SATURDAY EVENING POST LISTS ABILENE AND SMOKEY VALLEY STEAM TRAIN AS ONE OF NATION’S TOP SEVEN EXCURSIONS
CONTRIBUTED BY J. Steven Smethers
Kansas State University
If you ride the Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad’s steam powered excursion trains over the upcoming Independence Day weekend, you will be enjoying one of the best steam train trips in the country, according to the Saturday Evening Post. The Post’s weekly newsletter listed the A&SV and its iconic Santa Fe 3415 locomotive as one of seven recommended steam train excursions in America, along with six other nationally recognized excursion railroads, such as the Cumbres and Toltec, which operates between Antonito, Colorado, and the Chama, New Mexico, and the Durango & Silverton narrow gauge railroad in Colorado. The A&SV runs its prized steam locomotive on summer holiday weekends. The next steam trains are scheduled on Friday, July 1, through Monday, July 4. Trains on Friday, Saturday and Monday are scheduled to run at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. On Sunday, July 3, a train will run at 2:00 p.m.
All trains leave from Abilene’s historic Rock Island Depot. Tickets are $40 for adults 12 and over, and $20 for children ages 3 to 11. “We’re proud to get this national recognition,” said A&SV President and General Manager Ross Boelling. “The other railroads on the list have been around much longer. We’re also proud to be the only railroad in the rural Midwest to be listed in the article.” Other steam railroads recommended by the article include the Grand Canyon Railway in Williams, Arizona; the Mount Washington Cog Railroad in New Hampshire; the Nevada Northern Railway in Ely, Nevada; and the famed Strasburg Railroad in Pennsylvania. Santa Fe 3415 is one of a handful of remaining Atchison-Topeka-Santa Fe locomotives in operation in America. The engine, which was placed in Abilene’s Eisenhower Park after it was retired in 1955 as Santa Fe switched to diesel power, was made operational after a community-wide effort to rebuild the engine was launched in 2006. After four years of work, the A&SV debuted the rebuilt engine in time for the 2010 season. The engine was manufactured for the Santa Fe in 1919 by the Baldwin Locomotive Company. A&SV officials marked the engine’s centennial by serving cake and champagne to fans at the Rock Island Depot in 2019.
Boelling said that federal law requires steam locomotives to be overhauled every 15 years. The engine is scheduled to be rebuilt next year and will be taken out of the railroad’s engine lineup while that process takes place.
“We may not be able to have the engine up and running for the 2023 season, so this summer may be the last opportunity to ride a steam train for a while,” Boelling said.
The engine has two more planned appearances this season. Steam powered trains are scheduled for Labor Day Weekend, September 2 through 5 and for the weekend of Abilene’s annual Heritage Day Festival, September 30 through October 2.