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Thursday, December 18, 2014

2926 sees light at the end of the tunnel

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By Sergio Jiménez / New Mexico Daily Lobo

New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society President and Chairman Michael Hartshorne explains the process of restoring the 2926 locomotive at the NMSL&RHS World Headquarters site in Albuquerque’s industrial district. Hartshorne said the 2926 locomotive will serve as a historical relic and there are plans to seek a license to run passengers on existing track once the train is completed in 2015.

culture@dailylobo.com

Located deep in the heart of Albuquerque’s industrial district, just south of 8th Street and Haines Avenue, a group of talented enthusiasts are doing something big.

Want to find them? Simply follow the train tracks.

A heavy aroma of oil and steel fills the air. Men in hard hats are bustling behind a green shroud attached to the chain link fence that surrounds the site. Enter through the south gate, turn left, and there it is:

The New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society.
Residing within is 2926. It is one of the last locomotives built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works for the Santa Fe Railway, Doyle Caton, a founding member of the society, said.

The 2926 began active service in 1944 as a high-speed passenger train. In 1956, as passenger trains were phased out in favor of other forms of transportation, 2926 was put on display in Coronado Park as a reminder of the past.

Forty years later, Caton and his society bought the 20 foot-tall engine from the city for a single dollar.

“At about 10:30 in the morning on June 23, 2000, the giant drive wheels rolled for the first time in forty years, as the 2926 was towed out of the park,” Caton said.

Number 2926 was transported to the NMSL&RHS World Headquarters Site, and the long process of restoring the rusted locomotive began. Since then, the Society’s members have invested over $1.2 million in restoration. Every single part of 2926 had to be cleaned, polished and restored in the hopes of one day returning it to working order.

Society President and Chairman Michael Hartshorne has been a part of the group for more than a decade. Hartshorne said the greatest part of the project is not the steam engine, but being able to work with so many talented individuals.

“It’s great to be able to come to work here with my friends. My background is in nuclear medicine. Without this project I otherwise would probably have never met them unless they were sick,” he said.

The all-volunteer crew has spent some 100,000 hours restoring 2926, he said.

“[It’s] a labor of love. When people hear about a bunch of guys tinkering on a train they think ‘Well that’s all well and good,’ but until you actually come to our site and see it for yourself, that’s when you see how remarkable what we’re doing here really is,” Hartshorne said.

Today, 2926 has come a long way from the state it was in when it left the park. Now that they have completed the tender, the car that carries the oil and water for the engine, the members of NMSL&RHS focus on the engine. Hartshorne said they estimate that another $250,000 and countless man-hours are still needed for the restoration.

Once completed in 2015, Hartshorne said the 2926 will serve as a historical relic and will seek license to run passengers on existing track. One day the NMSL&RHS hopes to run excursions from Albuquerque north through Glorieta Pass, Raton Pass and finally terminating in Colorado or even west to the Grand Canyon, he said.

For more information on how to get involved, go to nmslrhs.org or visit in person at 1833 8th St. NW.