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  • Landmark to get a new location

  • It is hard to let go of a piece of history, but that’s what Pittsburg City Commissioners agreed to do with a heavy heart on Tuesday.

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  • It is hard to let go of a piece of history, but that’s what Pittsburg City Commissioners agreed to do with a heavy heart on Tuesday.
    “I think it’s sad. When I was a kid, when I wanted to go to a park, I wanted to go to the train park,” said Commissioner Rudy Draper. “My kids do that today, wanting to go to the train park. It’s kind of depressing that it’s come to this, I hate to see it leave. It’s been there forever and it’s a nice sight. Kids run over to it, and look for a few seconds. It’s depressing that we haven’t budgeted for it and planned over it the past few decades.”
    On Tuesday, the city commissioners agreed to let the No. 1023 engine in Schlanger Park leave the park and the city not only for the first time in decades, but for good.
    According to Kim Vogel, Pittsburg Parks and Recreation director, the locomotive was originally built in Pittsburgh — Pennsylvania, not Kansas — in 1906, but in 1925 it was refurbished in the Kansas Pittsburg and given a new name, No. 1023. It worked along the Kansas City Southern rail lines until the 1950s. It was placed in Schlanger Park in 1955, where it has been ever since.
    Vogel told the commission that the engine has not been well maintained.
    “Since 1995, no moneys have been put in to the engine. It’s really been left to deteriorate,” she said. “In January, the Morning Sun ran a story about the lack of funds for the engine, and our department, we have no funds for restoration.”
    At the time, Vogel said she was “gung-ho” about keeping the engine in Pittsburg, going so far as to solicit funds from civic organizations, state organizations and more. In the end, however, she could only muster $11,000 of the $24,000 needed just for the sandblasting and painting of the engine.
    “That still leaves us $13,000 short of sandblasting and painting,” she said. “That doesn’t touch inside, the fencing, and the seeping where it sits. We got a quote from Tri-State to fence and shelter it, and to get a new concrete base. The quote was for more than $100,000.”
    Schlanger Park in general needs a lot of help, Vogel said, and while many donations have come to help rebuild new playgrounds, little money has come for saving the engine.
    “We talk about pride a lot, especially the last three to four commission meetings,” she said. “We have a lot of pride in the parks department. There are 14 parks in the department, and we are extremely proud of 13 of them. Then there is Schlanger Park.”
    Enter the Heart of the Heartlands. This organization, founded 20 years ago by Watco’s Dick Webb, is dedicated to the preservation of the region’s railroading history.
    Page 2 of 3 - The group took a particular interest in the story of the #1023. As of Nov. 18, the group secured the funding to, if approved, move the train to the Carona Depot. It turns out the funds were not just for the $75,000 it would cost to relocate the train, but also for the pad, the track, the facility and to repaint the engine.
    “We feel this is the best place for the public to see that locomotive. In the future, people can come out to Carona, and it can be a regional benefit to Pittsburg and the region. We do not have a steam locomotive, but we do have a diesel locomotive,” said John Chambers, the Heart of the Heartlands president until the end of the year.
    Chambers said that the group would also work to pursue putting a roof over the engine and redoing the interior. The engine is of a particular note to them, as it is the only Kansas City Southern steam locomotive in existence.
    Almost immediately, according to incoming Heart of the Heartlands president Larry Spahn, the train would be moved to Carona and set on a new base, as the base it is currently sitting on in Schlanger Park is “completely gone.” The group would also paint the engine.
    Perhaps no one was more emotional about the decision to move the train than Jim Van Becelaere. Van Becelaere had driven in the train in 1955 to its Schlanger Park location.
    “My interest in it is purely memory,” he said. “I did drive the locomotive in, and it was pushed by a diesel engine. I have full confidence in Heart of the Heartland to do this right. I am disappointed in the city for not funding this project. I hope it’s not too far gone to save. You need to have a budget for these things...
    “I have full confidence in Heart of the Heartlands. I suggest you let them have it because we’re not capable of doing this, for whatever reason. I suggest the city turn it over so it can be restored.”
    Mayor Marty Beezley and many other commissioners expressed frustration at being unable to protect the engine, but agreed that Carona would server the engine better than its current location in Schlanger Park.
    “I commend Kim for exhausting all the opportunities for funding,” Beezley said. “I know this has been a dilemma for a while. We have no dedicated funds to take care of or restore the engine. We appreciate that [Heart of the Heartlands] has dedicated funds to take care of it in perpetuity.”
    Commissioner John Ketterman spoke about his memories of the train. His father worked for Kansas City Southern, and Ketterman said he recalled playing on the train as a kid, and he hates to see it go, but he said it’s probably in the best interest of the engine.
    Page 3 of 3 - Michael Gray echoed many commissioners’ thoughts.
    “One, we have a lack of funds,” Gray said. “Two, it’s not like we’re train experts in restoring it’ we can’t take care of it forever. I don’t know anybody in Pittsburg that does that. To me, it’s a no brainer. Get it to the people that know how to do it, that can take care of it, and let others see it in a setting that it won’t get vandalized. Give it to people that do this every day.”
    Andrew Nash can be reached at andrew.nash@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 ext. 140.

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