By Jeff Frost
---- — The Spirit of Traverse City train should have a new home where she will be run for multiple days out of the year, be well-maintained and cared for (by people who have access to a machine shop and machinists) and be appreciated by people of every age, whether or not it is in the Traverse City area.
I've worked on the train, have designed and machined/fabricated parts, improved her, done track work and have run her. She's a sweet locomotive and I don't want to see her go someplace where she will just sit around.
While operating at Clinch Park, she pulled an average of 180 to 230-plus people a day and would run an average of 3,500-plus miles per year. She would regularly pull three loaded cars (an estimated 2,500 pounds each, with people) up the 2.5 percent grade, which is about 70 percent of her rated capacity for that grade. People would comment to me that they enjoyed hearing her climb the hill.
I saw people of all ages from across the United States and Europe having a good time riding the train. I don't believe there is any other 15-inch gauge steam engine in Michigan that ran about 100 days each year.
She's a good-running locomotive and deserves to have a home that has a good-length track (at least 2,000 feet) where she can attract and give rides to people (young and old) multiple days out of the year. She is meant to be run; pins and bushings can easily be replaced, tires/wheels can be turned, with proper lubrication the bearings, pistons, valves and cylinders will need minimum maintenance and with proper boiler care/water treatment, boiler maintenance will be minimized.
There are multiple steam engines that are 100-plus years old that are still running well. If she only runs a few days out of the year and sits around the rest, this can promote rusting and pitting of pins, bushings and the boiler if the boiler is not dry. Sitting around is quite hard on the train.
Clinch Park is the best place in Traverse City for the train and the Commons is the second best place. Both places are large enough to create an interesting ride and allow the engine to work. Railroads are a part of their history as well. The Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad ran along the bay and ended in the Clinch Park area; the depot would have been on the north end of Park Street. A railroad spur also ran through the Commons up to the old State Hospital. The roadbed is still visible off Division and 11th streets.
It's unfortunate city planners and commissioners never inquired about the requirements for the train and never asked the local train expert his thoughts/opinions/recommendations about the train during the Bay Front planning process. If the City does not want the train, I hope she finds a good home where she will run on a regular basis and be will taken care of.
About the author: Jeff Frost, of Lancaster, Pa., was born and raised in Traverse City and worked on the Spirit of Traverse City from 2004-2006. He is currently employed at the Strasburg, Pa., Rail Road as a machinist, steam locomotive mechanic, steam locomotive engineer and fireman as well as a conductor on the train. He also operates and helps take care of their miniature steam train.
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