Rotary Makes Plans to Preserve Locomotive #5631

The old Burlington Route Locomotive on display in Sheridan’s Rotary Park on the corner of East 5th and Broadway is one of only three that have been preserved.

Locomotive #5631 is a Northern (4-8-4) type locomotive. It has an interesting and unique history, which the Sheridan Rotary Club played a large part in and now, along with the City of Sheridan are planning to continue to preserve.

The steam locomotive in Sheridan is CB&Q #5631. It is an O-5A class locomotive, and it was built in July of 1940. Originally assigned to the Chicago Division of the railroad, #5631 spent most of its career on the Burlington lines east of the Missouri River. After being retired, it was placed in the scrap lines at Galesburg, IL. Dr. Otto R. Docekal, a retired CB&Q paymaster, Sheridan dentist, and local Rotary club member, used his relationship with the president of the CB&Q, H.C. Murphy, and former CB&Q Assistant Vice President, Fred Gurley (who, at the time, was the president of the Santa Fe railroad), to advocate for its acquisition. In June of 1962, the locomotive was donated to the Rotary Club of Sheridan.

In an interview with Blaine Hadfield, Pete Olson and Dan Stalker, Rotarians and members of the The CB&Q #5631 Renovation Committee, they talked about engine and the plans they are making for its preservation. “I want to make sure that you include Susan Brayton when describing our committee,” Stalker said. “She was not able to attend the interview but has contributed to the locomotive project in many ways.”

Plans to move the engine

Plans for the locomotive include wanting to move it from its present location to a larger plot of land just across 5th Street, and build an interpretive park to house the engine.

Hadfield talked about how the locomotive came to Sheridan.

According to the information from the Rotary Club, in the period between the world wars, the passenger train departments of transcontinental railroads were a competitive business. Railroads employed the greatest industrial minds and the most prestigious marketing firms to craft brands around premier trains.

From out of this period, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q) railroad looked ahead to the new decade. The 1920s was an era of extraordinary growth and promise. Luxury and speed were paramount in the passenger train business, and the CB&Q decided to rebuild three of its crack “Limited” passenger trains to be competitive into the new decade.

This program was completed in 1930, and the railroad invested more than $3 million dollars and over a year’s labor from the master craftsman at Pullman. These were called “Anniversary Trains” because they corresponded with the 80th anniversary of the railroad.

Hadfield said that Sheridan was the western most part of the CB&Q. These locomotive’s were flagship on the railroad. Today, #563 is one of only three O-5/O-5A class locomotives to be preserved anywhere. And it is here in The Sheridan Railroad Historic District, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic places, and extends along Broadway adjacent to the Burlington Northern Railroad tracks (originally Chicago, Burlington and Quincy) from Grinnell Street north to Sixth Street. Most structures in the district are in one way or another connected to the railroad.

Artist Conception of the Park

The district constitutes the historic transportation hub for the city and surrounding communities. The centerpiece of the district is the Sheridan Inn, which opened in 1893 and is now listed as a National Historic Landmark. Immediately southeast of the Inn is the 1912 Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad depot. The original wooden railroad depot, built in 1892, lies to the northeast of the Inn, and the across the street is the CB&Q #5631 Locomotive.

Hedfield talked about the significance of this locomotive.

Hadfield said that without the railroad Sheridan would not be what it is today. In 1892 Sheridan was smaller than Buffalo, until the railroad came. The Burlington Route was built to connect Puget sound with Kansas City. Passing through Sheridan and Ranchester, the railroad ran to Billings to connected with Norther Pacific. Sheridan had the distinction of being the western most outpost of the CB&Q, which in 1970 became the Burlington Route. In 1996, Burlington merged with Santa Fe, and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) now runs along the rails.

The Sheridan Rotary Club does not own the locomotive but they have taken a stewardship role. Money was donated from Rotary to the city to be used for the upkeep of the engine.

Olson said this about what they hope to do.

Olson said that the Rotary took on the project to restore it cosmetically in its current location but then the owner of the Welcome Market purchased some lots east of the wooden depot and suggested the city swap this land for land where locomotive stands so he could use the land near the Welcome Market. The city council has not yet decided on whether or not to do the swap.

Plans for the park and cover over #5631

“The lot across 5th Street is nearly double the size of this lot, but the locomotive would have to be moved. The swap is contingent on moving the locomotive.” Olson said. He added that the large lot offers more opportunity for the park they have in mind. Currently, the locomotive blocks the view of Sheridan Inn when one drives into town via the 5th Street Interstate Exit. There is no room for parking, or room to add other faculties there, so by doing the land swap, there would be more land for the proposed park.

Several groups are involved in what has come to be known as the The CB&Q 5631 Renovation Committee. The Rotary Club of Sheridan, The Downtown Sheridan Association, Sheridan Travel and Tourism, Sheridan County Historic Commission, the City of Sheridan and others. This committee is responsible for organizing the renovation and site area improvements to include scope, design, and the soliciting of funding and labor/material contributions.

The City of Sheridan is looking into grants to cover the moving the locomotive, pouring the pad, landscaping, parking, and sidewalks. Sheridan already applied for a some grants. “We should hear by end of month if the city has received the first grants.” Olson said. He added that there will be fund raising by the Rotary Club as well.

“We would do it in phases, first move the locomotive, restore it, do the irrigation and start the grass. We want to get local businesses to donated parts of the projects.” Olson said.

Stalker added, “If we get the grants, then we will start moving out, we will launch our website, and our first project with Rotary is to cosmetically improve the engine. Then beyond that a series of the other sponsorship and entities will move in. Rotary is focusing on the engine itself, making it look brand new, and we are taking on the executive management end. It might be many years, and it’s going to be a community project.

Plans for the park, note wooden depot across the tracks

Olson said, “We want to make sure to get out in the community about what this is about. We feel the land swap, and the proposed park, will benefit the community.”

Stalker mentioned that that the railroad, over the years, has been the largest employer in the area, and the coal industry and the livestock industry has been helped immensely by the coming of the railroad.

He also said that the Rotary wants to hear all voices and get community input on the project.



17 Comments

  1. I had thought the public was against this move? Wasn’t there a survey taken? The Locomotive WILL be moved (The public be damned!) and place in a place that is behind homes and trees, and will not be seen when entering Sheridan. Cost to move this to a less desirable location alone is outrageous, typical of the powers that be to ignore the wishes of the people of Sheridan and spend taxpayer monies for outside (California) interests….. Never under estimate outside money, and the ignorance of the members of the city council. This “Move” was predicated by the “leaking” of asbestos, when didn’t work, the next step was “The Locomotive is sinking!” and must be “Fixed” Now the move is pushed by free money (Grants at the expense of taxpayers) and the promise of a better location. My question is, and always has been, why move it? Don’t the wishes of the people count? Revist the past survey?

  2. Restore to operation please!! We lost her Sister 5632 to the torch unexpectedly years ago. Or is she too far gone?

    • If funding was available for a restoration to full operational capability that would be great. Presently the Committee’s goal is to cosmetically restore it to how it looked coming out of the factory. And, doing this in a manner that would not preclude a future full operational restoration.

  3. The 5631 is a 4-8-4 Northern Class Steam Locomotive. Not a 4-8-2 Mohawk Class Steam Locomotive. You ought to
    contact Warren Buffet of Wortheim Shroeder investment group in Omaha, Nebraska that owns the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway about restoring this locomotive back to operating condition?? They have donated a lot of money to museums in their predecessor railroad towns over the years. Plus Union Pacific has been showing them up with their historic operating steam locomotives touring their system generating a lot of great public relations.

    • Already did that. 3 years we tried to get the City of Sheridan to work with us to restore the 5631, we had planned on an operational rebuild by highly qualified steam specialists all over America, but the city manager refused to work with us.
      We gave up.

      • Lindsey, If your discussion occurred three years ago, it was either with Mark Collins or the interim City Administrator, Mike Jackson prior to my time. I apologize if you went away feeling ignored by the City.

        I won’t promise that we’ll agree to what is proposed, but I will make myself available to hear any proposal of this nature. If it is a viable idea and can assist in the interests of the City I will work with you to take it through the appropriate process to garner support.

        Stu McRae
        City Administrator

  4. I think it is ridiculous to even think of moving it. The people of Sheridan already said “leave it where it is”. Why din’t you listen to your people.

  5. The goal of the CB&Q 5631 Project Committee (and article) is to inform the Community about the creation of a Sheridan Railroad History Interpretive Park.

    The concept of the Interpretive Park originated in 2012 and is part of the Sheridan Railroad Historic District Master Plan. The resulting beautification of the proposed location (currently a dirt lot) is also congruent with the East 5th Street Corridor Plan (2012) that calls for a “sense of arrival” for tourists.

    In 2018 the City Council’s updated Strategic Priorities included as a goal, to “Continue the development of the 5th Street Corridor and nearby Railroad Historic District as an attractive entrance into the community and gateway to the historic downtown.”

    The current locomotive/tender site area is very limited in space to enhance viewing and add placards that inform and celebrate Sheridan’s railroad history. And, if the land swap does not occur, it is likely that the All American Indian Days Honoring Project (40’ x 40’ footprint) would be situated there, further reducing space to honor our railroaders and rail history. The proposed land swap site is roughly double the size of the current locomotive site.

    To mitigate deterioration of the locomotive after restoration, the Committee believes it is prudent to place some sort of architecturally pleasing cover over the locomotive and tender. In its current location, this cover would further block the “view shed” of the Historic Sheridan Inn when entering town from 5th street.

    It is for these reasons that that the Committee supports the land swap and creation of the Sheridan Railroad History Interpretive Park. It would be a Park for the community and Sheridan visitors.

    We are not aware of any formal survey of the community regarding the movement of the locomotive and tender. That said, all community input to the Committee is welcome.

  6. I saw this story and thought it prudent to clarify what is going on with the City on this topic.

    There has been a lot of discussion regarding a survey regarding the moving of the locomotive to the other side of the tracks. I would like to clarify that e City has never done any kind of formal survey. This idea has come about because of an offer of trade of twice the amount of land a little less than 300 feet away from the current site.

    The City is in the process of applying for some grants, that if approved, could pay for the majority of this project. In the event that they are approved, we will seek guidance from the Counsel, that will certainly entail a formal public outreach campaign to find out the entire community’s desire.

    To be clear, other than a relative few people of the over-18,000 residents of Sheridan have spoken out both for and against. We will not pursue a formal discussion an this issue unless there is funding shown to be available.

    Stu McRae
    City Administrator

    • It sounds to me like you don’t want public opinion. Applying for grants before seeing if the majority of Sheridan resdents really want it moved, is like putting the cart before the horse. If the grants are approved you will do just what you have already planned.
      Moving the locomotive from between the two railroad buildings and away from the Sheridan Inn is counter productive from its original intent. In addition the modern looking structure over #6631 would destroy the whole concept.

  7. Leave the engine where it is! The cost of moving it to a new location, approximately $1,000,000, could be better spent on other projects. The proposed location of the railroad park is a residential area and it will be doubtful if they want more traffic. A canopy or other cover could be constructed in the engines current location. It would be nice to restore the engine to operational capability but the cost is probably prohibitive and the details of operating/ restoring a steam locomotive are daunting.

  8. Protect then restore the locomotive. I remember it well inside the Galesburg roundhouse and sitting outside under the 4th Street bridge in Galesburg.

  9. …moving the locomotive is only part of the whole story…it would be informative for everyone to see what the “beer garden” or the “parking lot” will look like after the 5631 locomotive is moved within the “Railroad Historic District”…

  10. I am interested in this story as I my brother,Father,Uncle,Grandfather and and many of his relatives all worked for Santa Fe Railroad before they merged. Also intetested to know if Stuart McRae is any relation.

  11. I worked at the Barstow ca clasification yard and witnessed the restoration of the old Harvey House. Also currently live in Carson Valley Nv. And have seen the importance of restoring and preserving the past railroad history.

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