Long-Forgotten Burlington SW-1 Switcher Saved in Montana

A Real Barn Find: Chicago, Burlington & Quincy SW-1 9139 has been locked away in a building in Billings, Mont., for more than a decade. Now it’s getting a new lease on life. Photo Courtesy of St. Johns River. 

Long-Forgotten Burlington SW-1 Switcher Saved in Montana

By Justin Franz 

BILLINGS, Mont. — An 83-year-old former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy SW-1 switcher has been saved from an uncertain future after being rediscovered in a shed in Montana. 

Earlier this year, the owners of St. Johns River, a new railroad equipment and service provider based in Montana, forged a deal to purchase Billings Grain Terminal 84, formally CB&Q 9139, from its previous owner, Gavilon Grain. St. Johns River plans on restoring the locomotive to operating condition and eventually finding a permanent home for it at either a tourist railroad or museum. 

“We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to save such a unique locomotive,” said Executive Director Jim Brennan. “This has been like finding a classic car in a old barn.”

CB&Q 9139 was built in 1939. Following that road’s merger with Great Northern and Northern Pacific, it became Burlington Northern 84. In 1975, it was sold to Davenport, Rock Island & Northwestern where it got a simple black and white paint scheme. The locomotive was retired by the “Dri-Line” in 1984 and sold to Peavey Grain, which assigned it to an elevator in Billings, Mont. The locomotive kept its black and white paint scheme and was lettered for Billings Grain Terminal. The locomotive and the facility it worked at changed hands but the locomotive’s paint was never changed and it’s still wearing the black and white scheme today. The locomotive was last used in 2012 before being parked in a shed until it was recently rediscovered by St. Johns River. 

Billings Grain Terminal 84, formally CB&Q 9139, is seen in Billings, Mont., in October 1997. Photo by Larry Zeutschel/Courtesy of St. Johns River. 

The fact that the locomotive was kept inside means it is in great mechanical condition, Brennan said. Brennan added that the discovery of the locomotive came at an ideal time because Gavilon Grain was preparing to sell the property and the building the locomotive was in. 

“We’re excited to pilot this new chapter of locomotive 84’s life,” said St. Johns River Director of Operations Christian Wizda. 

In recent weeks, the St. Johns River crew has been draining the locomotive of oil and diesel fuel so that it can do a more complete mechanical evaluation. The locomotive currently has friction bearings that will need to either be replaced or converted to rolling bearings and couplers that will need to be replaced. In an effort to help raise money to cover the cost of such work, the company is selling t-shirts of the locomotive and all proceeds from sales will go toward the restoration. Brennan said he hopes someday soon the locomotive will again be wearing its iconic Burlington black, gray, red and yellow paint. 

For more information, visit the company’s website at stjohnsrail.com/restore84.

This article was posted on: February 23, 2022