Pere Marquette 1225 and the Polar Express

Steam Locomotive in Polar Express

In 2004, an animated Christmas musical movie starring the ever-popular Tom Hanks premiered in theaters worldwide. For families, it offered another fantastic family holiday movie but for train enthusiasts, it featured Pere Marquette 1225 – an absolutely gorgeous train – in this article, we’ll go over a bit of background, the story, the characters but mostly, we’ll go into concise details about the steam locomotive Polar Express that was based on Pere Marquette 1225.

Polar Express Story

It was the eve of Christmas. From his window, our boy hero, who is skeptical about Santa, sees a train. The conductor encourages the boy to join the other children on the train trip and visit Santa Claus. They invite another boy, named Billy. At first, he hesitates but then joins the holiday train ride. The hero boy befriends other children during the Polar Express ride. The train ride is not without its hitches and bumps but the conductor, engineer, fireman, and the children all manage the bumps, the downhill grade, the iceberg crash. Finally, Polar Express reaches its destination, the North Pole.

The conductor says Santa will give the first Christmas gift to one child. Meantime, our hero boy and his friend spot Billy, still on the train. As they urge him out of the train car, the boy accidentally unfastens the car, and the car speeds uncontrollably into the workshop of Santa. Elves help the children out of the workshop before Santa arrives.

As Santa comes, one bell on his reindeer’s reins comes loose and flies. The hero boy does not hear the bell ring at first. Only when he believes in Christmas, does he hear the bell. He gives it to Santa. And Santa gives him the first Christmas gift and bell as well. But it slips through a hole in his pocket.

The boy returns home, and on Christmas morning, he wakes up, finds a present with a note from Santa, and the lost bell. He and his sister enjoy ringing the bell. But their parents, who did not believe in Santa, do not hear the bell, thinking it is broken.

As the belief in Christmas fades, his sister and friends can no longer hear the bell. But the boy, now in his maturing years, still hears the bell. He believes in Christmas.

The Polar Express’ Locomotive Architecture Basis

In his book Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg used the Pere Marquette 1225 as the basis for the steam locomotive. PM 1225, built in 1941, October, was a class 2-8-4 Berkshire steam locomotive built in 1941, October by Lima Locomotive Works. It was built for the Pere Marquette Railway Class 2-8-4 has two unpowered leading wheels that help the train negotiate curves; freight coupled driving wheels follow, then four trailing wheels.

In the US, the 2-8-4 wheel arrangement was developed from the US Railroad Administration 2-8-2 Mikado; because the locomotive needed a bigger capacity for steam heating. Lima Locomotive Works built the first group of 2-8-4 in 1925, to run across the Albany and Boston Railroad. The railroad’s route across the Berkshire mountains was a good test for these locomotives. So the locomotives adopted the name, Berkshire.

Two Pere Marquette 2-8-4 engines survived, No.1225. And No.1223, is displayed at the Historical Society Tri-Cities, in Michigan.

PM 1225 regularly ran the tracks of the Pere Marquette Railway from 1941 until 1947, when Cleveland financers assumed control of the railroad.

Why Use That Locomotive

Chris Van Allsburg, the Polar Express’ author, cherished the moments when he would play on the steam locomotive when he went to the football games in his youth. The Pere Marquette was on display at the Spartan Stadium at Michigan State University.

While No. 1225 did not actually represent Christmas, Chris Van Allsburg noted this and was inspired to write his book.

Differences in the Real-Life Version vs the Animated Version

The locomotive engine featured in Polar Express has different features from Pere Marquette 1225. Its wheel arrangement was a 4-8-2. It resembled an S-1 from the Erie Railroad. Differing features were the headlight on the smokebox. The whistle was upright, unlike the whistle in 1225, which was horizontally placed. The locomotive had no marker lights, no feedwater heater. It had no builder plates of the PM 1225. The cowcatcher that blocks obstacles was bigger than the cowcatcher of PM 1225.

In July 2002, technical artists from Warner Brothers approached STR or Steam Railroading Institute for drawings of Pere Marquette No.1225, as well as its engine, to study it. They also needed the sounds made from recordings of PM 1225 as it operated under steam. But the whistle used in the movie is the whistle of Sierra Railway No.3, known as the Movie Star locomotive that appeared in motion pictures, documentaries, tv productions more than any locomotive. This 19-century train is owned by California State.

Polar Express Locomotive: What We Know

On Public Display

Retired in 1951, PM 1225 was scheduled to be scrapped in New Buffalo. Cyrus Eaton, chairman of Chesapeake and Ohio canal did not want to scrap the engines and looked for places that would accept them. In 1955, he asked Forest Akers, a Trustee at Michigan State University – if they could use a steam locomotive as real equipment for study by engineering students. Forest Akers accepted the idea and proposed this to John Hannah, the University’s President.

The Pere Marquette 1225 was donated to the university’s college of engineering. However, the department had no use for an outdated locomotive. So President Hannah turned it over to the Museum of the university. The locomotive underwent cosmetic restoration at the shop in Wyoming.

From 1957 on, the locomotive was put on display for more than 10 years, at Michigan State University.

Annual Polar Express rides

In 1969, a certain set of MSU students formed the MSU Railroad Club.

some MSU students organized the Railroad Club of Michigan State University and saw to it that PM 1225 was displayed during football weekends.

In 1975, the students started up the boiler. They blew the locomotive’s whistle for the first time in two decades.

In 1977, when Dr. Edgar Harden had become the Interim President of MSU, Chuck Julian, Railroad Club President, asked him about the future of the engine. By this time, Dr. Harden had expressed disinterest and had advised the group to form an NPC (Non-Profit Corporation) and he would just donate the engine to them.

Supporters of “Project 1225” and MSU’s Railroad Club formed the Trust for Railway Preservation, Michigan State, in 1978. Chuck Julian, president of MSU Railroad Club became its first President. The Michigan University gave the ownership of Pere Marquette 1225 to the Trust. And in 1983, the Trust moved PM 1225 to the service shop of the Ann Arbor Railroad located in Owosso, Michigan. It is now stationed in Owosso, Michigan. The Steam Railroading Institute operates it.

Excursion Service

On November 30, 1985, PM 1225 ran the tracks on its power, after thirty years since it was retired.

In 1988, it ran its 1st excursion ride, traveling across 17 miles between St. Charles and Owosso, Michigan.

In August 1991, Pere Marquette 1225 and NKP 765 pulled a 31 car passenger train during the yearly convention of the Historical Society of the National Railway, in West Virginia. Passengers continue to enjoy PM 1225 excursion rides throughout the year.

Polar Express rides

Since 2004, Pere Marquette 1225 regularly gives holiday pleasure train rides for passengers, between Thanksgiving and mid-December, The winter rides are called “The North Pole Express”.

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