The Heritage Museum in Libby recently won a state grant that will help send its vintage locomotive steaming down the tracks for the first time in 70 years.
The State of Montana has given the museum a grant for $26,704 to continue work on J. Neils Lumber Co. steam locomotive No. 4. As part of the deal, the museum needed to match the state money with about $13,000 of its own funds. The money will go toward the restoration of the locomotive’s firebox — the area in the locomotive where fuel is burned to heat water and produce steam — that they hope will start as early as this summer. The museum is working with a locomotive expert in Washington on the project.
Locomotive No. 4 is a “Shay” type steam engine that was built in 1906 to haul heavy loads on poorly constructed track that was common at logging camps in the early part of the 20th century. No. 4 began its career working for a logging company in northern Minnesota before being brought to Libby in 1917. In Montana, the old steam train brought logs to the mill until it was placed in storage in 1946 and replaced by road trucks. In 1963, J. Neils Lumber successor St. Regis Lumber Co. cleaned up the engine and put it on display in Libby. A decade later it was loaned to the museum and placed along U.S. Highway 2.
Years later, it was realized that the engine was still owned by International Paper (which had since taken over the assets of a previous owner), and the company decided to sell the engine to the Heritage Museum for $1. In 2011, volunteers began to restore the engine, and they hope to run it one day on a loop of track around the museum grounds.
Because steam locomotives are no longer made, new parts are unavailable and restoring an engine to operating condition can often be a long and expensive process, but the volunteers in Libby are optimistic. In the last eight years, they have completely disassembled the locomotive and repaired many parts. Rebuilding the firebox will be one of the first steps toward reassembling the locomotive.
If the museum is successful in restoring No. 4, it will have Montana’s only operating steam train.
The grant was awarded through a Department of Tourism program that supports the development of unique tourist attractions. Officials said they hope the restored steam locomotive will bring history and railroad buffs from all over the country to Libby.
Donations to the locomotive restoration can be dropped off at the Libby Chamber of Commerce or mailed to the Heritage Museum, P.O. Box 628, Libby, Montana 59923. Please mark all donations “Shay.”
For more information, visit www.libbyheritagemuseum.com.