Port Huron Museum to restore steam locomotive
Port Huron — One of the shortest moves in the Daniel B. Harrington’s long existence was probably one of the most momentous.
Workers and volunteers recently loaded the narrow-gauge steam engine onto a flatbed trailer and moved it less than a mile from the Port Huron Museum to the metal shop at St. Clair County Community College.
Veronica Campbell, director of collections and exhibits at the museum, said the steam engine had been housed behind the Carnegie Center in a greenhouse for about 25 years.
“Those who were really passionate about trains in the area always knew where to find it,” she said. “It’s been kind of a hidden gem.”
It’s a hidden gem that is being brought out into the open and given a new setting. Thanks to the Community Foundation of St. Clair County and a $25,000 grant from CN, the Harrington will be cosmetically restored and placed in a new building where it will be more accessible to the public, said Campbell, most likely at the Thomas Edison Depot Museum near the Blue Water Bridge.
The small steam engine pulled cars on tracks 3 feet apart instead of the standard 4 feet, 8.5 inches. It was built in 1878 by Porter, Bell & Co. of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was used by the Port Huron and Detroit Railroad in lumber camps in the Thumb.
“This is the engine that opened up the interior of the Thumb,” said T.J. Gaffney, local historian and railroad enthusiast. He owns Streamline Historic Services LLC in Port Huron.
“Think of your major and smaller cities in Sanilac and Huron counties and this was the first train they ever saw,” he said.
The Harrington worked for years in the Thumb, then moved to the lumber camps near Cadillac and Traverse City.
“From a Michigan history perspective, this one of the few connections we have to our lumbering heritage,” Gaffney said. “When it left here, it was used all over northern Michigan.”
He said the reason it survived is because the last family to own it used the Harrngton as a boiler for their fruit cannery.
It later was an attraction at the Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. The amusement park gave it to the Henry Ford in Dearborn, and the Henry Ford returned it to its first home in Port Huron.
“What’s unique about it is, in its day it wasn’t unique,” Gaffney said. “There were hundreds just like it, but it survived. They had a very short life span.”
Workers used a fork lift to load the engine onto a flatbed trailer for the short trip to SC4. They also loaded the engine’s tender – the small open car that carried fuel such as wood or coal – onto a second flatbed for a trip to an Ohio metal shop where it will be restored.
Mark St. Aubin, a railroad enthusiast who lives in Casco Township, was helping with the move. He said he’s been working with locomotives for 30 years.
“I’m very excited and enthusiastic about the restoration process that’s about to take place,” he said.