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All Aboard! DPA train arrives ahead of schedule

All Aboard! DPA train arrives ahead of schedule
All Aboard! DPA train arrives ahead of schedule | All Aboard! DPA train arrives ahead of schedule

Special Features Editor
Seen from the railroad crossing on East Jackson Street early Wednesday afternoon, the engine resting comfortably on the track and the few cars attached to it that were stretching down toward East Reelfoot Avenue looked fairly ordinary. Some drivers moving up and down the street probably didn’t notice too much that would attract attention.
But some did a double take and just had to get a little closer, for behind the engine were six other cars which had been pulled by that “engine that could” from Unity, Maine, through Canada, and south to Union City over the last few days. These included three passenger-type compartments mounted on flat beds, a 5,000-gallon coal tender, another flat bed set aside just to carry the wheels that had been removed from the passenger equipment and a shiny black coal-burning engine designed to pull a twisting tail of rambling, rumbling cars.
Constructed in Sweden in 1913, the 4-6-0 No. 1149 had come to town to take its place on specially built tracks at Discovery Park of America, located in Union City’s northwest quadrant between Everett Boulevard and the proposed I-69 and across the street from Second Baptist Church. A brand new train depot, built to help visitors to DPA understand what the train experience would have been like when the massive engines ruled the transportation arteries of the growing nation, is already attracting attention there. It is situated next to the section of track where the newly-purchased cars will be parked and the building is looking quite at home in the late 19th century village setting of which it is a vital part.
The equipment which chugged into Union City Wednesday has been part of the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad. It was exported to this country in 1994 and went into service in 1995 on the B&ML. The locomotive and its original nine passenger coaches have a Swiss coupling system that, according to the Eastern Railroad News, “make it unique and have kept the train set together.”
The train was rebuilt and retubed in 1998 to Federal Railroad Administration standards. Used as an excursion line in Maine, its future grew shaky when the City of Belfast and the B&ML failed to see eye to eye and the engine’s route was shortened considerably. By 2007, the B&ML had fallen victim to hard times and folded operations.
The Brooks Preservation Society and the Maine Department of Transportation agreed to a lease and restore option in February 2009 that would have put the train back in service for passenger excursions in Waldo County in Maine, but in 2011, the Swedish steamer and passenger equipment went up for sale. Great Smoky Mountains Railroad signed a deal to purchase the train, but then it was determined that it would be too expensive to move the equipment from Maine to North Carolina, so the GSMR sought to resell the train.
At that point, Robert Kirkland, whose family foundation is underwriting DPA and most of its exhibits, sent his volunteer acquisition agent, Hugh Wade, to “find me some trains.”
The outcome of that effort rolled into Union City, looking for a new home, this week.
Rob Kingrey, DPA’s director of facilities and exhibits, says DPA’s projects and display team plans to completely restore the locomotive, cars and speeders to like-new condition while the train is adjusting itself to its new home on the 250-foot section of track already constructed at the 50-acre DPA site.
When visitors from near and far stream into Discovery Park after Nov. 1, they will have full access to the locomotive, the Swedish Bar Car, Parlor Car and First Class Car. And bringing up the rear will be the little red caboose which has long had a home next to the Obion County Chamber of Commerce building in downtown Union City, where the Obion County Industrial Economic Development Council has hosted it.
The council has agreed to put the caboose, which is part of the Tom Elam estate, on the track at DPA to make the train experience complete.
According to Kingrey, the cars will eventually become meeting places and restaurant space that will further showcase the engine. There will also be a full Train Depot museum and other outdoor exhibits surrounding the cars.
Six flat cars, brokered by Wasatch Railroad Contractors of Cheyenne, Wyo., carried the load which was picked up by Pan Am Railways at Burnham Junction, Maine, June 11. On June 12, the equipment was moved to Genesee & Wyoming’s St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railway at Danville Junction, Maine, for forwarding to Canadian National Railway at Richmond, Quebec.
Canadian National then stepped forward to complete the move, with routing through Montreal, Toronto and Sarnia in Canada.
“After years of negotiations and travels, the Discovery Park train cars, engine and tender and now a part of Union City,” Kingrey says. “We are so excited to start work restoring these trains to ‘like new’ condition for the public to enjoy this fall. The train set will be unloaded and placed on flatbed trucks on Monday and will begin the journey to a new home at Discovery Park. The moving process will take three to five days, but, hopefully, we will be finished by Wednesday and we will set the cornerstone steam engine in place on the tracks at the park.”
And before you know it, train lovers of all ages will be able to enjoy a unique experience at Discovery Park of America, where the goal is to help visitors “See Beyond.”

Published in The Messenger 6.20.13

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