The Wilmington Railroad Museum had occupied the building that was formerly the freight office for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad since 1983. Now the site was coveted by developers for a new project , so move they must. Relocating the small artifacts was easy enough but the old Baldwin locomotive parked outside was a different story.
The 4-6-0 engine weighed in at about 150 tons but that was just the beginning of the difficulties. ACL 250 made steam for the last time in the early 1950’s. The years that followed were not kind to the old engine. A lot of damage had been done by botched preservation efforts. An inspection revealed that it was probably too weak structurally to be lifted by a crane. On top of that the drivetrain was frozen solid. The wheels refused to turn.
Options for the move were running out. Someone suggested levitating it to the new location. This plan was rejected when inquiries revealed that the Siberian Shaman’s Union had called a general strike that was expected to last indefinitely. It was time to fall back on Plan B. A heavy lift moving contractor was contacted and a crude but workable plan was soon in place.
When I learned of the upcoming event I knew it would be worth watching, so on a fine Saturday morning in early April I was there, camera in hand. The contractor’s crew had arrived on Friday afternoon and started unloading sections of temporary track and other equipment that would be used for the job. By ten o’clock the sections of track had been spliced together and a John Deere excavating machine that would provide the motive power was in place.
The plan was to drag the old locomotive along the temporary track into the parking lot across the street, then angle the tracks back toward the new location that was on an adjacent lot a short distance away. The engine, tender and a box car would then be dragged backwards to the new location for the museum.
When all the sections of track were securely in place it was time to apply the magic ingredient that would make the plan work. Lots of thick, heavy grease. Steel cables were attached to the locomotive and connected to the bucket on the excavator. With all preparations completed, it was time to cross your fingers and hope the entire engine would move, not just parts of it.
The operator pulled back on the bucket arm, the cables tightened and old 250 lurched forward with little puffs of smoke emerging from the wheels where they contacted the rails. It was a process that would be repeated all afternoon as the engine and tender inched toward the parking lot on the other side of the street.
Sunday morning; time to reverse course and pull it backwards toward the new museum location. The day passed with a slow replay of Saturday afternoon but by the time the sun was low in the West, ACL 250 was securely in it’s new home, none the worse for it’s latest journey.
You can find information about hours of operation today at the Wilmington Railroad Museum’s website.