The history of the Pere Marquette can be traced back to 1900 through the merger of several smaller systems across Michigan. Eventually, the railroad would operate a network spanning much of the state and connecting cities such as Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Saginaw, and Lansing. It also reached Toledo (Ohio), Michigan City (Indiana), and into southern Ontario at St. Thomas. The PM proved an important transportation artery but struggled to maintain a level of healthy profits falling into receivership twice during the early 20th century. Its Berkshire locomotives were some of the last and most technologically advanced to ever operate on the railroad. They were intended for use pulling heavy, fast freights between Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Saginaw were the performed exemplary.
As part of the Van Sweringen's properties the PM had access to the Advisory Mechanical Committee, according to Brian Solomon's book "American Steam Locomotive." The brothers owned several railroads at one time including the PM, Missouri Pacific, Texas & Pacific, Erie, and Chesapeake & Ohio. They created this committee for their portfolio as a means of creating new locomotives and assigning them to the various properties. Most often the brothers stuck with Lima, located in their home state of Ohio, and as a result was fond of the Berkshire locomotive. After the PM's takeover by the Chesapeake & Ohio in 1947,
PM 1225 and the rest of the Berkshires carried on in regular
service on home rails until 1952 at which point all were retired
(interesting, 1225 remained in its original livery until the end).
The C&O had intended to renumber the PM's entire fleet of 2-8-4s as follows: Class N was to be C&O #2685-2699, Class N-1 was to be C&O #2650-2661, and Class N-2 was to be C&O 2670-2681. However, the merger stipulated that only PM equipment fully paid could be repainted and renumbered which resulted in only Class N actually saw C&O numbers. Following their retirement the Berkshires remained stored for a few years; the Class N's were mostly scrapped around 1954 while the newer classes survived until the 1956-57 time period. It is said that some thirteen locomotives were saved at New Buffalo, Michigan until 1961 when apparently many of these also fell to the scrapper's torch. In the end, only two examples survived for posterity; Class N-1's #1225 and #1223, the latter of which is currently owned by the Tri-Cities Historical Society and sits on display at Grand Haven, Michigan.
Realizing the historical significance of #1225, Michigan State University stepped in to purchased it in 1957 after being asked by then-C&O chairman Cyrus Eaton if MSU would like one of the 2-8-4s in storage. The school eventually accepted one from the C&O, which happened to be #1225. It was cosmetically restored by the railroad before delivery and was placed on static display near Spartan Stadium. Here it remained until 1971 when a recently formed railfan group, Michigan State University Railroad Club, began looking at the locomotive's possible restoration back into operating condition. After the club formed the Michigan State Trust for Railway Preservation it formally received the locomotive from MSU in 1978. With help from "Project 1225" and other donors, along with another seven years of hard work the locomotive returned to full operation in November, 1985 (sister #1223 donated several of her parts during this endeavor).
Today the group is known as the Steam Railroading Institute and is based in Owosso, Michigan where the PM 1225 is stored. The SRI does more than maintain the locomotive, however, as it also now
operates excursion trains annually and generally looks to tell the story of the
railroad industry as a whole. To learn more about the locomotive and
when it will be operating and plan a trip to see it please visit the institute's website by clicking here. The Berkshire had its biggest moment in 2004 when it was the star in the hit movie, The Polar Express,
as the locomotive's blueprints where used to construct the digital
version used in the movie. Even more, the locomotive's sounds and steam
whistle was also incorporated into the movie.
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Pere Marquette #1225