The Mark Twain Zephyr was one of the first trains on the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad when it entered service on October 25, 1935. Its lustrous stainless steel design made it clear that the shovel-nosed locomotive was new and modern.
Named after author Mark Twain, the train ran between Burlington and St. Louis via Hannibal, Missouri, Twain’s hometown.
Built by Budd Co., locomotive # 9903 was called Injun Joe, the villain from Twain’s flagship novel, “Tom Sawyer”. Likewise, the three cars were named after Twain’s characters: Becky Thatcher, Tom Sawyer, and Huck Finn. Mark Twain was baptized in Hannibal by Twain’s granddaughter and descendant, Nina Clemens Gabilowitsch.
The Mark Twain served on several rail lines until 1958 when it was put on hold in the CB&Q stores in West Burlington.
Over the next 60 years, the historic train was passed down by seven private owners, none of whom had the resources to complete the expensive renovations needed to bring the Mark Twain back to life.
The train was moved to Mount Pleasant in 1962 and kept at the Old Thresher’s Reunion site in McMillan Park and was donated to Old Threshers in 1968. While in Mount Pleasant, the train was ransacked by vandals.
As the Mark Twain moved across the country, she was subjected to many crazy ideas: Coors Brewing wanted to hire her for a marketing campaign to promote Silver Bullet Beer; a Twainish amusement park has been imagined in Bettendorf; investors have expressed interest in creating a restaurant and hotel built around the train in Downer’s Grove, Illinois.
The Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad bought the locomotive and cars last year and moved them to Northwestern Wisconsin for repair.
Over the past year, a team of experienced carpenters, renovators and craftsmen have transformed the Mark Twain Zephyr from a lifeless shell into what will be the only serviceable train of its kind.
In 2022, the Mark Twain Zephyr will once again offer passengers rides on the WGN Railroad mainline from Trego, Wisconsin.
Last week, Robert Tabern, director of passenger development for the WGN and author of the three-volume book series, “Mark Twain Zephyr: History, Restoration & Re-birth,” visited Burlington for a book signing. in Burlington By The Book during “A Very Vintage Market” on Jefferson Street.
“Robert called me and said he was going on tour and described the book to me,” said Christopher Murphy, owner of BBTB. “It sounded like something that would interest people in my community.”
Retired CB&Q conductor Steve Parker joined Tabern at the event, who dressed the room in an authentic conductor uniform with a set of keys needed to open the various doors and compartments of the trains. of heritage passengers.
Parker said he was never able to drive the Twain because he was a little boy when he was ditched.
“I remember it from the back of the West Burlington stores,” Parker said. “My mom did it in World War II. She was a lab radiology technician at Hannibal. Her parents lived in Washington, Iowa, so she would take the Mark Twain to Burlington, then grab a local from Burlington to Washington.”
This was back when train travel was the norm for many Americans.
“The Mark Twain Zephyr has spent much of his life here in Burlington – 23 years of service on the Q,” said Tabern, shortening the CB&Q as many railroaders do. “Seven different people who tried to refurbish it didn’t have the time, the means or the place to make the thing work. We are finally doing the job and we hope that in the spring of ’22 people can come and actually It’s the only shovel-nosed Zephyr in the country that can actually be ridden. “
Although it is not an old steam engine like all the other tourist railways in the country.
“The biggest thing we have left is an engine transplant,” said Tabern. “The previous owners removed the engine inside the locomotive, and we think we’ve found a reasonable replacement. I’m calling it in our heart transplant for a train. But they have to take everything out of the locomotive and lift it with a crane and put it in place, then plug it back in. So that will be our job this summer and fall. “
Tabern said that under normal circumstances – not COVID-19 – he would be too busy with WGN on weekends to come to Iowa for a book signing.
“We would run about eight different passenger trains on the Wisconsin railroads. We wouldn’t even have anyone to come here anymore,” he said.
“I’m very honored to be able to be here and get to know this gentleman, as their railroad is responsible for getting the Mark Twain back on track,” Parker said. “Literally.”
Tabern will be making presentations aboard two special private railroad trips between Saint Louis and Kansas City over the weekend of July 23-25.
Volumes 1 and 2 of “Mark Twain Zephyr” are available at Burlington By The Book, 301 Jefferson St. in Burlington, or they can be ordered online at marktwainzephyr.com where train history and weekly updates are published.