Near the back of the Arthur Lakes Library on the first floor, a rather large model steam locomotive sits, going largely unnoticed. Last week, petroleum engineering junior Paul Szuhay spent his afternoon cleaning the case and the engine itself. While many of us have noticed that the model is there, few know the story behind it, or that the locomotive is actually a fully-functioning live-steam model, capable of running with nothing more than coal and water.
|Josh Ginn / Oredigger|
The model was donated to Colorado School of Mines in 1970 by a friend of former president Lester Thomas, Edward Field Harrison. Harrison was a model train enthusiast and mechanical engineer working in Denver, and probably built the model sometime in the 1950s. Szuhay, along with a Master of International Political Economy of Resources (MIPER) student Matt Shafer, are on a quest to find out more about the history of the model.
Szuhay, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, grew up fascinated by trains, everything from the classic Lionel H.O. scale trains to the full-size steam locomotives such as were used on the New York Central and Pennsylvania Line railroads in the 1920s. “What hooks me,” he said, “is that supposedly the locomotive came with a set of 12 passenger cars.” Szuhay has been talking to locals, searching courthouse records, and talking to school administrators, trying to find out more about the train in hopes of eventually finding the 12 passenger cars to complete the set. He commented that it is kind of a legend that the cars even exist, but it would be great to find them.
One Mines alum told Szuhay that the locomotive was run for the 1973 E-Days, albeit under compressed air power, not coal and steam. While many would like to see the engine run under its own steam again, Szuhay cautioned that, after sitting for at least 21 years, the boiler may have developed microscopic fractures and could explode if fired. The best option, he said, would be to have the boiler x-rayed to find any stress fractures. If none are found, then the boiler could be fired.
Harrison, the builder of the model, was what Szuhay classified as not just a hobbyist, but one obsessed with modeling, “If you imagine Edward Harrison, in his machine shop turning these gears and casting these wheels, that’s beyond a hobby, that’s obsession.” Szuhay mentioned that he will be meeting with a man who says he was good friends with Harrison, and Szuhay is hoping to find out more about Harrison discover if there really was a passenger car set with the locomotive.
Ideally, Szuhay would love to have the locomotive become a more prominent display here at Mines, and he would like to be involved in a restoration project at some point in the near future. The “discovery” of this working train engine model makes one wonder how many other pieces of Mines history are lurking in the shadows of this storied and mysterious school. “That locomotive, for all the people that don’t even know it’s there, is a great asset to the school, even just to display.” This working model exemplifies what Mines is about – science and technology, engineering at its best.