Typically, Pittsburg City Commission meetings don’t have a large crowd. In fact, there hadn’t been a crowd this large in more than two years at a commission meeting.

Typically, Pittsburg City Commission meetings don’t have a large crowd. In fact, there hadn’t been a crowd this large in more than two years at a commission meeting.

The reason for the crowd was the issue of the No. 1023 engine in Schlanger Park. In December, city commissioners reluctantly agreed to allow the engine to move from its current location to the Carona Depot under the care and provision of the Heart of the Heartlands.

That decision came after a year of searching for funds, grants and more from historical and civic organizations that did not amount to enough to attempt to repair and protect the engine in Pittsburg.

A number of Pittsburg and county residents came out to protest the move, while several members of Heart of the Heartlands came out to respond.

The spokesperson, but certainly not the only voice, for those upset with the decision was Larry Fields, who had retired after decades of work with Kansas City Southern, and who had used the locomotive before it was retired and located to Schlanger Park.

Fields was upset because he felt that the commissioners had not given the residents of Pittsburg enough of an opportunity to fight for the engine before giving it to Heart of the Heartlands.

“What I felt bad about is the council didn’t give the citizens a chance to respond,” Fields said. “I have no objection to Heart of the Heartlands. They do a good job with maintenance. But you have a lot of disenfranchised people now. Not one vote for you commissioners came from Carona.”

Fields said that the city can afford “a big, fancy garage” and the National Guard armory, but can’t fund the upkeep of an engine that has delighted generations of Pittsburg residents.

He further asked that if Heart of the Heartlands wanted, they could be a part of moving the engine, but Fields suggested moving it to Trail Head Park at 11th and Broadway.

“My request, at least consider taking a breath,” Fields said. “Can’t you see if these things can’t be done for the citizens of Pittsburg who elected you?”

Fields also described the need for repair of the locomotive as “minor rust compaction” and said the train does need to be protected with a roof and a platform for viewing.

“The people of Pittsburg deserve that engine,” Fields said.

Fields suggested that the city could raise the hotel tax to pay for the locomotive repairs, as he said that Kansas City Southern is one of the primary users of hotel rooms in the Pittsburg area.

Connie McGeorge was one of two others who spoke in protest of the decision, saying she drives by the engine “four times a day.” She said she often sees families taking pictures in front of the locomotive.

John Chambers, Heart of the Heartlands vice president, said that he understood that Fields felt the issue had not been publicized enough. Chambers pointed out that the story had been in the Morning Sun in January 2011, and the city parks department spent most of the year asking civic organizations for help, and got no pledges.

“It cannot sit and stay in the same spot it’s in,” Chambers said. “It needs a completely new base; It’s sitting in a mud hole. Our organization has spent, to this date, over $20,000 of our own pockets to get this engine moved. The contract has been signed with the movers, who have bought equipment to move it. We’d have to owe him money to change the contract. If it stays in Pittsburg, we need to be compensated.”

Chambers also shot down Fields’ idea for Heart of the Heartlands to help fund moving the train to Trail Head Park or elsewhere in Pittsburg. In particular, that’s because Heart of the Heartlands is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which by law cannot spend money on any item they do not own or lease. Furthermore, Heart of the Heartlands has learned over the years that being spread out is not conducive to their organization’s goals, and it is much better to keep all the equipment in one place.

Chambers and current president Larry Spahn said that it would cost the city at least $150,000 to move and repair/restore the engine. Spahn said that Heart of the Heartlands already has the money in place to fund the move, the repair, a new base and a viewing platform.

“What we do, we do well,” Spahn said. “We’re the people to take care of the engine. What happens in 25 years, will it still be sitting there, people complaining about having to do the same things?

“We stepped forward a year ago when the initial item was in the paper about what we can do with the 1023 ... You’ve got 18 people [against the move], that’s $10,000 a head to get where we’re going to be. We have the money, we’re not going to do a fundraising drive.”

Spahn also said the repairs are much deeper than Fields described, and said Heart of the Heartlands has been inside the engine and found that more extensive repairs are needed.

City’s Decision
City commissioners said this was the first time many of them had heard any complaints about the decision, other than a few letters to the editor in the Morning Sun, including one written by Fields. Four of the five city commissioners said they had not received a single phone call about the issue, and all of the five commissioners have phone numbers listed in the phone book. (A Morning Sun search found only four of the five listed in the 2011 Names and Numbers Telephone Directory.) No commissioner said they had received a single email about the issue. During the meeting, it was Mayor Marty Beezley who spoke with the voice of the commission.

“I don’t know what the other commissioners want me to say or do on this. That train was given to the city in 1955,” Beezley said. “No money came with it; The city was just to take care of it. Over the years, several have given to the city to take care of it. The intention [to give the train to the city] was well-meaning. But it has become a burden to us to take care of those things. Any commission going forward needs to think very carefully if they can take care of something given to the city.”

Commissioners after the meeting spoke about how much would be needed on the city’s part to take care of the engine. In particular, many said that the engine didn’t need a “one-time cash infusion,” but rather a sustained, continued effort to properly display the train. Commissioner John Ketterman may have summed up the emotions after the meeting.

“I don’t think any one of us would not want to see the train stay here, but how do you fund it?” Ketterman said. “No answers. There were a lot of suggestions, but no answers.”

Andrew Nash can be reached at andrew.nash@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 ext. 140.