or How To Move a Santa Fe 4-8-4 Without a Railroad

This item originally appeared on the old CompuServe TrainNet Forum.

In March and April, 1995, the Santa Fe 4-8-4 steam locomotive #2903 was moved from Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, to the Illinois Railway Museum in Union. The Museum of Science and Industry had made changes to its transportation displays, and the large locomotive would not be suitable for the new displays.

The locomotive had to be moved more than a mile, from the Museum to the closest accessible main line railroad, the Illinois Central line near 49th Street. Temporary track would be laid through Chicago's parks and residential streets, in order to move the locomotive. Locomotive was first moved north from the Museum through the park west of Lake Shore Drive, then west through Hyde Park Blvd., and north through an alley paralleling the Illinois Central Railroad. The move lasted ten days.


Information on the pending move of #2903 had been posted on TrainNet, coming from a source which was never clearly identified. But this information was particularly intriguing to me, because I live about a mile from where all this would be taking place. The Museum of Science and Industry is located in Chicago's south side in an area known as Hyde Park. Hyde Park started out as a suburb and owes its existence to the Illinois Central Railroad, having developed around its commuter rail service. This commuter rail service is now operated by Metra, and remains my usual means of transportation between Hyde Park and my job in downtown Chicago.

So for about a week and a half in March, I had the opportunity to witness this unusual event. Each day, I usually would check up on the progress of the move on my way to and from work. What follows are the reports which I posted to the TrainNet Forum each day during the move.


As of sunset today, they had moved #2903 up to 57th Street, which runs along the north side of the Museum of Science and Industry. #2903, along with NYC #999 and the Pioneer Zephyr and the German submarine, had spend many years southeast of the museum, and #2903 was moved along the east side of the museum parallel to Lake Shore Drive. The loco is draped with banners which plug its new home at the Illinois Railway Museum.

According to today's Chicago Tribune, the move is being handled by the R. J. Corman Co. of Gary IN, a company which specializes in clearing railroad wrecks. The procedure apparently involves laying a section of temporary track, towing #2903 along using tractors, removing the track behind, and "leapfrogging" the track materials to lay more track ahead. The route is over an old bridal path as far as Hyde Park Blvd. (51st St.), then over Hyde Park Blvd. to the IC railroad embankment. Getting #2903 up to the IC figures to be interesting, as it's a tight right turn from Hyde Park Blvd. to an alley running along the IC. And I'm not sure how they will get it up the embankment. That is expected to happen on Friday.


When I was there this morning, #2903 had made it up by 56th Street, evidently having been towed across busy 57th Street in the middle of the night, when traffic disruption would be minimal. And by late afternoon today, #2903 had just passed 55th Street. Both 55th and 56th Streets end west of Lake Shore Drive, so there was no traffic to disrupt there.

It has been interesting seeing the special bulldozers and cranes used by the Corman Co., equipment normally used to clear derailments. I had only read about such equipment a couple of years ago in TRAINS. That article was a fascinating look at one of the more unpleasant, but unfortunately real aspects of railroading. But for a change, the equipment is being used for more positive reasons.

The track is in prefabricated sections, almost like model railroad track. The track sections are stacked on flatbed trucks, unloaded with cranes, and bolted together with conventional rail joiners. The track includes rails and ties, but no ballast.

I hope to continue with updates until #2903 gets on the "real" rails of the Illinois Central. I went crazy with my camera the two times I was there today.


I caught up with #2903 on my way home from work today, at about 7 pm Chicago time. By then it had been moved up to around 52nd Street (although 52nd St. doesn't actually exist in the area). 51st Street is really called Hyde Park Blvd., and #2903 must make a gradual left turn through a park towards Hyde Park Blvd. Tomorrow should be an interesting day - towing the locomotive down the street. I hope work doesn't keep me from missing too much.


#2903 didn't get very far today. When I found the locomotive near 52nd Street last night, it was quitting time for the movers. And when I stopped by there tonight after work, I found the locomotive and the tender separated. The locomotive was in a park about a half a block from where it started the day, but pointed in the proper westerly direction towards Hyde Park Blvd. But the tender was on another track section, and still on its original more northerly heading. The two track sections were oriented so that there was no way that they could be connected into one curved section. Apparently, much of the day was spent with a series forward and backward motions, where they would send the locomotive on a curve as far to the left as possible, relay the track behind curving more to the right, towing it back, then relaying the track in front more to the left, and so on. And it looks like they will do it again for the tender.

So they still have yet to start the movement west on Hyde Park Blvd. It looks as if they've fallen behind their original goal of getting it up to the IC line today. If it took all day to get #2903 pointed in a westerly direction, I start to wonder what it will take to get it around its final turn towards the IC embankment.


They apparently worked during the night to get #2903's tender moved and reattached to the locomotive. At around 9:30 this morning, the first section of Hyde Park Blvd. was closed to allow for the movement on the street. And by 7 pm, #2903 had been moved one block west to the intersection of Hyde Park Blvd. and Cornell Ave. (Cornell Ave. was named for Paul Cornell, an early real estate developer. In 1856, Cornell agreed to allow the Illinois Central Railroad to build its line over his land, provided IC would run commuter trains between his area and downtown Chicago. Thus was born what now is the Metra Electric commuter line.)

So here we have a big old 4-8-4 in front of a bus stop at the southeast corner of Hyde Park and Cornell, pointed west and providing an interesting sight for some walking out of their apartment buildings. At the northwest corner of that intersection is an Amoco gas station. Immediately west of the Amoco station, parallel to Cornell Ave. and crossing Hyde Park Blvd., is the embankment and bridge carrying the IC and the Metra Electric lines. And between the Amoco station and the IC embankment is an alley extending north. The challenge: getting #2903 into the alley and up onto the railroad.

I suspect that they will need to use a sequence of back and forth movements to get the locomotive turned into the alley. If they can get it backed south/southeast onto Cornell Ave., they should be able to take it northwest and then north into the alley. However they do it, I hope that working tomorrow won't cause me to miss some of the good stuff.


Some thought it couldn't be done, but they got #2903 around the sharp right turn by the gas station at Hyde Park Blvd. and Cornell Ave., and into the alley paralleling the IC embankment. Apparently they did use some switchback movements during the night, to get #2903 pointed in the right direction. When I was by there this morning, there was indeed a track extending south onto Cornell Ave.

As was done on Friday to get #2903 pointed west towards Hyde Park Blvd., they separated the tender, moving only the locomotive last night. And tonight they were well on their way to getting the tender into the alley.

The alley leads north to a parking lot for a high rise condominium. But this alley is now normally closed off by a gate, and another way is now used for condo residents to drive into their lot. Today I talked to a condo resident who had received a notice to temporarily vacate the parking lot. The parking lot is private and fenced in so I couldn't get a good look. But there probably is an area where the embankment is not too steep, and where they would be able to get #2903 up onto the IC right of way.

IC used to have separate pairs of passenger and freight tracks. These, plus the 4 electric commuter tracks which are now part of Metra, added up to 8 tracks at one time. But CTC enabled removal of the freight tracks in the 1960's, and a gravel service road now exists at the eastern edge of the right of way. The remainder of this project can thus be divided into two main phases: getting #2903 up onto the gravel road, then getting it onto the most easterly track. The Corman Co., handling the move, already has some equipment waiting on the gravel road. Stay tuned.


Some time last night, they got #2903's tender into the alley and behind the locomotive. Hyde Park Blvd. was reopened and returned to normal, and the workers of the Corman Co. took a well-deserved day off today. Work had been going on continuously since Friday morning on this project, which is more involved than the typical derailment which Corman is accustomed to dealing with. There was an article in today's New York Times about the move.

So #2903 sits in the alley between the IC embankment and the Amoco gas station, which is open 24 hours. We'll have to see just how and where they get it up the embankment.


The Corman Co. resumed work today, and got #2903 about a block north through the alley up to near 50th Street. In that area, the alley is behind some condominium parking lots and is difficult to reach from public areas. No streets cross under the IC and Metra tracks between Hyde Park Blvd. (51st Street) and 47th Street.

It appears that near 49th Street, a driveway leads up from the alley and onto the IC embankment. When I went by there this afternoon, it looked as if they were using bulldozers to "grade" the driveway, preparing it for the laying of track. Up to now, they haven't needed too much track down at once for the move. But I think they will need enough track in place to get #2903 up the grade all in one movement.

We're closer to the point when the best views of the move will be from the IC/Metra right of way. Luckily I ride Metra every day, so I should still be able to keep up with the progress during these final days of the move onto the IC.


Some time between last night and this morning, they got #2903 up onto the IC embankment. And as of late this afternoon, it was sitting on a temporary track near 47th Street. There is no regular physical connection with an IC main track, leaving us with one question. Will the Corman Co. use its cranes to lift it onto the main track? Or will they construct a temporary switch on the easterly main track?

Although this is actually on IC trackage, I wouldn't be surprised if the movement from there to the Illinois Railway Museum is entirely handled by C&NW. C&NW locomotives regularly appear in the area anyway, presumably with their own crews. I don't know how long that movement will take, but that will be the more "normal" phase of the movement.


#2903 evidently has at last made it onto real rails. When I rode the Metra Electric line towards downtown Chicago this morning, I saw that they had removed a chunk of track on the IC main line. This chunk was just south of where #2903 was sitting on the parallel temporary track. I saw them connecting the temporary track behind the locomotive to the main track leading south.

It was dark outside when I rode the Metra train home from work tonight. I looked hard for #2903 all along the IC freight line, but never saw anything. I did see a green signal governing the block where the track had been connected, indicating things back to normal there. I'll take another look on my way downtown tomorrow morning, when it's light outside. If I don't see it, then I'll know that it's up to others to continue with reporting on the saga of #2903.


On my ride downtown this morning on the Metra Electric line paralleling the IC line, #2903 was nowhere to be seen. After 10 days of #2903 slowly moving approximately 2 miles through the neighborhood where I live, it finally got to be moved over a real railroad at a more normal speed.


Saturday April 1 was the first day when I had nothing to report on the saga of #2903. It had been interesting witnessing and reporting this unusual railroad event, and it almost became strange returning to my usual routines of walking directly between home and the Metra station. But it became clear that my reporting in TrainNet was done when Forum member Bill Baird posted the following:

"Well I don't have any details of when or how the 2903 arrived at the IRM but the engine was most certainly on hand this morning (Saturday April 1st) about 9:30am".