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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / Details and lessons from the Indiana Transportation Museum disaster NEWSWIRE

Details and lessons from the Indiana Transportation Museum disaster NEWSWIRE

By Kevin P. Keefe | July 6, 2018

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Nickel Plate Road 587’s boiler is set onto a truck at Noblesville, Ind., on Thursday. It will go to Kentucky for safe haven.
Delay In Block/KSHC
NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — Triumph and tragedy are relative terms, but they seem appropriate for describing what’s happening this week in Noblesville’s leafy Forest Park, where preservation organizations are fighting a deadline to save equipment threatened by the Indiana Transportation Museum’s eviction from its long-term home.

Already, a number of pieces in the ITM collection have been cut up, as the museum struggles to obey a local circuit judge’s order to vacate the property by July 12. But even as workers with acetylene torches and backhoes have gone about their grim task, a number of important cars and locomotives have been saved.

The most notable victory was obvious on Thursday night, as crews from the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corp. oversaw the loading of seven flat-bed trucks carrying major parts of Nickel Plate Road 2-8-2 No. 587, the former mainline excursion engine stored in an ITM shop awaiting restoration. The USRA light Mikado, built by Baldwin in 1918, will continue to be owned by ITM.

The 2-8-2 is headed for the former Louisville & Nashville shops at Ravenna, Ky., where KSHC plans to locate per an agreement with CSX Transportation. Kentucky Steam is already at work on the restoration of Chesapeake & Ohio 2-8-4 No. 2716 at the Kentucky Railway Museum in New Haven.

To move the 587, the museum and KSHS engaged the services of Underwood Machinery Transport, Ind., of Indianapolis, which was involved in moving the engine out of Broad Ripple Park in Indianapolis in the 1980s, when the locomotive first went to ITM. Kentucky Steam also has purchased a former Pennsylvania Railroad Railway Post Office, which ITM had been using as a tool car.

Kentucky Steam President Chris Campbell says his organization didn’t plan on acting as a savior for 587, but his team was glad they could step up when duty called.

“It’s honestly not something we set out to do, but the stars aligned,” says Campbell. “Because of the facility we’re getting we are hoping to become a restoration shop, so the situation with ITM notwithstanding, this is a job we’d want to do anyway. Our actual mission is restoring steam locomotives.”

Another preservation group, the Hesston Steam Museum, was also on site this week, having acquired former Indianapolis Power & Light 0-4-0 fireless cooker No. 1 to be transported to its 155-acre site near La Porte, in northwest Indiana, where the organization operates a small narrow-gauge steam railroad.

At least one other major institution, the Age of Steam Roundhouse in Sugarcreek, Ohio, also has an interest in some of the equipment. Representatives of the privately owned steam facility visited Noblesville last week and marked 14 various cars as “AOS,” with acquisition to be negotiated in the coming weeks.

Other notable equipment reportedly saved includes former Cedar Rapids & Iowa City motor 55, homebuilt by Detroit United Railways in 1915, and former Louisville & Nashville heavyweight diner Cross Keys, built by American Car & Foundry in 1930.

Meanwhile, anything left on the site after the July 12 deadline is presumably considered abandoned and, according to the court order, would become the property of the city of Noblesville. City leaders have made clear their hostility to the railroad museum, so the worse could be expected for whatever is left.

The museum has more than 100 items on its roster. Already, a number of pieces of historic equipment have been scrapped, and the situation remains fluid. The preservation group Ahead of the Torch has published a list on its Facebook page, which includes the following losses:

• Milwaukee Road SW1 No. 1613, built by Electro-Motive Corporation in 1939 as MILW 867. The switcher was recently repainted in Milwaukee Road orange and maroon by volunteers, in an effort to eliminate the diesel’s appearance as an eyesore.

• Five Chicago Transit Authority 4000-series cars, built in the 1920s by Cincinnati Car Company. Among the lost CTA equipment is work motor S369, converted from an elevated coach in 1972.

• Evansville & Ohio Valley steeple-cab No. 154. This standard interurban motor was built by General Electric in 1912 for a railroad in Portsmouth, Ohio, and later was acquired by the E&OV in southwestern Indiana.

• Indianapolis & Cincinnati Traction Co. interurban car 606, body only. The Cincinnati Car Company built the car in 1923; it later was acquired by the Indiana Railroad.

• Nickel Plate wooden coach No. 45, built by ACF in 1907. Last week, the car was torn apart in minutes by a clamshell-equipped backhoe.

The museum has been in deep trouble since 2016, when a deep rift between museum management and factions of volunteers became public, putting ITM in the spotlight of local news media.

Operations over a portion of the museum’s track were suspended at the behest of the railroad’s landlord, the Hoosier Heritage Rail Authority, which was concerned about track conditions after complaints were filed with the Federal Railroad Administration. The authority owns the 37-mile former Norfolk Southern (ex-Nickel Plate) branch line between Tipton and Fishers, which includes the museum grounds at Forest Park. The line is severed at each end from the national system.

The dispute also led to the cancellation of ITM’s popular FairTrain to the Indiana State Fair, easily the institution’s most lucrative operation. In its last years, the museum was hauling 10,000 passengers to the fair each season.

As of this week, the future of much of the other equipment remains unclear. ITM’s current leadership is hanging on to some of it in anticipation of re-establishing itself at a new location. One site reportedly in the running is Logansport, 77 miles north of Indianapolis.

Meanwhile, after the dust settles in the woods of Forest Park, a lot of soul searching can be expected in the railroad preservation community. One lesson already underscored: the wider world with direct connections to railroad museums and tourist lines has little interest in the nobility of the cause. What it does expect, and will increasingly demand, is competent museum management with a credible strategic plan.

25 thoughts on “Details and lessons from the Indiana Transportation Museum disaster NEWSWIRE

  1. Don’t waste precious time on cutting up equipment. Leave it for the judge to cut up and tell him to go to hell.

  2. Biggest lesson from this mess…own your own property, do not lease land or use land owned by cities…problem practically solved(there are other issues with ownership, but those are easier to deal with and it’s harder for a city to kick you off the land).

  3. The city of Noblesville and it”s leaders should be ashamed. Especial the idiot judge. Come on, two weeks? Same, shame , shame.

  4. I volunteered for a time at this museum. It was poorly managed financially as well as a museum. There was never a coherent plan. Every project has to be worked on at once and thus nothing was ever finished. Other problems included foamers insisting on everything having absolute value and thus you ended up with a junkyard. The track repair and steam contractors were bleeding the place dry. I worked on NKP for a while and one day I asked the contractor Bob Golder what his plan was for the day. His reply was that he never had a plan. He said he just came in and would work on random things each day. At this point I realized the chance of seeing 587 run again were slim. Additionally the towns of Fishers and Noblesville are full of Nimbys. They have tried for years to kick them off the tracks and finally got their way. Now the tracks will be ripped up for yet another rail trail because the current mayor said he thought having a trail 6 feet from a fence near the tracks was unsafe. I ended up leaving because of safety concerns which ducked because there was a group of younger volunteers who wanted to remake the entire organization, but the board of directors wanted it to be like a private club where each of them had their own kingdom. Oh well.

  5. I truly hate politicians, but it would seem that the lack of organization on the part of the museum people helped to bring about this disaster. We had something similar to this happen at our fairgrounds where a lot of old equipment was stored. The local historical society could never seem to quite get their act together and the day came when the county politicos gave them their marching orders. Everything is now in another county still awaiting restoration or scrapping.

  6. Well, the sadness continues this afternoon at Forest Park in Noblesville. The Maxim Crane folks and other heavy haulers are as busy as ever, moving equipment and loads in and out of the property. The 587’s tender sits forlornly on its special trailer, ready for the long trip to Kentucky. So many important pieces left and so little time. The Maxim folks are generally quite friendly & helpful, actually a bit sympathetic toward the train enthusiats who are witnessing the controlled chaos that is taking place. Incredibly, as long as you are careful and stay out of the way, you can wander basically the entire property. If July 12th really is the deadline, it’s obvious that they could hook up floodlights and work round-the-clock and still not get the job done. Just saw some more pieces/parts of 587 head south. Semi-trailers will wheel-sets sit in various parking lots. Across from the museum, picnickers have a front row seat to the end of a era. Around the back of the property, in heavy shade & gloom, several familiar faces await their disposition. There are the two F’

  7. I don’t think it matters much if the organization owns its property but the following are in play (as they have been, and still are, at many rail museum organizations):

    – Massive egos, personal agendas, personal fiefdoms and endless power struggles.

    – “Knowledge is power” is more important than actual communication,

    – Lack of transparency regarding the organization’s budget and other financial matters.

    – Ignorance of or complete disinterest in safety-related issues.

    A land title is just one more item in the Sheriff’s sale.

  8. Saw this happen In Pemberton, NJ, when the museum president got into a p*****g contest with the mayor. There was no way it was going to work out without loss of everything. Same thing in this case. Who’s to blame? Everybody! From the politicians to the museum staff and their trustees who decided they were right and nothing was going to change. Sad day but there will be more to come because we all think “that can’t happen here”. Yes, it can and will if you don’t have a plan in place as to what you are all about.

  9. Having been a member, volunteer, employee, and donor to ITM over the years, I would like to ask the leadership of the City of Noblesville “why did you not do this sooner?”

    Watching the equipment deteriorate without any meaningful member stewardship is a heartbreaking thing to watch. I worked with another member to pay for construction of the building that houses the Singer Sewing Machine locomotive and the Indianapolis mule car, and I rallied a crew to help put a rubber roof on Union Traction #437, but never saw folks follow-up with other meaningful work. If the City had stepped in sooner, say thirty years ago, this would never have deteriorated to this point.

    As to the equipment salvaged from this mess, I and another member are “splitting up” the CRANDIC locomotive – he gets the trucks to use under #437; I am reusing the control and air systems under The Chicago, Lake Shore and South Bend Railway #73 which is nearing completion in a shop in Southern Illinois.

    I wish the folks who have toiled at ITM the very best. I hope your hearts heal from this, and that you look ahead to learning professional museum management techniques to do your very best with the remaining artifacts.

  10. I checked on various media in the Noblesville area this morning (7/9). What was obvious to anyone looking was that all the local media has become “selectively blind”! Everyone should contact local governing bodies and the chamber of commerce. State the message clearly & strongly, “Because of your actions, I (WE) will spend NO money in your locality!” May the locals will try to force an admission fee on the users of the trail”! Picture the NIMBYS then!

    Biggest lesson from this mess…own your own property, do not lease land or use land owned by cities…problem practically solved(there are other issues with ownership, but those are easier to deal with and it’s harder for a city to kick you off the land).

    Easier said than done. Most organizations are poverty cases when it comes to land.

    This place sounds like so many others, a pile of junk that should have been scrapped years ago. Spread too thin little gets accomplished in the long run.

    They may well be better off elsewhere with far fewer pieces of equipment to care for.

  12. thanks Mr. Keefe for you thoughtful article. This one is personal as I started visiting this museum in the early 60s as a kid when it was a few cars on a weedy siding in the forest. Noblesville, Hoosier history, railfans and children have lost something important. In business, I have always known, there are options. It takes willingness to compromise, so that all get something they want. This could have been a great interurban, trolley museum. As it is, all I feel is great sadness. Best to all,

  13. No Noble Peace Prize for the City of Noblesville for erasing history regardless of the circumstances of the Museum itself. Local Politicians get into a Civil War that isn’t there’s & expand the conflict by declaring war on History itself. Way to go guys, you put you’re City’s name on the map for bad reasons, enjoy you’re Goat Trail.

  14. The powers that be think a tax-payer paid trail is a better thing to have than a tax-paying working rail museum. I don’t know many granola-munching trail walkers that spend money locally like railfans.

  15. It is not the trail, but the taxable development around the trail that makes the politicians salivate. I happens in every community and sadly with collateral damages

  16. I agree with some of the posters that the inherent cause if railroad gentrification. Many people just don’t get what we get in terms of railroads and their preservation.

  17. Mr. Marynowych, your cryptic babble has been thankfully absent from this forum for some time now. Please make your recent return brief and temporary unless you want to address the topics of conversation,

  18. • Nickel Plate wooden coach No. 45, built by ACF in 1907. Last week, the car was torn apart in minutes by a clamshell-equipped backhoe.

    What a tragedy and travesty. Noblesville should be ashamed. They even have a section of town named the “Nickle Plate District”. What a sham.

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