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Lost Engines of Galt

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Behind a grain elevator off Route 2 in Galt, Illinois is an old siding, overgrown with weeds. For many years, this was the home of three neglected-looking steam engines. They were owned by the Illinois Railway Museum, but if these old engines could talk, they would tell a story of scrapyard survival that is every bit as remarkable as that of the Roanoke engines.

The story begins in 1923, when no. 8300, the first P-5a class 0-8-0 switcher, was built for the Grand Trunk Western Railroad. She was joined soon afterwards by a large number of sister engines in sub-classes P-5a through P-5g, and worked hard for the GTW until the railroad dieselized in the 1950's. Although the railroad did set a number of steam engines aside for preservation, there were no 0-8-0's among them - the railroad sold every last one of them for scrap.

For sixteen of these large switch engines, it seemed that the end of the line had come in 1960, when they were sold to the Northwestern Steel and Wire scrapyard in Sterling, Illinois. However, these engines would prove that they still had some useful life left in them. Northwestern Steel and Wire, with its large complex and an aging fleet of ex-CB&Q 0-6-0 switchers, decided instead to scrap their own engines, and put the 0-8-0's to work switching gondolas in their yard.

Under NS&W ownership, the engines were renumbered by dropping the first two digits of their GTW numbers. The exception was GTW 8300, which became no. 30, rather than 00. Also, over the years, several of them were converted from coal to oil firing. Some, including nos. 15 and 28, were paired with different tenders from scrapped engines. No. 15 received a coal tender from a CB&Q Mikado in the early 60's, and later no. 28 was given a Vanderbilt tender from the Kansas City Southern as part of her conversion to oil firing. Because the oil bunker on the KCS tender didn't clear no. 28's cab roof, the tender was coupled on backwards! Otherwise, however, these engines were little changed during their second career at NS&W. At a time when steam locomotives were quickly becoming either razor blades or museum pieces, these sixteen workaday switch engines soldiered on, doing pretty much what they were built to do, and continued to do so for a couple more decades. The last fires weren't dropped until the early 1980's. It was the last great industrial steam show in America.

When NS&W steam operations finished, twelve of the original sixteen 0-8-0's were still on the roster. The other four had been used for spare parts and scrapped. In what was a very generous move for a yard that had scrapped so many steam locomotives over the years, the remaining 0-8-0's were given to the Illinois Railway Museum. The lowly P-5 0-8-0, a class of engine that the GTW hadn't bothered to preserve at all, suddenly became one of the best-represented locomotive types in preservation. This, however, posed something of a dilemma for the IRM. Just what does a museum with an already large collection do with twelve more-or-less-identical switch engines? One engine, no. 80, was cosmetically restored in her original guise as GTW 8380, and placed on display at the museum's Union, Illinois site. Homes were found for several others as well. No. 27 went to St. Paul, Minnesota, for display outside Bandana Square, a railroad-themed shopping complex converted from a former Northern Pacific Railway car shop. The city of Amboy, Illinois got no. 76 and put her on display outside their depot museum, while no. 73 remained in NS&W's home town of Sterling, Illinois, placed on display at the P.W. Dillon museum. The rest of the engines weren't so fortunate. In 1988, the IRM traded five of them to a Chicago scrapyard in exchange for CB&Q 2-8-2 no. 4963, which had been there since 1970. The remaining three, nos. 74, 05, and 30 (the original GTW no. 8300), were placed in open storage on a siding in Galt, not far from the NS&W yard in nearby Sterling, and left there to rust until a decision could be made on their fate.

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