The proposal is just that at this point, Cleburne City Manager Steve Polasek said during Tuesday’s Cleburne City Council meeting.
“We wanted to bring it before the council for consideration before staff spends time and energy on it,” Polasek said. “But since trains played a big role in Cleburne’s history, these could be exciting projects. We don’t have all the answers tonight but if [council] is excited we’ll certainly find the answers.”
The proposals involve the possibility of bringing another locomotive to Cleburne and reviving the daily steam whistle blasts from Cleburne’s old Santa Fe shops.
“Our railroad heritage is one of the things Cleburne is most famous for,” Mayor Scott Cain said. “And the CF7 conversion project likely kept our shops open for a couple more decades than they would have been otherwise.”
Cleburne stands a good chance of acquiring a CF7 locomotive either for free or at a low cost, Parks and Recreation Director Aaron Dobson said.
By 1970, Dobson explained, Santa Fe Railway’s fleet of F7 locomotives had reached the end of their useful lives.
From 1970-78, the Cleburne Santa Fe shops removed the streamlined F7 bodies from their chassis and replaced them with more adaptable and useful bodies suited for switching and short-line railroad duties. The refurbished locomotives were dubbed CF7s, the C designating Cleburne as Cleburne was the exclusive fabricator of the new locomotive bodies.
Cleburne’s Santa Fe shops produced more than 200 such locomotives over the eight year period. Santa Fe Railways used them for more than a decade but ultimately sold them off.
Most CF7s have now reached the end of their useful lives and will soon be scrapped, Dobson said.
“There is a possibility that one might be acquired through a donation to Cleburne from one of several short-line railroads,” Dobson said. “If a donation isn’t possible, a minimal number are available for purchase at a fairly reasonable cost, in the range of about $20,000 to $60,000.”
The idea of locating extra trains through donation or low cost arose several years ago, Cain said, when The Depot stadium was under construction.
“We talked to BNSF Railways and some of the short lines to see if we could get a CF7 donated and we’ve continued those conversations since,” Cain said.
The possibility, Cain added, is both exciting and historical.
“One of these engines, though I haven’t been able to confirm this 100 percent, is supposedly the last CF7 to come off the Cleburne line,” Cain said. “But we do have it confirmed that it came off the Cleburne line and is one of our engines.”
The CF7 could compliment Engine 3417, also known as the Spirit of Cleburne, which has long served as a focal point of Hulen Park. The timing seems propitious, Polasek said, given that Engine 3417 recently underwent refurbishment and installation of new, decorative surrounding fencing.
Preliminary plans call for placing the CF7 on the Hulen Park corner of Westhill and Hillsboro streets and relocating the city-owned caboose from the Cletran offices to Hulen Park as well. Reasoning that kids love cabooses, Dobson said the park area near the playground would make a fitting new home.
“In the future, when we replace the playground equipment, we could maybe go with a railroad-themed playground to tie into that,” Dobson said.
Much remains to be determined, Dobson said, including the city’s ability to acquire a CF7. Moving costs for a CF7 and the caboose figure in as well as do set up and maintenance costs.
Dobson touched upon other ideas as well including roof coverings over the train cars and construction of a stage in front of Engine 3417 for concerts and other events.
Should such ideas reach fruition Hulen Park would be the best location for the trains, Cain said. Cain recalled how Cleburne resident Sam Walls and others worked to raise funds for new fencing around Engine 3417 and said he’d love to see community involvement in any new railroad-related projects.
Dobson added that the proposal evoked excitement from Cleburne Railroad Museum officials on top of their excitement over ongoing renovations and expansion of that museum.
“This would be a great way for people to get up close and personal and see what these trains were like,” Dobson said. “And it would benefit the Railroad Museum and the park since both are so close to each other.”
Whistle while you work
Another idea calls for bringing back the old steam whistle of the Santa Fe shops, which once sounded throughout Cleburne four times a day.
“Everyone who remembers it attests that it’s a deep whistle that could be heard for miles away,” Dobson said. “I don’t know if that’s tall tales but, as a nod to our community’s past, we’d like to look at recreating the steam whistle, or at least the sound of it.”
Councilman John Warren loved the idea.
“I remember that whistle well,” Warren said. “It was right on the money Monday through Friday. You could set your watch by it. I remember when the noon whistle sounded Sgt. Charles Wycoff, who lived in the 200 block of Robbins Street, would stand on his front porch and play “Taps” everyday.
“Sgt. Wycoff later played “Taps” at Gen. John Pershing’s funeral.”
“When you hear the old Cleburne shop whistle you’ll know it,” Cain said. “It was very distinctive. As my dad used to say, it was a soothing sound once you got used to it and reviving it I think is something that would be unique and set us apart. When you come to Cleburne you’ll know you’re in an old railroad town.”
The idea involves building a replica steam whistle, which will likely be housed at the Railroad Museum and programming the actual whistle tone for the downtown area.
IT staff have sampled 36 whistle sounds so far, Dobson said, but have yet to find the right match for the Cleburne whistle of old.
Cain added that Cleburne ISD officials also expressed interest in reviving the whistle.
“They think they can get their students at the high school to build a replica of the old steam whistle,” Cain said.
“I think it might be neat to add another whistle to Engine 3417 that would sound in the park every hour on weekends and during summer,” Cain said.
Council advised staff to further explore cost and other details of the proposals.