RyPN Articles November 1, 2006
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A World Away From Mongolia
Chinese QJ's make their American debut laying out smoke and steam across the heartland
December 2005: In the remote, mountainous region of Inner Mongolia, the last fires of steam are dropped on the Ji-Tong Railway. In the past decade the Ji-Tong has become known the world-over as one of the last great steam shows, as double-header QJ 2-10-2's have attacked the intimidating Jing-Ping Pass.
End of story, right?
That would seem true, if not for Henery Posner III, who in April, 2006 announced the purchase of two former Ji-Tong Railway 2-10-2 QJ's and their relocation to the United States by Railroad Development Corp. (RDC), a company owned by Posner. RDC owns and operates a group of railroads in South America, Guatemala, Estonia, and Africa, as well as the Iowa Interstate (IAIS). That same month, QJ 2-10-2's #7081 - notable for hauling the last regularly scheduled steam-powered passenger train on a mainline in the world - and #6988 were loaded for shipment to the United States, from Dalian, China.
After their trip across the Pacific, the locomotives arrived in Houston, TX in June, where they were loaded on flatcar for the trip to Rock Island, IL and unloaded on the Iowa Interstate Railroad before being moved to the IAIS facilities in Iowa City, IA. In the coming days and weeks preparation for operation began. The engines already met FRA specifications after their overhaul at the Jinzhou 701 works.
On July 18th, The Friends of the 261 announced a series of excursions over the Iowa Interstate and Iowa, Chicago, and Eastern, taking place between Thursday, September 14th and Sunday, September 17th, in conjunction with RiverWay 2006, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the first-rail crossing of the Mississippi River. Crews and equipment were provided by the 261 group and moved to the Quad-Cities behind former-Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 #261. The excursions operated out of Rock Island, IL with Thursday featuring a dedication ceremony and dinner train around the Quad Cities, Friday an excursion to Iowa City, IA, Saturday to Bureau Junction, IL and Sunday to Muscatine, IA.
As the excursion date neared, work continued on the two-QJ's and on August 24th #7081 was fired up, followed by the #6988. During the coming days the engines operated in the Iowa City area. On September 6th, #6988, along with four IAIS diesels, operated west on an Blue Island - Council Bluffs road-freight. Three days later, #7081 followed suit.
With the excursions a week out, both QJ's had finished successful test-runs and final preparations were being made, MILW #261 and train were running a series of excursions in Minnesota, prior to dead-heading to Iowa, and behind the scenes the biggest announcement was being made - Saturday's excursion would be a triple-header with #6988, #7081, and #261. If excitement for the impending excursions wasn't high already, the late breaking announcement pushed it over the top. Tuesday, September 5th found MILW #261 arriving in the Quad-Cities, fresh from its Minnesota excursions. Besides being featured on the Saturday triple-header, the locomotive remained on display during the duration of the weekend events.
Almost five-months after their journey from China began, QJ's #6988 and #7081 made their official, American debut with an hour long dedication ceremony on Thursday, September 14th. Following the dedication, the two locomotives led a dinner train in the Rock Island/Quad-Cities area. During the following three days, the QJ's stormed across the heartland of Illinois and Iowa finally proving themselves to the public and providing a glimpse to what it may have been like in Inner Mongolia just a few years ago to those who never got the chance to see it for themselves.
Saturday proved to be one of the steam events of the year, as promised by the announcement a week earlier, both QJ's lead #261 and consist on a rare triple-header from Rock Island to Bureau Junction and back. On Monday, September 18, both locomotives led a 35-car freight train from Rock Island to Iowa City, unassisted, before dropping the train and continuing to Newton where they are now stored.
With the series of excursions over, Railroad Development Corp. is now turning their attention to the sale of the two engines. According to Henry Posner III, "We have had a few serious enquiries but had not given marketing of the locomotives full attention until they were proven. Now they are and we are focused on determining whether there is a market for them." When asked about the possibility of more locomotives being imported from China - as reported in an April 21 story on Railway Preservation News - Posner responded that there are three more for sale in China that they have an option to bring the United States through early December, but is waiting to see if the market warrants it. Posner said of the potential sale of them, "The objective is to find homes for these locomotives in the United States on tourist or other railroad's, as a business-driven preservation project." Answering whether more trips might take place, Posner said that it would be up to third-party groups to see if there was any interest. When asked if he was pleased with the performance of the locomotives, he had one word, "very." Posner also credited project manager Dennis Daugherty, The Friends of the 261, and the Iowa Interstate for the smooth and safe series of excursions.
One year ago, as the last fires of steam on the Ji-Tong Railway where dropped in Inner Mongolia, who could have guessed that two QJ's would find their way to the United States. Its been a long journey from the mountains of Inner Mongolia to the American heartland and it's one that won't be soon over.
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Special thanks to Henry Posner, Wayne Laepple, and the Unofficial Iowa Interstate Photo Archive.
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