Rob McAlister and Sam Walls

Cleburne Railroad Museum Train Crew Volunteers members Bob McAlister, left, and Sam Walls display the recently placed poster/plaque commemorating Engine 3417’s upcoming 100th anniversary. A celebration of that milestone will be held Oct. 19 at Hulen Park.

AT&SF Locomotive #3417 has long been as representative of and iconic to Cleburne as the Statue of Liberty is to New York and the Gateway Arch to St. Louis.

But the Hulen Park situated engine, dubbed “The Spirit of Cleburne,” has seen better days. A group of local railroad enthusiasts hope to rectify that but need the public’s help to do so.

“It’s gotten rusty, needs a paint job,” said Bob McAlister, member of the Cleburne Railroad Museum Train Crew Club Volunteers. “3417 is too much a part of Cleburne’s heritage and too valuable to lose. I’m not sure the city has the finances to tackle that so we’re hoping to raise donations to help out.”

The engine is also soon to pass the century mark with its 100th birthday celebration scheduled for Oct. 19.

Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain applauded the group’s efforts and called upon residents to help out.

“With this year marking the 100th anniversary of the 3417 locomotive, it’s a great time to start taking steps to preserve our railroad heritage,” Cain said.

Baldwin Locomotive Works built 3417 in 1919 and it became one on 50 purchased by the Santa Fe Railway between 1919 and 1924. The Cleburne engine is one of only five remaining. Santa Fe retired the model in 1954 and subsequently donated it to the city.

Engine 3417 remained in Cleburne most of her working life as did the crews who maintained her. She logged more than 2 million miles mostly pulling passenger trains to Purcell, Oklahoma.

During World War II the engine hauled military troop trains over the San Gabriel Mountains in California but returned to Cleburne after and remained in service until 1954.

The engine, a 3400 Class locomotive,  originally functioned as a coal burner but, sometime between 1935 to 1941, was rebuilt as an oil burner.

City and Santa Fe officials moved the engine in 1955 to Hulen Park where it remains still.

Cleburne resident Sam Walls, founder of the Cleburne Railroad Museum Train Crew Club Volunteers,  recently joined other members to  affix and informational sign on the chain link fence surrounding 3417.

“I was in school in 1955 but I do remember a friend of mine said how he looked out his window and saw the people working on moving it,” Walls said. “Don’t quote me for sure on the dates but I think my dad may have been on the city council with Mayor Walter Holliday in ‘55 when that was done.”

Renovating the engine won’t come cheap. The immediate plan, Walls said, is to address the cosmetic.

“First off we’re trying to raise money to get rid of that old chain link fence and replace it with more attractive fencing and some nice landscaping,” Walls said.

Cleburne resident Linda Burt Wallace said she vaguely remembers 3417’s relocation to Hulen Park.

“Mother and dad took me to the depot the day the city accepted ownership of 3417,” Wallace said. “The workers from Santa Fe had painted and cleaned her up to get her ready for the trip to Hulen Park. I don’t remember a whole lot about it because I was only 6, but even then I could tell it was something really important to my father. He worked as a machinist for the shops and had worked on the locomotives. 

“Sonny Burt was there with his parents too that day so it was like a family thing. I remember that too. Actually, I’m sure it was a family thing for many since so many worked for the railroad in Cleburne. 

“My main memory of 3417 though is not long after I first got married. We lived on 4th Street and I had a little standard poodle who used to dig her way out of the window unit air conditioner. I used to find her at the park. The workers who maintained the park and the engine said she loved to sit and watch the train, and them working. They’d pet her and give her water and I always knew where to go look for her if she got out.”

Walls and others presented the poster/plaque for the fence surrounding 3417 to Cleburne Parks & Recreation Director Aaron Dobson and Museum Manager Stephanie Montero.

Montero, oversees the Layland Museum as well as the Cleburne Railroad Museum.

“We thank our volunteers for all they do for the Cleburne Railroad Museum and keeping our community’s railroad history alive,” Montero said.

Engine 3417, Montero noted, is one of Cleburne’s most photographed sites providing a backdrop that attracts residents and tourists alike.

“I just always likes trains,” McAlister said when asked why he got involved with the Train Crew Club and the railroad museum.

“Started as a kid then went on to work for Santa Fe for 10 years,” McAlister said. “After that I got involved with the museum because it’s fun but also important, in my opinion, to preserve our railroad history and artifacts and pass that on to our younger generations.”

Walls likewise said his interest in trains dates to childhood.

“I had electric trains and always enjoyed playing with them,” Walls said. “Not long after we got married Kay bought me a little train set that went round and round. From there I just started adding stuff in fits and starts. Kind of not so much when our kids were little but got more into it again once the grandkids came along and just still going.”

Walls donated some of his electric train collection to the railroad museum, an exhibit he hopes to enlarge once the museum is enlarged.

Planning is underway to enlarge the museum into to buildings on either side of it.

“Our community voted for a railroad museum long ago,” Cain said. “It’s past time to move beyond our temporary museum space into enough space to really tell our community’s story and railroad history,” Cain said.

Nothing is set in stone but officials hope to see the museum expansions completed within a year.

For now, Walls encourages all to attend 3417’s birthday party, which will be held 2-4 p.m. Oct. 19 at Hulen Park.

“We’d like to have the money raised so we can have the new fence and landscaping in place by then,” Walls said. “The county is doing a historic plaque for us and we’re talking to the National Railroad Historic Society to try to get a plaque and landmark designation from them. Otherwise, we’ll have plenty of activities at the park that day, bounce houses for the kids and things for the whole family.

To learn more about 3417, and Cleburne railroad history in general, visit the Cleburne Railroad Museum, 206 N. Main St. The museum is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is free.

To donate toward the 3417 restoration project or become involved with the railroad museum, visit the museum or call 817-645-0952.

Volunteering is fun and rewarding and no experience is necessary, Walls said.

“We will train you,” Walls joked.

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