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Event this weekend to pay tribute to area railroaders, locomotive that welcomes public to county museum

A ceremony Saturday will mark the 50th anniversary of the dedication of Engine 2523 at the Kandiyohi County Museum in Willmar. It will double as a homecoming for all former and current railroad workers. DAN BURDETT | TRIBUNE1 / 3
A large crowd was on hand for the dedication ceremony of Engine 2523 on October 17, 1965. A special track was constructed to remove the engine from east- and west-facing tracks to its current location facing north at the Kandiyohi County Museum on Willmar’s northeast side. SUBMITTED2 / 3
After it was decommissioned in 1958, Engine 2523 sat unutilized for seven years on a line now operated by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway before it was moved to its current site at the historical society. SUBMITTED3 / 3

For five decades, a jumbo, green locomotive known as Engine 2523 has been a staple of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society, welcoming visitors to its homey museum on Willmar’s northeast side. And this weekend, the historical society will celebrate the engine during a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of its Oct. 17, 1965, dedication.

Dubbed Engine 2523 Day, the event Saturday is free to the public and will feature entertainment by performers from the Choo-Choo Bob Show, a railroad-themed, Minneapolis-based children’s variety TV program, and will also act as a homecoming for current and former railroad employees.

“The railroad is an important entity and has a long history not only in Willmar but Kandiyohi County,” said Jill Wohnoutka, executive director at the historical society. “The engine is a testament to the past and we want to celebrate that. Plus, not every museum has a steam locomotive parked in front of it.”

In fact, Wohnoutka said, Engine 2523 is one of just two P2 Mountain Class 482 locomotives that remain in the nation; the other is preserved in Washington State.

Built by Baldwin Locomotive Works and commissioned in 1923, Engine 2523 was part of a Great Northern Railway fleet, running passengers and occasional freight east and west through Willmar on the lines now operated by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.

A powerful but zippy locomotive, the P-2 class could reach speeds in excess of 75 mph and was controlled by a three-man crew: the brakeman, who operated track switches, and coupled and uncoupled the freight cars; the fireman, who fed coal into the furnace and tended to the boiler; and the engineer, who drove the train.

Two other crew members rode the caboose, a car typically attached to the rear of the train.

Engine 2523 was officially decommissioned in 1958, and sat unutilized at what is now the BNSF depot until 1965, when Great Northern donated it to the historical society, Wohnoutka said.

A temporary track was constructed to move the engine across what is now High Avenue Northeast to the museum site, and in the process, two hills were dug out and a ditch was filled.

Today, the engine faces north on a nearly 100-foot strip of track built to Great Northern main-line specifications. The creosoted ties, per the historical society website, are supported on a sub-ballast consisting of 6 inches of rock chips and a ballast of 6 inches of crushed granite, shipped from Granite Falls.

“It really is a great historical piece,” Wohnoutka said of the engine. “So much of the railroad’s past can be linked to important times in history: the birth of the steam engine, The Industrial Revolution.”

Saturday’s event will begin at 10 a.m. in the museum parking lot, with the Choo-Choo Bob performances scheduled for 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

A rededication will then take place at 2 p.m.

During the 1965 ceremony, a champagne bottle containing water from the Pacific Ocean, Lake Superior and the Mississippi River was smashed against the train, mirroring a tradition often reserved for ships as they launch on their maiden voyage.

A new bottle has been filled with water from each of those bodies, but will instead be mounted in tact in the museum to mark this year’s event.

A welcome table for all current and former railroaders will also be set up as a meet-and-greet area.

For more information on the event, call 320-235-1881. The Kandiyohi County Museum is located at 610 Highway 71 Service Rd., across from Willmar Lake and opposite the National Guard Armory.

Dan Burdett

Dan Burdett is the community content coordinator at the West Central Tribune. He has 13 years experience in print media, to include four years enlisted service in the United States Air Force. He has been an employee of Forum Communications since 2005, joining the company after spending two years as the managing editor of the Redwood Gazette and Livewire in Redwood Falls. Prior to his current position, Dan was the presentation editor at the Tribune.

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