Restoration of history: the restoration of the steam locomotive is almost complete

A plume of steam rises from restored ATSF locomotive 2926 on Tuesday, as volunteer Marty Sanchez stands atop the “cowcatcher” testing the air pressure. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis, Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A tall plume of white steam and the shattering howl of a train whistle rumbled through a neighborhood near Albuquerque’s Sawmill District on Tuesday afternoon, signaling the imminent completion of an 18-year ATSF renovation 2926 – a steam locomotive that was previously on display in Coronado Park.

The locomotive and tender were the longest, largest and heaviest Northern class railroad engines ever built, said Rick Kirby, mechanical director of the New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society, which has renovated the glossy black juggernaut.

Locomotive 2926 was built in 1944 by Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia as one of the last passenger steam locomotives on the Santa Fe Railroad, which had begun converting to diesel engines. “The locomotive was parked at Belen for quite a while, and the last time it was in service was in 1954,” Kirby said. “Two years later it came to Albuquerque as a gift to the city and placed in Coronado Park.”

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Volunteers test various components on the front of the restored ATSF 2926 steam locomotive. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis, Albuquerque Journal)

By 2000, the locomotive was in poor condition and had been vandalized, with brass and copper components stolen, Kirby said. The city turned the train over to the historical society, which moved it to a rail spur near Eighth Street and Haines NW, where renovations began in 2002.

Eighteen years and $1.5 million later, the locomotive is an impressive piece of railroad history. The New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society donated the labor of its 400 volunteer members, while money for the renovation was also donated. In the spring, the company plans to test the locomotive in motion and eventually hopes to use it for field trips, possibly between Albuquerque and Las Vegas, New Mexico, Kirby said.

To appreciate the size of the locomotive, just stand next to the 80-inch-diameter driving wheels, the piston wheels that push the locomotive along with the distinctive chug-a-chug-a-chug sound.

The locomotive and accompanying tender car, when fully loaded with water and oil, weigh approximately 510 tons. Generating 6,000 horsepower, the locomotive “could go 90 to 100 mph all day,” Kirby said. To do this, the engine’s combustion chamber converted 100 gallons of water into 300 pounds of steam every mile, while burning 12 gallons of fuel oil every mile.

Diesel engines of the time weren’t as powerful, generating 1,500 to 2,000 horsepower, he said.

In the later years of its operation, when locomotive 2926 was stationed at Belen, it was used to help pull diesel-powered trains up Abo Canyon at the southern end of the Manzano Mountains.

Despite the size of the locomotive, only two people were needed to operate the cabin: the fireman, who managed the boiler and monitored the pressure; and the engineer, who ran the locomotive, operated the accelerator and the brakes. Sometimes, Kirby said, when a crew was unfamiliar with the track or the geography of the terrain, a third person would help, serving as a sort of navigator and announcing when a tunnel was ahead, causing the train to slow down. , or a hill, requiring the train to fire and pick up speed.

The restoration of ATSF 2926 was itself a curious thing. In 2019 alone, more than 5,000 people visited the restoration site, including visitors from across the United States and 15 foreign countries. The New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society website, www.nmslrhs.org, received 250,000 visits.

Since the restoration efforts began, society members have contributed more than 203,000 volunteer hours.

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Volunteer firefighter Henry Roberts checks the combustion chamber in the cab of the steam locomotive. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis, Albuquerque Journal)
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Volunteer firefighter Henry Roberts, left, and volunteer engineer Matt Casford check gauges and monitor combustion chamber temperature and pressure on Tuesday during a ‘power-up’ of restored ATSF locomotive 2926. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis, Albuquerque Journal)

Jose P. Rogers