Engine 557: Getting history back on track

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WASILLA, Alaska (KTUU) - In an old warehouse in Wasilla, along the main line of the Alaska Railroad, dedicated volunteers are working to get a part of Alaska's history back on track.

They are restoring Engine 557 – the last steam locomotive to run on the Alaska Railroad – back to working condition.

"557 represents the history of steam operations in Alaska," said Patrick Durand, president of the Engine 557 Restoration Company. "It represents the 2,120 of those particular locomotives that were built for World War II. So we're working for a veteran, you might say."

Engine 557 rolled on the Alaska Railroad from 1944 to 1962. It was sold for scrap in 1964, but saved by a collector in Washington. When he passed away, his family allowed 557 to return to Alaska in 2012, on the condition that it be restored to working order.

For the past five years, a team of about 40 volunteers has worked to refurbish the locomotive's major components. They hope to complete the work and have the locomotive operating for special events, starting in 2020.

Volunteer Michael McVerkey says he's working on the project to honor his late father.

"My father loved trains," McVerkey said. "I drove by one day, and I saw the unit outside, and I said, 'That's an old steam engine.' So, in memory of my father, I'm here helping these guys restore this thing. And when it rolls down the tracks, Daddy will smile at me."

Durand says the effort needs about $200,000 more to complete the project.

If you'd like to donate, visit this website.