History of the Buckley Railroad and Engine #207

Written by: Rhonda Wilson

The Buckley Railroad began running during the show of 1996, but the idea of it began long before. The Engine was purchased around 1990 and we laid the first 300 feet of track in 1995. A company laid the rest and then had to realign all of the curves.

Our main engine is an America 1924, 0-4-0, (F.M. Whyte Classification System) Yard Engine (or in railroad terminology, a Goat). She spent her working years in Detroit at a Detroit Edison Plant. In fact it was the power plant that had seven sister smoke stacks that were taken down in 1998. Her job there was switching out coal cars and supplying coal for the boilers to make electricity. She was retired in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s. At that time she went on display in a local park. She sat there going into disrepair until the mid 1980’s when a youngster climbing on her got a foot caught in her smoke stack. That instance caused them to think she was too much of a liability. We found out about her and bought her. She sat here two years before her restoration began. It took four years to bring her back into running condition. Surviving Steam Locomotives in Michigan

About the time the engine was started, we purchased a diesel engine, a 1929 vintage Plymouth Industrial Switcher. They were used for switching cars and spotting them for loading and unloading at a factory. They weren’t pretty, but they were a handy little engine.

About the time the American steam engine was half done, we purchased the rolling stock from a local tourist train. There was a 1943 General Motors Diesel yard engine. (Last year we traded the GM Diesel for another American 0-4-0 steam engine. A 1929. It is a bit bigger than the 1924. This engine saw service on the Wisconsin Central Railroad and then went into mine service. The company traded her for our GM Diesel and transported the American here.) We also got a 1917 Stillwell Coach that started its career in suburban service (I think in the New York area) on the Erie Lakawana Railroad. We got two open air coaches which started their days as boxcars on the Pere Marquette Railroad. They ended up being converted into flat cars to be used as idlers for loading and unloading the car ferries. After the ferry service ended they had railings and seats added and went into local tourist service.

We also got a NW work train caboose. These were used by work gangs working on the railroad, such as laying rail and at train accidents. This car also started out as a boxcar. It was rebuilt in North Carolina at one of the NW yards.

The new American 0-4-0 is behind the Woodworking Building on the club show grounds. There’s a lot of work to be done on it, but it has a good boiler and that’s a lot. We almost didn’t have the Stillwell Coach. If it hadn’t been for bumble bees and beer it would have been cut up for scrap. They actually started to cut one end off the car and run into the bees and stopped. At that time a man bought her.

The depot, at the Buckley Jct., will be named the Howard Wilson Depot in honor of Howard, one of the original Co-Chairman of the Conductors. He did a lot to see that the railroad got going.

The Buckley Lantern
‘Reflecting on the Northwest Michigan Engine & Thresher Club’

By Frank D. Holzschu
4057 Intertown Rd.
Petoskey, Michigan 49770

Slow, rhythmic, blasts of steam. Gasses drawn from the fire and pushed violently through the stack, producing a puffy gray ribbon of smoke over the Buckley landscape. The Buckley passenger train begins its journey, ascending the grade on the high iron rail of The Buckley Road. The No. 207 locomotive responds to the engineer’s hand, easing the throttle as the train rounds the curve at the summit. The fireman works the water and steam valves initiating the injector, then hooks the fire with a soot blackened poker and shovels fresh coal over the life-giving flames of the fire. The work caboose supporting a large water tank on its platform follows and functions as a tender for the locomotive. The train slithers past the Christmas tree farm and rounds the curve as the rail begins its descent. The passenger coach and covered gondola car are filled to capacity as the train glides past open farm fields on the left and a campground of tents and trailers on the right. The whistle screams a warning, signaling the imminent road crossing ahead, the crossing guard smiles and waves as the train roars past. The conductor weaves his way between the seats in the coach thanking the passengers for riding The Buckley Road, as the train rolls to a stop at the Buckley depot.

The lantern’s wick is turned up high with its bright light shinning on the railroad, a railroad without a name. The road began in the early nineties when The Buckley Old Engine club purchased a 0-4-0 steam locomotive. The members of the club had kindled a dream of building and operating a railroad on their show grounds one mile west of Buckley, Michigan, for a long time. Acquiring the locomotive was like turning on a draft inducer, drawing oxygen rich air through the flames of the dream. It took a short five years to build the road. The club’s dream became reality on Wednesday, August 14, 1996, when Engine No. 207 steamed its way over the road of rail, transporting a cargo of elated club members to the 29th annual Buckley Old Engine Show. The flames pushed the dream at such a rapid pace that little thought was given to a name. Two years later the railroad is still without a name. It is hard to write about something without a name and for this reason I will give the railroad a handle, “The Buckley Road.”

The Buckley Road began when Larry Wichern, Nick Lederle, Tom Graham and myself went to Ypsilanti, Michigan, to prepare the 0-4-0 for the move to Buckley. The switch engine ended its working life many years previous, its major components were still intact, but that’s about all you could say for it. Time and the elements had worked their havoc. The smoke box bottom was rusted through and the door was missing, the brake stand was missing, the gauges, the relief valve, the whistle and many other vital parts were missing. We worked one long, hard day to get the locomotive ready to be lifted onto a lowboy tractor trailer. That evening we stayed at a nearby motel, we discussed the clubs dream and talked about important railroad stuff. Larry spoke of the steam trains arriving and departing the depot in Cedar, Michigan, when he was young. Nick told about the pros and cons of Sir Nigel Gresley’s conjugating valve gear. Tom remembered going to the East Jordan & Southern roundhouse with his father to look at Engine No. 6, when he was young and I explained the desperate need for installing a track pan at Buckley so the train could take on water without having to stop. Now, most of these conversations had little or nothing to do with building The Buckley Road, but it’s the very thing that caused flames of the dream to dance and glow with a brighter hue. Not only the four us were caught up in the dream, almost every member of the club had their own story to tell that fanned the flames of the dream. Thinking back, a handful of traction engine plow boys, old engine and tractor enthusiasts thinking they could build a railroad, it kind of boggles the mind. It’s a good thing we didn’t know then what we know now or we may have left Ypsilanti, without the locomotive. It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of labor, it takes a lot of sweat, takes a lot of phone calls, it takes a lot of patience and it takes a lot of money to build a railroad. We may have had some idea of this at the time but certainly not to the degree that we needed to know. The next day a crane lifted the locomotive onto the low-boy that carried it off to Buckley and that was the beginning of the Buckley Road.

It’s been seven years since the flames of the dream engulfed the members of the club and many things have happened. Early on, a caboose was purchased and not long after that a small Plymouth diesel switch engine came to Buckley. The club purchased rail, ties and spikes for the road and that’s when the restoration of the locomotive began to get serious. The Alanson & Petoskey Railroad’s rolling stock was purchased. The large diesel engine, its coach, work caboose and two gondola cars were moved to Buckley. A company was hired to lay the mile of track and a large pole building was erected to house the train. In the first part of 1995 the track was finished and the locomotive was near completion. Anticipation was high and the thought of running the steam train at the 1995 August old engine show, churned the flames of the dream among the membership. But it was not to be, little things, it seemed like an infinite number of petty problems began to plague the project. Club members tackled the problems one at a time with zest and vigor as the clock ticked toward the dead line and in the end, the clock savored victory. Over the next few months the problems were ironed out and the finishing touches were added. On Thursday, August 15, 1996, the passenger train began service over The Buckley Road and the members of the Buckley club tasted victory. During the ’96 and ’97 shows the train transported over 20,000 people. A line formed at the Buckley depot each morning and persisted until nightfall. The faces in the line would change as the cars filled and departed for the twenty minute journey over The Buckley Road. The line shortened and lengthened and lingered and endured until the sun settled in the west, at days end. A shadow from the train building would slowly swallow up the line, digest it for the night and then slowly regurgitate it as the sun rose in the east, the next morning. This happened each day of the two show’s and there is no reason to believe it will be any different in 1998. Yes, flames of a dream inspired many things to have happened over seven years and the Buckley membership can stand up tall and be proud.

Many people worked hard to make The Buckley Road a success. Club members handled almost every aspect of the project. It is not possible to mention every person’s name involved in the undertaking. Sheer numbers alone prohibit this and I simply do not know every person who had a hand in the dream. Still, some people need to be named and recognized. Ron Decker, Fred Mida, Tom Graham, Larry Wichern and Nick Lederie were key people. They are the people who kept the dream focused, they are the people who made the tough decisions, they are the people who stuck with the project through thick and thin, and they are the people who spent endless hours behind the scenes, making the dream happen. Also, in need of recognition are John Sprandel, Bob Jones, Wilber Volkening, Charlie Volkening and Glen Segraves. These men spent nights, weekends, holidays and for some taking time from their business or job to make the dream come true. Likewise, in need of recognition are the anonymous club members that financed the project. Along with those mentioned above, there is one more group in need of recognition. A group of ladies indirectly helped make the dream possible, the wives of the men that gave so much of their time and talent to the project. Marge Wichern, Susie Lederle, Kathy Graham, Ruth Volkening, Helen Volkening, Davon Sprandel, Bonnie Jones and Mary Jane Segraves are to be commended for staying the course the many days and nights their husbands were off working on The Buckley Road. Marge Wichern speaks for the group as a whole, when she refers to the No. 207 locomotive, as “The other woman.” A big thank you goes out to every club member who helped, supported and dreamed, for without you The Buckley Road, could not have become reality.

Few, if any, Buckley club members have ever set foot in a corporate board room or spent an afternoon at the country club, flaunting greater wealth than they possess. In most instances, club members have callused hands. He or she understands a hard days work and is willing and happy to help a coworker, friend or stranger in need. Members have many talents and can be found filling a wide range of functions at the Buckley club, from the person busting coal for the locomotive to the president conducting a monthly meeting. It’s not the job or status held that is important, it’s the talents, the knowledge and the skills possessed by the person that is important. A good coal buster never breaks more coal than is needed, only enough to keep the immediate fire going. A good president knows when to talk and, more important, when to listen. The Buckley club has many fine coal busters and a good president. The work it took to build The Buckley Road did not happen by setting around the country club lounge, sipping martinis and telling simple jokes. The Buckley Road happened because people with dreams, imagination, determination, persistence and callused hands, worked together and stayed with the job until it was done.

The kerosene is running low and the lantern’s light is starting to fade. It is time to drop “The Buckley Road” handle, and get back to a railroad without a name. I’m sure a name is coming. The Buckley Old Engine Club seems to handle the tough jobs in a short time when the draft inducer is turned on, drawing air through the life-giving flames of a dream. The sun has set and the moon is rising over the Buckley show grounds. Engine No. 207 leaves the depot and again ascends the grade of high iron rail. Slow, rhythmic, blasts of steam, echo through the stillness of the night, with the moon’s soft light illuminating the puffy gray ribbon of smoke, trailing, over the Buckley landscape.

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