It’s extremely rare to see Pittsburg city commissioners vote unanimously to do something that they don’t like.

It’s extremely rare to see Pittsburg city commissioners vote unanimously to do something that they don’t like.

But that’s the case with the decision last month to allow Heart of the Heartlands to move Engine No. 1023 out of Schlanger Park (and Pittsburg) and into Carona.

“I think it’s sad,” said commissioner Rudy Draper in December. Commissioner John Ketterman talked about playing on it as a child, and the grey and white hairs on his head are a testament to the engine’s longevity at the site.

Before progressing, it’s important to note that all stakeholders in the discussion of the train care for the engine passionately. For many, the train is entrenched in their hearts. The city commissioners love the train. Heart of the Heartlands loves the train. Those who want to see the train stay in Pittsburg love the train. It’s not about who loves the train more.

The whole issue of Engine No. 1023 rests on the difference between words and actions.

In 1955, the city bought the engine for $1 from Kansas City Southern. At the time, the then-city commissioners must have assured residents and KC Southern officials that they would take care of the train. Over the years, they did not. Their words in 1955 did not meet their actions over the last 57 years.

Quite simply, the train has scarcely been touched over the decades it has sat in Schlanger Park. The last time it was serviced at all was in 1995.

It’s important to note that current city commissioners aren’t entirely at fault for this problem. They inherited the issue from city commissions past, who also did not take care of the engine. No portion of the city budget was set aside for the regular upkeep of the engine and its tender car. Action was absent on the part of city decision makers throughout the decades.

It became a fact that the city no longer had the ability to properly restore and protect the train.

So city officials asked for help. In a January 6, 2011, front-page story in the Morning Sun, the deterioration of the 1023 was documented. A city official was quoted as saying: “Hopefully somebody will want to help us out” in funding maintenance on the train. A phone number was listed for people to donate to the cause.

Even beyond that, a parks official visited civic organizations throughout the community over the course of the year, seeking funds and help from volunteer organizations. The official called historical organizations and other cities who have restored and displayed trains to get ideas on funding. Ultimately, the community did not take enough action. Only $11,000 was raised, and $24,000 was the estimated cost of just sandblasting and painting the engine.

Could the city have tried harder to get people to raise funds to keep the train in Pittsburg? Maybe. But what reason did they have to believe there would be any more than words based upon the actions of the public over the last year?

Heart of the Heartlands did take action. They found grants and secured funding for moving the train, building a new base in Carona and repainting the train. Their plans include building a viewing platform and a shelter over the train, as well as repairing the damage that vandalism has done to the interior. Heart of the Heartlands will continue funding the upkeep of the train beyond the initial investment.

At Tuesday’s city commission, a number of upset residents in and outside Pittsburg came forward not to denounce Heart of the Heartlands’ actions, but to propose alternatives and to call for the train to stay in Pittsburg.

“The people of Pittsburg deserve that train,” said Larry Fields, a chief opponent of the move.

The words were there, but the action was absent during the last year.

In the end, it must be said that the engine will not be destroyed. The engine will be cared for and protected and displayed in a way it has not been over the last half-century. Pittsburg will lose a landmark, though. While yes, Carona is nearby, and yes, it will be better cared for, that’s not the same thing as seeing the train at the base of the slope where children often go sledding. It just won’t be the same thing as it is now.

But that’s the lesson: Words have passion, but no consequence. Action has both.

The Morning Sun