The 140-year-old D.B. Harrington is being restored.
For the past 26 years, in a tent behind the Port Huron Museum, a 140-year-old locomotive has been stored, waiting for its glorious return to the public. With growing interest and a grant from Canadian National, the Community Foundation of St. Clair County and Port Huron Museum have decided now is the time.
The Daniel B. Harrington, named after the railway enthusiast who named Port Huron, will be cosmetically restored to look the way it did toward the end of its run through the Blue Water region.
"This is a piece of Michigan's treasure that shouldn't be hidden away from the public," Community Foundation PresidentD.B. Harrington has been moved around, finally finding a permanent home in Port Huron. Randy Maiers says.
T.J. Gaffney was hired as project manager for the restoration. He is an author, former curator for the Port Huron Museum, former executive director of the Steam Railroading Institute, and owner of Steamline Historic Services. He has been writing articles for The Lakeshore Guardian, tracking the D. B. Harrington's past journeys.
The narrow-gauge steam engine built in 1878 has found a perfect home in Port Huron considering its history here. It was one of the first locomotives to go into town. Many of the small towns that became connected to Port Huron by rail came via the D.B. Harrington.
According to Gaffney, the railroad it ran on was the Port Huron and Northwestern railway. The lines it ran on are now known as CSX or, if you're in Huron and Sanilac counties, now known as Genesee & Wyoming.
Since the locomotive was small, it was replaced by bigger, faster ones in our area six or seven years later. But it's smaller, portable makeup proved useful for lumbering in the Thumb and Northern Michigan.
Restoration will return the D.B. Harrington back to its glory."It could run on pretty much almost any kind of rail. It didn't need perfect track or grade. It could run literally on rails thrown on top of logs in the middle of a forest until, basically, they were done clearing an area, and then they would pull the rails up behind them and go to a new area," says Gaffney.
After lumbering, the engine was sold to the Day family in Glen Haven for a variety of needs. It went on to be displayed in Traverse City during The Great Depression and a few decades following.
In 1965, George Rouse, of Cedar Point fame, bought the D. B. Harrington and displayed it at Cedar Point until 1974. He then donated it to Henry Ford Museum in 1981, where it was sent to Ohio for research and recreation and then, again, to sit. The Henry Ford transferred it to the Port Huron Museum in the early 1990s, finding that its importance was more suited to the city's needs here.
Gaffney often refers to the locomotive as a "survivor," having evaded being scrapped throughout its long history.
Recently, the engine made its way to St. Clair County Community College, a temporary holding place while the restoration T.J. Gaffney works on the D.B. Harrington
comes together. The metal shop and welding classes there made a track to put her on. The tender is being completed in Ohio, so one part of the restoration does not hold up the other, Gaffney says.
A timeline and permanent home for the finished piece of history isn't set, but Maiers says those involved in the project have settled on somewhere along river walk. Not only is it a popular tourist stop, but it is already strewn with rail history related items. Veronica Campbell, director of collections and exhibited at the Port Huron Museum, says the permanent location will most likely be in a new structure built near the Thomas Edison Depot Museum.
Gaffney says the exact spot would ideally be a place that would protect the locomotive and also allow it to be viewed by the public. In the museum's tent, it could be seen by the public, but was not really on display. There was no air conditioning in the summer or heat in the winter, making it a destination only for those with high interest. In Traverse City, the D.B. Harrington was outside for over years, but it has been through so much and is such a part of history now that it needs to be protected. The cab, for instance, is made of wood, and the tender has sheet metal, especially susceptible to damage. Gaffney notes that many people compare the D.B. Harrington to the engine in Marysville Park, which is "more or less a big, steel jungle gym," but this project is entirely different.
As the locomotive hasn't run in over 80 years, the restoration will not make it operational; the team is working on the bones of the machinery. Larger pieces of the puzzle include: replicating the smokestack, recreating the cowcatcher, restoring the tender and the cab, and finding a whistle. The smokestack it has now is a later version, a giant funnel used as a stationary boiler.
In the late 1800's D.B. Harrington delivered goods to Port Huron."We're trying to maintain as much originality of it as we can, but also honor what has been missing," Gaffney explains. "There have been some significant changes to the engine over time, so we want to balance some of those with the look it had when it was here."
He has to research and think about each item. Is it salvageable, or does it need to be recreated from scratch? What do you keep, and what should be restored?
One lucky find was the headlight, which was well-documented, but lost early on in the D. B. Harrington's life. The intention was to recreate it, but instead, an authentic 1880s, narrow-gauge headlight with original lightning mechanisms was found on eBay.
Whether tourists pose for pictures, nostalgic locals come to see the locomotive they remember from their childhood, or railroad hobbyists come to see the piece, it is sure to be an iconic landmark once it is set up. The range of influence this locomotive has on the community is boundless.
"We are very lucky to have the D. B. Harrington. It is a pride and joy of the area, so it needs to be displayed for the Time has taken its toll on the D.B. Harrington.community," Campbell says.
It will also be a learning tool where SC4 students can work alongside their professors to work on living history. Recreating pieces of the D. B. Harrington involves digging through historical documents and recreating forgotten skills used to put it together years ago.
"We are big believers in teaching the historical trades, and there's an opportunity here for young adults, the SC4 student body, to work on things and learn skills they might otherwise not be able to," he says. "We're working with things like cast iron, and so they get to learn things like brazing and special techniques to weld- old school blacksmithing skills."
As the months go on, the Community Foundation, the museum, SC4, and Gaffney want to include the public in this restoration and keep it as open as possible. Campbell says the museum will be putting together scheduled tours. For updates, past and current photos, answers to any questions you have, and an inside peek at the thought process behind the restoration, head to Facebook.