at a Pittsburg park, a reminder of the city’s railroad heritage and a bygone era.
Today, crews will begin moving the retired steam engine from Schlanger Park to its new home in Cherokee County, where it will be refurbished and placed on display as part of a railroad museum.
The engine had fallen in disrepair, and the city commission voted in December to let Heart of the Heartlands Railroad Museum in Carona take it over.
The engine was built as locomotive No. 488 at the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Locomotive Works in July 1906. It was operated by Kansas City Southern Railway and underwent an overhaul in 1925 to be able to burn oil. It was renumbered No. 1023 and used as a switch engine until the 1950s, when it was phased out and replaced by diesel engines.
Frank Battega, a retired city employee, said the engine was used on long hauls out of Kansas City, then was relocated to Pittsburg where it moved freight cars out of the rail yard to area factories.
“It would get the cars ready for transport,” Battega said. “It would take them from different factories and line them up to go where they needed to go.”
The city bought the engine for $1, and Kansas City Southern built track to the park where the engine was to be part of a railroad museum. The plans never materialized, and engine stood alone just east of the tracks.
Transport crews will take extra care in moving the engine. They’ve built a special trailer to carry the 120-ton behemoth, and the beams they will use to lift the engine are 80 feet long, 36 inches tall and weigh 300 pounds per foot.
“It’s going to look like a big snake when it goes around a corner,” Derrick Tilton said. “This is the heaviest thing we’ve ever moved.”
The engine’s fuel car, or tender, has already been moved to Carona. Workers will have many hours of labor to do on the engine before it is ready for display.
Steam engines must have their water tanks sealed to prevent any moisture leaking in, as well as the smokestack and smoke box, which is the chamber at the front of the engine’s boiler where hot gases are collected. All other openings must be cleaned and sealed, along with the engineer cab.
According to the Heart of the Heartlands website, the engine is the last known of its kind that was operated by Kansas City Southern, known as a K-1 class of engines. The organization was founded in 1991 and has been gathering and restoring railroad artifacts, including three depots that were once used in southeast Kansas and southwest Missouri.