Approaching Storm: the 1225 Polar Express

Approaching Storm by Charles Bonham

Charles caught this shot of another photographer shooting the famous 1225 Polar Express, The 1225 is housed at the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso where every year it takes folks on North Pole Express rides during the holiday season. Wikipedia has the story of how the Pere Marquette 1225 locomotive became the Polar Express:

Retired from service in 1951, 1225 was sent to scrap, in New Buffalo, Michigan. In 1955, Michigan State University Trustee, Forest Akers was asked by C&O Chairman Cyrus Eaton if the University would be interested in having a steam locomotive (Eaton did not want to scrap the engines but was having a hard time finding places that would accept them) so that engineering students would have a piece of real equipment to study. Forest Akers thought it a good idea and proposed the idea to University President John Hannah. John Hannah accepted the gift of the locomotive.

When he told the Dean of the College of Engineering about the gift, the Dean said that Engineering was not interested in an obsolete locomotive. John Hannah then called up Dr. Rollin Baker, director of the MSU Museum and told him that he was getting a locomotive. The C&O then instructed the yardmaster at New Buffalo to send an engine to the Wyoming Shops for a cosmetic restoration and repainting with the name Chesapeake and Ohio on the side. The 1225 was the last engine in the line, i.e. easiest to get out. It had nothing to do with the number representing Christmas Day. Baker received the gift of the locomotive in 1957 when it was brought to campus. The locomotive remained on static display near Spartan Stadium on the Michigan State campus in East Lansing, Michigan for a decade.


While on display, a child by the name of Chris Van Allsburg used to stop by the locomotive on football weekends, on his way to the game with his father. He later stated that the engine was the inspiration for the story, Polar Express.

Lots more  information about riding the train and the rest of their collection at the Steam Railroading Institute and more about the book right here!

View Charles’ photo bigger on Flickr and see more in his Steam Engine, Railroad Photos album.

6 thoughts on “Approaching Storm: the 1225 Polar Express

  1. Great place to visit out in Durango CO where the Polar Express runs nightly this time of  year – to Silverton and back.  Sold out for the season.  And the facility where it lives is the world’s best place for repairs of those older locomotives too – our son lives just a few blocks from the station in Durango – and we visited there (again) over the thanksgiving holiday.    And took the Pere Marquette that runs from Holland MI to Chicago; changed to California Zephyr to Grand Junction CO – and son came north on Rt 550 (parallels the Pere Marquette ride to Silverton) – for part of the highway route. ( Chains are now required on that the highway.)    Great train and great place to be.   Getting aboard the Polar Express is fun – adults and kids are in bunny slippers and Jammies – Santa is there and all of the elves….such fun (if you have reservations wellll in advance!).I always enjoy your column!  Thanks!   Jean T Long (a supporter of yours).


    1. Hey thanks Jonathan. I don’t do it all that often at the present time, but if you’d like to contribute, click my Patreon button or go this way. If you are going to donate, let me a know a thing or two you love about Michigan and I’ll for sure feature something cool about it! -Andy


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