More than 50 years of the Indiana Transportation Museum gone in a tragic few weeks in 2018.
Bad blood between Noblesville and the museum ended up with the city refusing to renew the museum’s lease. The museum announced plans in 2017 to relocate to Logansport, Ind. But last summer, citing a lack of progress by the museum in moving out its big collection, an Indiana judge gave the museum less than three weeks to vacate Noblesville’s Forest Park by July 12.
Problems for the museum arose nearly three years ago when former volunteers alleged to track owner Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the state attorney general’s office that the museum had violations in finances, operations, and safety. Things unraveled from there: The port authority prohibited the museum from running its diesel excursions, including its main revenue source, the annual two weeks of train service to the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis. Also, the cities of Noblesville and Fishers — terminals of weekend excursion trains — wanted to replace the tracks between them with bike trails.
Then came the court order.
With cut connections to the national rail network (Norfolk Southern at Tipton, Ind., to the north and CSX Transportation in Indianapolis to the south), the museum was trapped between the ticking of the clock and the logistics of trucking more than a hundred pieces of massive railroad equipment somewhere else. Preservationists and others from around the Midwest quickly descended on Noblesville for a desperate rescue operation, buying some of the equipment and moving as many pieces as possible to safety.
The museum’s crown jewel, Nickel Plate 2-8-2 No. 587, immediately went to the new Kentucky Steam Heritage facility in Ravenna, Ky. The 1918 USRA Mike has long been in its second restoration after initial rebuilding placed it in excursion service from the late 1980s to 2003. The museum retains ownership of No. 587 and some certain first-generation diesels, including four F units, along with its 14 rare ex-Santa Fe streamlined Budd coaches of 1937 vintage.
Amazingly, most of the museum rolling stock escaped destruction — some at literally the last minute — sold to other heritage railroads, to private individuals, and to the City of Kokomo, Ind. But there were losses: scrapped were a 1939 Electro Motive Corp. SW1, five 1920s-era Chicago Transit Authority cars, a 1912 General Electric steeple cab, an interurban carbody and a Nickel Plate wooden coach.
The unprecedented speedy slicing up of a railroad museum had a sobering effect on the preservation community, with reflections on organizational mission and management, on relationships with communities and connecting railroads, and on the need to own one’s own property.
To add insult to injury, one of the museum’s irreplaceable locomotives, Monon SW1 No. 50, had its cab clipped off by a bridge while in transit to a new location on Dec. 13.
For the often jaw-dropping, head scratching, dramatic object lesson that has become this once venerated Midwest museum, Trains editors name the Indiana Transportation Museum’s woes, the No. 8 story of 2018.
Read editors’ other Top 10 stories of 2018 online:
Trains Top stories for 2018: No. 10, Giants of RAIL PHOTOGRAPHY pass on
Trains Top stories for 2018: No. 9, Station Restorations