Steam Powered Train Restoration Chugging Along

Northland Uncovered: Steam Engine Restoration

Folks of all ages are interested in trains.

“My grand kids love it. Of course I’m like a rockstar to them because I’ve got my own steam locomotive,” laughed Robert Purcell, project manager of a steam engine restoration at the Duluth Depot.

For Purcell trains are a complex mechanical challenge he’s always been excited about.

“When I was a kid we used to go down to Dunlap Island in Cloquet. They were still running steam and for fifty cents we could ride the caboose behind the steam locomotive to go to Saginaw and back,” Purcell said.

Now his passion has become his work.

“There were a few of us who just kind of thought it was getting to a point where it needed a little lovin’,” explained Purcell.

The project was originally intended to be just a cosmetic makeover, but plans quickly changed.

“One thing led to another and we saw what good shape it was in and decided that a complete running restoration was a good idea,” Purcell said.

A few touch ups soon became a five year ordeal. “It gets to be kind of a personal project,” said Purcell.

Built in Pittsburgh, this 1906 Alco was one of the largest locomotives in the United States.

Weighing in at 102 tons it was used primarily for hauling iron-ore.

The Duluth North Eastern donated the engine to the museum back in 1974.

Of the tens of thousands of steam engines produced in the United States only 150 of them are still operable and this engine is one of them.

“For us to have one here, especially a local locomotive, it’s a pretty exciting thing,” said Purcell.

“By putting it into motion and bringing it to life makes it a whole new different exciting thing to see because now you’ve created a memory that you can apply to the history that you’re learning,” said Josh Miller, Station Manager for the North Shore Scenic Railroad.

Fraser shipyards is helping out by recently completing the re-tubing of the boiler.

“There’s 27 of the super heater tubes and 168 of the smaller fire tubes,” said Purcell.

The D&NE Locomotive #28 will be the only operating steam engine in the Twin Ports area.

“Diesel locomotives are great and our normal train excursions are wonderful, but steam power is just a totally different animal,” said Miller.

The engine is now being reassembled and the jacket will be restored on the outer boiler.

The engine will go for test runs in the Spring with the maiden voyage and donor appreciation excursion happening soon after.

To donate to this restoration project head to

If you donate you’ll get free tickets to ride the train.

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