Roland “Skip” Lichter and his steam locomotive might be headed to the Pacific Northwest.
The longtime Mid-Continent Railway Museum member said Thursday he’s considering relocating his 1912 steam engine, the Saginaw Timber Co. No. 2, from the North Freedom museum to the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad in Garibaldi, Oregon.
Lichter said he chose the Oregon railroad from more than 20 other sites across the country because the proposed deal was “very agreeable,” and the institution has a working steam engine program.
“They’re willing to be partners, and that’s what I’m after,” he said. “I don’t need a case where they’re boss, and all I do is suffer the decisions later on.”
Lichter and his engine’s departure from Mid-Continent comes in wake of a controversial decision made in December by the museum’s board of directors to not run the steam-powered locomotive, despite it being ready for the rails. The North Freedom museum hasn’t regularly operated steam engines since 2000, when Lichter’s locomotive went out of service.
Mid-Continent’s own steam engine, the Chicago & North Western No. 1385, hasn’t operated since 1998. Museum leaders plan to have it back on the rails next year.
Following the board’s decision to shelve the No. 2, an arbitrator ruled in February that the museum violated a 2003 lease agreement with Lichter to pay for repairs and run the engine for 15 years. The arbitrator required Mid-Continent to pay Lichter more than $200,000 for restoration work he conducted on the engine, plus interest. The museum also must cover Lichter’s legal fees, and pay to have his locomotive moved anywhere in the continental U.S.
Museum board president Jeff Bloohm did not respond to a request for comment Friday. The museum previously addressed the matter in a statement posted on its website.
“The Board of Directors’ primary concern is the potential large financial liability in running the Saginaw No. 2 as the museum is immediately responsible for all repairs to the engine during the term of the lease,” the statement read. “The lease does not require the lessor to give any warranties on the workmanship of repairs made to the engine. In addition the board of directors is committed to running museum-owned engines, not privately-owned engines, and at the present time does not believe, with the high cost of maintaining and running steam locomotives, that two engines can be run at the same time.”
Lichter said transporting his engine on the 2,000-mile trip from North Freedom to Oregon will likely cost Mid-Continent around $75,000. While the offer he received from Coast Scenic Railway is enticing, Lichter said nothing has been finalized, and he plans to visit the site next month. He added that he has mixed feelings about leaving his longtime home in North Freedom.
“I have no axe to grind with anybody, and I really wish I could stay,” he said. “My whole life has been here, and I don’t know how else to put it.”