2004 : Polar Express Debuts in Grand Rapids, Michigan

November 5, 2018 all-day
The Polar Express (film) - Wikipedia

The premier of the Tom Hanks movie “The Polar Express” — based on a book by Grand Rapids native Chris Van Allsburg — was held in the author’s hometown on November 5, 2004. The classic Christmas tale tells the story of a magical train that carries children to the North Pole.

Source : “The Polar Express Movie Premier”, Detroit Free Press, November 4, 2012.

The steam locomotive that pulls the Polar Express is modeled after an actual locomotive at the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan. The Pere Marquette 1225 Berkshire-type (2-8-4), built in 1941 at the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, OH, was part of the Pere Marquette Railway system before being decommissioned in 1951. Slated for scrapping, it was acquired by Michigan State University (MSU) in 1957 and exhibited on campus. In 1971, MSU steam enthusiasts commenced the formidable task of restoring the mighty locomotive to operating condition. Restoration was substantially completed in 1985, and in 1988, number 1225 started pulling excursion trains in the Owosso area and around Michigan. The locomotive has been listed on the United States National Register of Historical Places. In the film, artistic liberty is taken with the appearance of the locomotive and its tender, both being made to seem even more massive than the 794,500 pound (361,136 kilogram) original. Many of the train’s sound effects, such as the whistle blowing and steam exhausting, were created from live sampling of number 1225 while in operation. The 1225 even had the words “Polar Express” replacing the “Pere Marquette” on its tender while under a short promotional contract. However, the right to keep the Polar Express license agreement was lost soon after because of the licensing fees that would have been required to use the name. The Michigan State Trust for Railway Preservation, also known as the Steam Railroading Institute, received no money or other compensation for the use of the engine’s image and sounds in the movie and relies upon trip revenue and donations to operate. Source : Wikipedia.

Another story about the MSU / Polar Express Link. Retired from service in 1951, 1225 was sent to scrap, in New Buffalo, Michigan. In 1955, Michigan State University Trustee, Forest Akers was asked by C&O Chairman Cyrus Eaton if the University would be interested in having a steam locomotive (Eaton did not want to scrap the engines but was having a hard time finding places that would accept them) so that engineering students would have a piece of real equipment to study. Forest Akers thought it a good idea and proposed the idea to University President John Hannah. John Hannah accepted the gift of the locomotive. When he told the Dean of the College of Engineering about the gift, the Dean said that Engineering was not interested in an obsolete locomotive. John Hannah then called up Dr. Rollin Baker, director of the MSU Museum and told him that he was getting a locomotive. The C&O then instructed the yardmaster at New Buffalo to send an engine to the Wyoming Shops for a cosmetic restoration and repainting with the name Chesapeake and Ohio on the side. The 1225 was the last engine in the line, i.e. easiest to get out. It had nothing to do with the number representing Christmas Day.

Baker received the gift of the locomotive in 1957 when it was brought to campus. The locomotive remained on static display near Spartan Stadium on the Michigan State campus in East Lansing, Michigan for a decade. While on display, a child by the name of Chris Van Allsburg used to stop by the locomotive on football weekends, on his way to the game with his father. He later stated that the engine was the inspiration for the story, Polar Express. How Pere Marquette 1225 inspired the Polar Express

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