It’s a piece of our history – Engine 557. The last steam locomotive to regularly operate on the Alaska Railroad. And soon, it will again be riding our rails for the first time since 1962, thanks to the help of hundreds ofdonors and volunteers.
Steam Engine No. 557, now nearly the last of its kind, was one of over 2,000 steam locomotives built for the U.S. Army Transportation Corps (USATC) between 1942 and 1945, and one of 12 sent to Alaska in 1944. Engine 557 last operated at Nenana, where the regular flooding of the Tanana and Nenana rivers made it difficult for the diesel traction motors on most of the engines to run. In 1962, it was the last steam locomotive in regular service on the railroad.
In 2012, nearly 50 years after it left service, Engine 557 returned to Alaska. Jim and Vic Jansen, owners of several Alaska-based transportation companies, purchased the engine from an estate in Washington and donated it to the Alaska Railroad under the provision that it be relocated to Anchorage, rehabilitated, and put back into service.
That same year, the Engine 557 Restoration Company was established as a special project fund of the Alaska Community Foundation. With the help of ACF’s fiscal sponsorship and aided by a matching grant from the Rasmuson Foundation and support from countless businesses and individuals, the project initially got underway in 2012. Additional grants from the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm Corridor Communities Association and the National Railway Historical Society followed in 2014.
Railroads have played such an important role in shaping Alaska. ACF is proud to sponsor this project as it restores locomotive 557 to working conditions. We are excited that Alaskans will be experiencing the sights and sounds of an Alaska Railroad steam locomotive returned to life.
Candace Winkler, former ACF President & CEO.
The company is now halfway through a four-year long major overhaul and restoration of Engine 557, relying on in-kind donations and hundreds of hours of volunteer work involving dismantling, cleaning, inspecting, and refurbishing each part of the locomotive. As 2014 drew to a close, the Engine 557 Restoration Company finally received its 501(c)(3) tax status and was able to transition from project fund to a nonprofit in its own right. ACF is grateful to everyone who made this remarkable project possible.