By Eric Berger
NEBRASKA CITY, Neb. — The Nebraska Railroad Museum has sold former Union Pacific “Centennial” 6925 and most of the other equipment in its collection as it battles local officials in Nebraska City over the use of tracks and property donated to the museum by BNSF Railway. The lone survivor of the sell-off is former Union Pacific business car 125.
Members of the Eastern Nebraska Chapter of National Railway Historical Society have been working for years to establish the museum and believed their plans were finally coming to fruition in 2020 when BNSF donated eight acres of land and some trackage in front of the Nebraska City depot to the group. An unexpected bounty that came with the deed was the discovery that the railroad had leased the depot to the Nebraska City Area Economic Development Corporation.
“The problems began right after we tried to talk to them about the lease,” said NRM spokesman Ken Bean. “They didn’t even want to talk to us. Their response was to pass a ‘nuisance’ ordinance prohibiting anyone but BNSF or Union Pacific from keeping non-functional railroad equipment within the city limits.”
Functional equipment is also considered a nuisance under the ordinance if it doesn’t leave the city once every 30 days, with a $500 a day fine for violations, Bean said. Though an attorney with railroad experience opined that the ordinance probably exceeds the city’s authority to regulate railroad activity, Bean said the cost of pursuing such an action is not currently within reach.
If that weren’t enough, the city has launched a legal challenge to the museum’s ownership of the land and tracks, alleging flaws in the deed from BNSF and claiming that the land under the tracks was denoted as a public street right-of-way on the city’s original 1855 plat and that ownership should revert to the city.
Judge Julie Smith set an October 26 deadline for attorneys on both sides to file briefs in support of their positions.
The new owner of the big EMD DDA40X is Mike Roberts of Railroad Service Contractors in Kansas City, who recently acquired a Western Maryland FA-2.
“I am a businessman, not a railfan or a preservationist, but in this case, I bought it to save it,” Roberts told Railfan & Railroad about the Centennial. He plans to store 6925 at his Kansas City shop after getting it moved from Chamberlain, S.D., where it has languished as a parts supply unit on Dakota Southern since 1987. “The immediate challenge is getting it here. After that it’s not going to be a high-priority project, I just don’t want to see it scrapped.” Roberts said his arrangement with NRM gives them the right of first refusal should a buyer for the engine materialize.
The interior of 6925 is vacant. Its prime movers and alternators were sold decades ago. It also lacks traction motors and compressors and one of its unique four-axle trucks has a cracked side frame. Regardless, the Centennials are an impressive sight just as a static display and NRM members hoped to make it an even more appealing attraction by converting the cab into a locomotive simulator. A recent assessment of its physical condition and the cost of moving it led the museum to sell the unit.
“That was a tough decision for us,” Bean said. “We did not ever want to bring in a rusty piece of junk, we wanted it to have a full cosmetic restoration. But we ultimately found that would not be feasible and resolved to concentrate our efforts on the business car.”
The inspection of 6925 was part of a broader assessment of the NRM collection, much of which was former Fremont & Elk Valley equipment in Fremont that was donated to the museum after FEVR operations ceased. A casualty of that process was FEVR 1219, a former Chicago & North Western SW1200 that was last used on FEVR excursion trains. Victimized by both vandals and copper thieves, the cost of repairing the switcher was found to be higher than the cost of buying a replacement and a lack of roller bearings made transport an expensive proposition. It was sold to Roberts, who harvested the prime mover and other salvageable key parts while scrapping the unit in September.
Other equipment dispositions include:
- 40-foot boxcar UP 108875, sold to a private individual and moved to Humphrey, Neb.
- 40-foot boxcar CNW 319, sold to a private individual and moved to Schuyler, Neb.
- Combine CGW 284, sold to a private individual and moved to Ames, Neb.
- Baggage BN 976184, sold to the Illinois Railway Museum and is being moved to Union, Illinois.
- Pullmans FEVR 1101/1102, sold to private individuals with one moved to Davis, Okla. and the other awaiting removal.
- RPO CB&Q 1938, deemed to be solely a static car; sold to a private individual and removal is pending.
- Caboose UP 201, sold a private individual and moved to Beemer, Neb.
- Flatcar M&StL 16217, pending sale to a private individual and future removal.