Mid-Continent News

Copper Range #29 Arrives at North Freedom. (6/04/04)
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For photos of the loading process at Hancock, MI, click here. For photos of the unloading at North Freedom on May 27, 2004, click here.

Mid-Continent Railway Museum members at North Freedom, Wisconsin can boast that their latest train has arrived at the station. That "train" would be Copper Range steam locomotive #29, just arrived from Hancock, Michigan.

The 1907-built locomotive was recently offered to the museum by Clint Jones of the Mineral Range, Inc. with the catch that it had to be removed from its longtime storage location at Hancock, Michigan as soon as possible. The locomotive was used in freight and passenger service by the Copper Range Railroad until it was retired in 1953. #29 miraculously escaped scrapping, sequestered away in the Copper Range's roundhouse at Houghton, Michigan. In 1967, #29 was reborn when it was sold to the Keweenaw Central Railroad, a tourist operation based out of Calumet, Michigan and used on their passenger trains. The abandonment of the Copper Range Railroad in 1972 forced the Keweenaw Central to cease operations and move their equipment out of Calumet. Locomotive #29 was relocated to Hancock, Michigan where it has been stored for the past thirty years.

In a short two-month period ending April 30th, the museum successfully raised the funds needed to move the engine to North Freedom, more than 300 miles, via four semi-truck trailers. "We were grateful to the many members and friends of Mid-Continent who stepped up to the plate on short notice to help this become a reality," stated Don Meyer, the museum's development consultant. "It would not have been possible without our many hard-working volunteers," he added.

Indeed, response was almost immediate as soon as the museum announced the fund drive on its website (www.midcontinent.org). "We had donations coming in almost immediately after the page was first posted," relates Paul Swanson, co-webmaster. "It was very gratifying to see the quick response. People are watching!"

Part of the appeal of the engine's move was the dream of its reunification with two Copper Range wooden coaches it last pulled back in 1946. The museum just finished a major restoration on Copper Range coach #60 last year.

"This move was one of the most difficult ones in Mid-Continent's 40-year history," related the museum's curator Don Ginter. He should know since he has been active at the museum for all those forty years. Over one hundred pieces of equipment have been moved to North Freedom during that time, but most were able to move on their own wheels or as complete intact loads on flatcars via various railroads. But today, with stricter federal regulations, railroads are less willing to move old tired equipment for museums. Soo Line #2645 was the last steam locomotive moved to the museum on its own wheels, in July 1989.

CR #29's move required that the boiler be removed from the frame and running gear. It was loaded on two separate semi trailers for the trek to North Freedom. The tender tank also had to be separated from its underframe due to height restrictions. These were also placed on two other semi-trailers. "Unfortunately this has raised the cost of the move substantially," Ginter reports.

On May 26, after five days of preparation, Copper Range #29 left the upper peninsula of Michigan for all time. It crossed the Portage channel bridge on its two semi-trailers--the same crossing it used during its days of service for the Copper Range over fifty years ago, although a previous bridge structure stood here at that time.

On May 27, the engine was unloaded at the museum's North Freedom site. The event was captured on the museum's live webcam. Nearly seven hours later, and #29 was back together at its new home. Adverse weather had threatened the entire project with heavy rains at both Hancock and North Freedom. But the skies cleared in time for the move. Steve Butler of Mid-West Locomotive & Machine Works, North Lake, Wisconsin headed the loading of the engine at Hancock. Only a few spectators were on hand when the engine left with little fanfare on May 26.

Future plans call for a cosmetic restoration and eventual display with the museum's two Copper Range coaches. Donations will still be accepted for the Copper Range #29 Restoration Fund.
CR #29, Calumet, MI, August 1969.
CR #29, Calumet, MI, August 1969.
CR #29, Calumet, MI, August 1969.
CR #29 in service on Keweenaw Central.
CR #29 in service on Keweenaw Central.
CR #29, Calumet, MI, August 1969.
CR #29 in service on Keweenaw Central.