Photo by EMMA GROSSBAUER
Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019 was a historic day for the Pere Marquette 1225, better known as the Polar Express, because of the 44-year anniversary of the train’s first fire-up on Michigan State University’s campus.
The Steam Railroading Institute planned this special day to celebrate two milestones– the Michigan State University Railroad Club’s 50-year anniversary and the 44-year anniversary of the first fire up of the 1225 after it came out of retirement. Made in Lima, Ohio for the Pere Marquette Railway in 1941, the 1225 was used to haul products between cities including Detroit, Chicago, Toledo, Grand Rapids, Saginaw and Flint.
After ten years of serving the cities on the Pere Marquette Railway, the steam locomotive was put into retirement due to the rise in popularity of diesel locomotives. Diesel locomotives were more cost efficient because they ran faster and worked longer. The 1225 sat until 1957 when it was saved by Forest Akers.
Forest Akers, a Michigan State University trustee in 1969, took the Pere Marquette 1225 to MSU’s campus for learning purposes. While being on campus, a group of students took interest in the steam locomotive and decided to try and restore it. The group the students formed is now known as the MSU Railroad Club. The restoration continued until it was finished in 1985 and was moved to Owosso, Michigan.
Today, the 1225 is used for The Polar Express Train Ride where the train takes passengers from Owosso to Ashley. On the ride, they serve hot chocolate just like Robert Zemeckis’ production The Polar Express shows. When arriving in Ashley, Michigan, passengers can get off of the train and explore the Christmas themed town. When ready to go, the passengers will board back on the 1225 and travel back to Owosso where they came from.
These major milestones were celebrated by the Steam Railroad Institute holding the “Cadillac Limited”. This was a tour for passengers to see the fall colors, travelling from Mount Pleasant to Cadillac. While traveling from Owosso to Mount Pleasant’s train station to pick up passengers, it passed through Alma. The first time it passed through Alma was at 7:30 in the morning. The first time Alma College students heard it, there was a lot of concern and confusion.
“I don’t know how to describe the sound; it was something I’ve never heard before,” said Cosette Coston (‘20). “At first I thought it was the emergency alarm that goes off on the first Saturday of the month, but because of how long the sound was, I was just confused on what it could be.”
Throughout the day, students were wondering what exactly it could be. 12 hours later, the train came back through Alma after the Cadillac Limited was finished. Some students did not wake up in the morning to the haunting sound of the train whistle, so when it came back, it was the first time they heard it.
“We thought it was a train, but it sounded like someone screaming, and it was really weird,” said Hannah Flemming (‘20).
That day was a very special day in history for the MSU Railroad Club and the Pere Marquette 1225, and they will continue to grow and hit more major milestones in the future.