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How did this red locomotive get on a Blue Earth railroad track?

From the Editor's Notebook

July 13, 2009
by Chuck Hunt, Register Editor
I got a nice surprise last Thursday when I showed up for a free train ride to Fairmont.

The Union Pacific Railroad invited many local people to ride along on an Operation Lifesaver trip. Local city and county officials were asked to ride, but the railroad also handed out more than 80 tickets to anyone who was interested in going.

I had gone along on a previous Operation Lifesaver ride last fall, so I was on the invite list.

The trip was cut short, and actually went only as far as Guckeen, and not Fairmont.

It seems there was a loaded freight near Fairmont which needed the right of way as they tried to get to Mason City that evening. The crew on our train said a paying customer gets preferential treatment over a free excursion train.

The surprise for me was not the train ride, or the short trip. My surprise came in the form of one of the locomotives.

First, some personal confession is in order. For some reason or other, I have always liked trains. Yes, since I was a kid. It happens to a lot of folks.

As an adult, I started collecting some items from one railroad in particular — the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.

There is a reason for this, but it gets a little complicated. The M-K-T is nicknamed the Katy Railroad. That is because it was traded on the New York Stock Exchange as the K-T.

Back in 1981, my third child, a daughter, was born. We named her Katherina, after my grandmother. Her nickname is Katy, just to be a little different from all of the Katies out there.

Thus my connection to (and fascination of) the M-K-T (Katy) Railroad was born.

So on Thursday, what shows up to pull the Union Pacific passenger train from Blue Earth to Fairmont but a shiny, red M-K-T, Katy locomotive.

Part of my shock was due to the fact there isn’t a Katy Railroad any longer. The M-K-T ceased to exist way back in 1988.

That was more than 20 years ago. So to see a shiny, brand new Katy locomotive was startling, to say the least.

Of course, there had to be a logical answer as to why this apparition could make an appearance in Blue Earth.

In 1988, the Katy was swallowed up by the Union Pacific Railroad. (To be honest, they said it merged with the UP.)

This meant the UP now owned all of the former Katy locomotives and rail cars. Over the last 20 years, all have been repainted, sold off or retired from service.

So how does a brand new one show up in Blue Earth?

It seems the UP started a heritage series of locomotives a few years ago. When new locomotives were made, a few were painted in the same paint schemes of the many rail lines which were bought up by the Union Pacific and now are a part of it.

In the second half of 2005, a locomotive was painted with the M-K-T red paint scheme and Katy logo. It was given the locomotive number 1988, the year the UP bought out the Katy.

Other locomotives unveiled in 2005 included one for the Missouri Pacific (1982) and Western Pacific (1983). Since then three more have come out, for the Chicago Northwestern, the Denver and Rio Grande Western, and the Southern Pacific.

Plus there was another special painted locomotive. It is called the George W. Bush and is painted to resemble Air Force One. I am not sure if there is going to be Barack Obama loco.

You may wonder if the UP has enough locomotives in their standard Union Pacific colors that they can afford to paint seven in these other paint schemes.

Well, the answer is that the UP has 8,595 locomotives across their system which stretches across the western two-thirds of the United States. So seven not having the right paint colors is not a big deal.

The fact that one — and only one — of these is painted as an M-K-T engine is surprising. The fact that out of the 32,000 miles of UP track and 8,595 locomotives, it would be the one to show up in Blue Earth last Thursday is astounding.

But it sure was a nice surprise for this Katy fan. And it was sure fun to ride on it, even just to Guckeen and back.

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