Museum starts renovating its historic train engines

Posted on Oct. 17, 2011 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — The trains still roll through downtown Elkhart, disrupting traffic and piercing eardrums. They still transport from one end of the country to another.

Elkhart has celebrated its locomotive history since 1987, when it established the National New York Central Railroad Museum. It houses model locomotives, a children’s train and the New York Central Mohawk No. 3001.

The Mohawk. It was a steam engine that ran from New York to Chicago and made stops in Elkhart. The museum got the Mohawk when Robert Spaugh, a former president of the Lakeshore Railroad Historical Foundation, convinced a Texas museum to trade it for another engine. The foundation leased the Mohawk to the Elkhart museum.

Now a group of volunteers has assembled to get the train in working order by fixing the parts that have rusted over, replacing old parts and painting it.

“There’s a million things that need to be done,” Spaugh said.

When asked how long he and the other volunteers need to fix the Mohawk, he said, “Forever.”

Their main obstacle is money, or lack thereof. Fixing the rust and doing some of the metal work will cost $10,000. To get the train running again will take more than $1 million.

Spaugh, who worked as a painter on the New York Central, said the group won’t be able to do much more work on the train until spring.

“The hope is that if it’s restored it could do long-range excursions,” said volunteer Dick Bowers.

The Mohawk isn’t the only project underway at the museum. The NIBCO Express, the children’s train, is getting an extended track and a tunnel where the train will be housed to prevent weather damage and vandalism. Landscapers will add perennials in the spring that will liven up the track.

Museum coordinator Robin Hume is overseeing all the renovations. She took over in May, succeeding former coordinator Ron Troyer.

Hume had worked at the museum in 2009, then moved to the human resources and parks and recreation departments. She said working for the railroad museum gives her the opportunity to interact with a “big array of people,” to work with history and to organize a variety of events.

Hume has three conventions scheduled at the museum next spring, including the National Model Railroad Association and the New York Central System Historical Society.

Historical groups aren’t the only ones visiting the museum. Hume said high school seniors have their photos taken at the museum and 32 children’s groups visited this year. Hume reports that attendance has increased over 2010.

Other museum projects include renovating the theater so movies can be shown there. There is a steam toy exhibition planned for the spring. Museum officials also plan to build a tunnel-like shed to house the Mohawk.

“There is great history in all of this,” Bowers said.

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