Aaron Isaacs. HRA editor
There was a driving rainstorm the last time I was in Owosso, Michigan to visit the Steam Railroading Institute, but this time the sun was out. After fueling up on kolaches at the nearby Kolache Kitchen (14 flavors, don’t miss it), I showed up at the office for the daily 10AM opening of the visitor center. It’s located in a former trackside creamery.
This is really a railroad museum, so why is the term “Institute” in its title. That may trace back to its spinoff from academia. Pere Marquette 2-8-4 1225 was donated to Michigan State University in 1957. in 1969 the MSU Railroad Club was formed with the goal of returning 1225 to operation. The club incorporated as a non-profit and morphed into the Michigan State Trust for Railway Preservation in 1979. Two years later MSU donated 1225 to the Trust.
The locomotive moved to the Ann Arbor Railroad Owosso backshop in 1982. It returned to steam in 1985. The first excursion train was pulled in 1988 and in 1995 1225 was placed on the National Register of Historic Structures. The Trust’s public identity as the Steam Railroading Institute was established in 2000.
Since then the organization has added rolling stock and put down roots in Owosso. In 2003 it purchased the former Tuscola & Saginaw Bay site that it occupies today, adjacent to the Lake States Railway (ex-Ann Arbor) shops. A shop building was erected and the former Pere Marquette 1919 turntable from New Buffalo, Michigan was installed.
The visitor center opened in 2004.
Over time the Institute has acquired more rolling stock, and can field its own passenger and photo freight consists.
The roster includes:
ex-Frisco, ex-Mississippian 2-8-0 76 (Baldwin 1920)
Ann Arbor PS1 40-foot steel boxcar 1314 (Pullman Standard 195&)
C&O gondola 31262 (1939)
Detroit & Mackinac gondola 3514 (1947)
D&M tank cars 127 and 128
PM automobile box car 72332 (Greenville Car 1946)
Wabash box cars 4633 and 4646 (1922)
Chesapeake & Ohio heavyweight combine 462 (Pressed Steel 1931) CN lightweight coaches 5576, 5581 and 5646 (Canadian Car & Foundry 1954)
CN buffet/lounge 762 (Canadian Car & Foundry 1954)
C&O lightweight sleeper City of Ashland (Pullman 1950)
Pennsylvania sleeper converted to MARC commuter coach 147 (Budd 1950)
Army kitchen car converted to Amtrak baggage car 1363 (St. Louis car 1950)
Grand Trunk Western bunk car 58332
PM caboose A909 (Magor 1937)
Ann Arbor cabooses 2838 and 2839 (1952)
Locomotive 1225 has become famous as one of the active big engines in service today, pulling excursions as well as photo freights. It was in the shop when I visited.
The day I was there, the steam crew was about to kick off the restoration of 2-8-0 76, for which they’ve been raising money.
Elsewhere on the property, the Institute hosts miniature live steam on a loop of track. The raised yard spurs are served by an interesting transfer table.
The visitor center houses exhibits, a meeting room and a downstairs model railroad.