Pere Marquette #1225: The Polar Express

It’s a train-loving kid’s dream come true. To me, there is nothing better than the sight of a steam locomotive pulling a train around a layout under the Christmas tree. What could be better for that kid than standing next to the real, living, breathing, Pere Marquette #1225? Answer: Nothing.

I love the story of “The Polar Express,” but I love the real story of the Berkshire class 1225 even more. In the early 1980s when our children were young, we happened to be passing through Owosso, Michigan when I noticed huge plumes of smoke and steam shooting into the sky. I knew immediately it had to be a steam engine!

We searched for the source and came upon the 1225, slowly chugging along a siding near what is now the Steam Railroading Institute. I was shocked and thrilled! I watched with excitement as the huge locomotive moved gracefully and powerfully along. It was like a giant beautiful monster just begging to be set free to run!

Steam engine #1225, trees, steam, snow

Every train lover is aware of the wonderful story of the Pere Marquette 1225 and how it was rescued from the scrap pile many years ago. The dreams of a bunch of dedicated people brought this beauty back from the dead.

Today, the amazing locomotive is the delight of fans, literally, throughout the world. We are just lucky enough to live within an hour of its home.

When our first two grandsons, Gabe and Jackson, were very young, our daughter, Becky, and I took them on The Polar Express. The truth is, our daughter and her two sons were taking Papa on train!

Since the weather was predicting a huge snowstorm, everyone spent the night at Papa and Nana’s house, which just made the whole event more fun.

Sure enough, the forecast was right and we awoke to find the ground deeply covered with a brand new blanket of white. I called the Steam Railroading Institute just to be sure the trip would not be cancelled. “Deep snow does not bother The Polar Express!” the recorded message said. We were on our way!

Papa said we needed to leave very early so we would be sure to arrive on time. (He was really thinking about spending as much time near the 1225 as possible!)

The Steam Railroading Institute staff did a wonderful job taking care of everyone. There were model railroad layouts operating at the institute, to the delight of everyone. Excitement was in the air as we anxiously waited to board The Polar Express.

The thrill of feeling the train beginning to slowly move away from the station, seeing the smoke roll past the windows, and knowing the amazing steam locomotive was pulling us, was indescribable.

Just like in the movie, “The Polar Express,” we were served delicious hot chocolate. Our seats included a table, making it easy to sit comfortably and enjoy our treats while passing through the snow-covered countryside.

In those days, The Polar Express traveled from Owosso to Chesaning. The Saginaw County Fairgrounds was the destination, where the North Pole and Santa Claus waited. During the stop, we were able to get right next to the locomotive and examine its beauty up close.

All too soon, we returned to the Steam Railroading Institute, and our trip on The Polar Express was a memory.

This was our first trip on The Polar Express. In more recent years, Mary and I have taken the trip by ourselves and plan to do it again. We will wait until the 1225 is back in service, as it is undergoing some important mainenance.

Thank you, to all of the people who have worked tirelessly, reaching for the dream that is now a reality for everyone to see. The Polar Express, the Pere Marquette #1225 is living proof, people can work together to make beautiful things happen.

You can visit the Steam Railroading Institute online for information about events in the future. If you want to take your family on a trip they will never forget, plan to ride The Polar Express next Christmas!

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