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Blink: Back on track

Duluth & Northeastern #28 runs on a track near Railroad Street on April 4. The run was part of a required Federal Railroad Administration inspection. The 111-year-old steam locomotive is scheduled to haul passengers on 27 trips this year on the North Shore Scenic Railroad.1 / 5
With his left hand on the throttle, engineer Bob Purcel moves #28 along the track leading to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum.2 / 5
North Shore Scenic Railroad shop foreman Dennie Freid rides on #28 as it backs away from the Lake Superior Railroad Museum. Freid would flip the track switch necessary to bring the locomotive back to the railroad’s shop.3 / 5
Smoke pours from #28’s stack during a test firing.4 / 5
Steam is released from #28 to reduce boiler pressure while the locomotive is parked. The blue flag warns other trains that the locomotive is parked and workers are near it.5 / 5

Earlier this month, Duluth & Northeastern Locomotive No. 28 pulled away from the Depot under a cloud of black smoke. Its cylinders exhaled puffs of white steam while its bell rang "ding, ding, ding."

After 52 years of retirement and five of restoration, No. 28 is returning to service. The 111-year-old steam locomotive is scheduled to haul passengers on 27 trips this year on the North Shore Scenic Railroad.

"It is the dream of every railroad museum and the goal of most tourist railroads to have an operating steam locomotive," said Ken Buehler, executive director of the Duluth Depot. "However, there are only about 150 working steam engines in all of North America, so having one on the North Shore Scenic Railroad was our goal and is now a dream come true."

The Pittsburgh Locomotive and Car Works built the locomotive in 1906 for the Duluth, Missabe and Northern as their No. 332. The locomotive became No. 28 in 1955 after it was sold to Duluth & Northeastern. For nearly a decade No. 28 was a common sight between Cloquet, Saginaw and Duluth, hauling logs, lumber and general freight. But as diesel replaced stream, it was retired in 1964, the last working steam engine on a common carrier railroad in Minnesota. It moved under its own power for the last time in 1965.

In 1974, the D&NE donated the cleaned and repainted No. 28 to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum. A diesel engine brought it to Duluth's Depot, where it sat on display until late 2011, when work began to restore it to running condition.

The restoration involved removing all of the locomotive's boiler tubes, ultrasounding every square inch of the boiler to ensure its steel can contain steam pressurized to 190 pounds per square inch, then the hand installation of 192 new boiler tubes totalling nearly 2,800 feet in length. Asbestos surrounding the boiler was replaced. New metalwork was installed and painted, valves rebuilt, meters installed, the headlight restored.

In all, the project cost $750,000 in cash and donated services. Volunteers donated thousands of hours of labor.

"If ever there was a community project to restore something, this is it," Buehler said.

North Shore Scenic Railroad 2017 steam locomotive No. 28 schedule:

• June 10 & 11: Duluth to Palmers, Minn.*

• June 23 & 24: Duluth to Two Harbors

• June 23: Night photo session

• June 25th: Duluth to Palmers (two trips)

• July 21: Duluth to Two Harbors

• July 23: Duluth to Palmers

• Aug. 18, 19, 25, 26: Duluth to Two Harbors

• Aug. 20 & 27: Duluth to Palmers (two trips)

• Sept. 1, 2, 9, 16: Duluth to Two Harbors

• Sept. 3, 10, 17: Duluth to Palmers (two trips)

* These two trips are for people who donated toward the restoration of No. 28. For information on how to donate, go to or call (218) 722-1273 or (800) 423-1273. For more information on the NSSR, go to

Locomotive No. 28

• Built: In 1906 by the Pittsburgh Locomotive and Car Works. It was one of 32 locomotives of its C3 class built between 1905 and 1907.

• Purpose: General freight service.

• Wheel arrangement: 2-8-0, meaning it has two leading wheels, eight driving wheels (each 56 inches in diameter), and no trailing wheels.

• Length of engine and tender: 66 feet.

• Height at the locomotive cab: 14 feet, 3 inches.

• Weight: Loaded, No. 28 and its tender weigh 172 tons.

• Capacity: The tender can carry 8,000 gallons of water and 12 tons of coal. No. 28 will burn about 7 tons of coal on a round trip between Duluth and Two Harbors.

Power: Steam engines were not measured in horsepower but in "tractive power," measured in the pounds of dead weight the engine could move from a standstill without wheel slip. In the case of the No. 28, that's 42,750 pounds.

• Interesting note: No. 28 is fitted with two steam-powered air pumps rather than the usual one. In cold temperatures, fittings on the train's airline tended to leak, which could inadvertently set the brakes. Because No. 28 pulled longer trains of iron ore in the winter months, the additional compressor supplied enough air pressure for proper operating.