CARONA — Exposed to rain, snow, ice and sun for 58 years, the only surviving Kansas City Southern steam locomotive came close to turning into a pile of rust.
Engine 1023, once a fixture at Schlanger Park in Pittsburg, is now undergoing preservation efforts at the Heart of the Heartlands Railroad Museum in Carona.
It was moved there Sept. 8 after Pittsburg City Commissioners voted unanimously one year ago to turn it over to the museum.
Its tender, or fuel box, was moved to the museum in May.
“We started working on 1023 as soon as we got it here,” said Larry Spahn, Heart of the Heartlands member.
A lot of the initial work has involved just cleaning out a huge accumulation of almost everything from ash and sand to bird nests.
“When Kansas City Southern donated it to the City of Pittsburg, they donated it out-of-service, so they didn’t clean out the boilers,” said Heart of the Heartlands member John Chambers. “There was fly ash two feet deep in front of the smoke box.”
The steam locomotive had been converted to burn oil, and Chambers explained that the ash was left over from that process.
Members Alan Chilton and Gordon Garrett went into the smoke box to clean it out.
“There were 17 five-gallon buckets of crud cleared out of the smoke box,” Spahn said.
Chambers added that the sand domes, which contained sand to dump on the tracks to improve traction, hadn’t been cleaned out either.
“One was about three-quarters full of sand and the other was about half full,” Chambers said.
“Sand retains moisture, so when we opened up the sand domes, they were full of wet sand and the water was red with rust.”
In fact, he said, Engine 1023 was slowly rusting away from the inside out.
The fire box, in the cab, was full of twigs and debris, which Spahn said was all pushed through a hole in the box door, which had been welded shut.
“Above the steam cylinders, when we took off the covers, were bird nests, rat nests, mud dauber nests,” Spahn said.
“John Shomin just took off another big load of refuse.”
Along with the cleaning, the rail group has also been able to do some work in the engine’s cab.
On Saturday members painted the cab ceiling, which had been black, a bright grass green.
“Right now we’re trying to figure out what everything is,” Spahn said.
“There’s only one gage left in the cab, and it was hit by a spike so there’s not much left of it. The others were all taken, and we’re trying to find replacements.”
The job is complicated by the fact that the group does not have any photographs of what the cab was like before it was vandalized.
“We’re hoping somebody out there might have sat their child in here and taken a photo that would show some more details,” Chambers said.
“If somebody does have something like that, we’d sure like to see it.”
The engine’s headlights were broken by vandals, but Jeff Cooney, a Heartlands member living in Texas, has restored them.
“Jeff came here and got them, fixed them and brought them back,” Chambers said.
Right now they’re inside the museum, but eventually they’ll be re-mounted on the engine and turned on for night events.
Heart of the Heartlands members have been getting as much work done as possible before winter weather sets in.
“Then we’ll probably be looking at three months of wet, cold weather,” Spahn said. “In the spring we can think about sandblasting and painting it with weather-resistant paint. We’ve got 4,000 square feet of that to do. After that’s done, then we’ll build a shelter over it.”
He said that the intention is to let people climb into the cab and to view the engine, but that there will also be security provisions to prevent any further vandalism.
It’s an expensive process, but Engine 1023 has friends, including Watco Companies and the Webb family.
“We’ll have the money to do what we said we were going to do,” Spahn said.
He has been a little surprised at just how many people care about the engine.
“I came here on Thanksgiving, just to work around a little, and I did more talking than work,” Spahn said.
“So many people stopped and asked how 1023 was coming along during the process.
I’m calling what we’re doing preservation, not restoration.
I don’t think there’s any way we can get that engine to steam up again, but we can get it looking good.”