Pere Marquette 1225 Steam Locomotive Profile

Pere Marquette 1225 operates on photo cargo near Owosso, Michigan. The locomotive is owned and operated by the Steam Railroading Institute. Photograph by Jeff Mast

A Pere Marquette 1225 steam locomotive profile is long overdue.

Not only is it one of the busiest mainline steam locomotives of the past 25 years, it is also an iconic symbol of steam’s greatest technological leap forward: the development of Super Power technology, introduced in the 1920s by Lima Locomotive Works of Lima, Ohio. Built in November 1941, Pere Marquette 2-8-4 No. 1225 is today the pride and joy of the Steam Railroading Institute, based in Owosso, Michigan. Every time it runs, it features the features that helped the Super Power concept transform the closeout of decades of steam.

The 1225 was one of 39 Berkshire-type locomotives put into service by Michigan’s Pere Marquette Railway, a relatively small but heavy-duty railroad serving the state’s vast industrial scene. The PM was owned by the Van Sweringen interests of Cleveland, which also owned Nickel Plate Road, Erie Railroad and Chesapeake & Ohio, among others. Together, Van Sweringen Roads developed several specific locomotive designs under the supervision of the company’s Mechanical Advisory Board. All AMC engines featured the main Super Power feature: a large combustion chamber supported by a four-wheel trailing truck, capable of generating the volume of steam needed for high-speed, high-power operation.

Father Marquette 1225 details

With its 90 square foot combustion chamber, four-wheel trailing truck and 69-inch drive wheels, the 1225 easily passed the Super Power standard, giving Pere Marquette the opportunity to expand his business by offering a faster freight service between Toledo, Ohio; Detroit; Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Chicago. The PM Berkshires’ performance was similar to that of the nearly identical 2-8-4 of the Nickel Plate, famous for turning the Nickel Plate into an ultra-competitive bridge carrier between Chicago and Buffalo, NY

Pere Marquette purchased his Berkshires in three separate classes, with the first 15 arriving in 1937 as N-class. The railroad purchased another 12 N-1 engines in 1941; this group included the 1225. Finally, in 1944, PM acquired another 12 locomotives of the N-2 class. The PM 2-8-4s turned out to have relatively short careers: C&O acquired the PM in 1947 and by the end of 1951 had dieselized its Michigan subsidiary.

How the 1225 was saved

Most of the Pere Marquette engines were eventually scrapped, but the 1225 got a reprieve when it was donated in 1957 to Michigan State University and displayed on campus near Spartan Stadium. A second Berkshire PM, 1223, was also recorded and displayed at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit. Today, 1223 resides in a park in Grand Haven, Michigan.

The unlikely revival of 1225 began in 1970, when a student organization called the Michigan State University Railroad Club began tearing down and restoring the locomotive. The MSU group worked for several years until 1225 was passed on to a new organization called the Michigan State Trust for Railway Preservation, now known as the Steam Railroading Institute. In 1983, 1225 was moved to Owosso, where SRI established headquarters in a former Ann Arbor Railroad Shop. The locomotive ran under its own power again in 1988. Over the past 40 years, the boiler has been rebuilt three times. In recent years, it has received virtually a whole new home.

Why 1225 is famous today

The 1225 made a notable film appearance in 2004, when an animated version of the engine starred in the hit holiday movie “The Polar Express”, based on Chris Van Allsburg’s popular children’s book. A virtual, digital version of the locomotive was created by animators using original PM mechanical drawings, supplemented by recordings of the actual sounds of the 1225. Today, the 1225 operates at various times of the year on the tracks of the Great Lakes Central, a shortline railroad serving much of the state’s Lower Peninsula. The most popular aspect of the locomotive is the annual series of “North Pole Express” runs in November and December, a nod to the locomotive’s film role.

Jose P. Rogers