Using a mix of paid and volunteer labor, the locomotive was returned to service in April 1987. During that year and 1988, a number of K-4 excursions operated on non-Conrail short-lines in the region.
In 1988, while operating a “ferry” move en route from York, the locomotive suffered the catastrophic failure of a main bearing and drive axle, resulting in restricted, local operation. That fall, the locomotive returned to the Juniata shop for further assessment.
The assessment coincided with the Federal Railroad Administration’s renewed interest in regulating the operation of historic steam locomotives. That interest triggered several years of debate on how the locomotive should be restored to meet changing regulations.
By 1992, Museum officials knew that further restoration would cost at least $1,000,000 plus. Fundraising was undertaken, and a major grant was awarded by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Preservation Commission.
In 1994 the museum signed a contract with the University of Scranton and that city’s Steamtown national Historic Site for restoration of the locomotive. The University would provide project management, and the Historic Site would provide shop space, equipment and some labor. In spring 1995, the locomotive was loaded onto several high-capacity flat cars and moved to Scranton, where restoration began later that year.
After a series of starts and stops on the project, $1 million of additional state and federal funding was secured, and a new crew began work in 2002. Over the following 10 years, the K4 work progressed, albeit slowly. Personnel and management changes, as well as changes to locomotive and FRA specifications, resulted in a “project hold” in 2007.
The new management team of the Railroaders Memorial Museum, hired in late 2007, has evaluated the locomotive, analyzed the physical and financial requirements to get it operational, and then assembled a plan for success that was completed in late 2010.
Now, here in 2013, the K4 #1361 is ready to finish its remarkable and historic journey back to Altoona and the Railroaders Museum. The new Harry Bennett Memorial Roundhouse will become its home, and final construction, repair and re-assembly to operating status will take place in 2013 here at the roundhouse. A team of museum employees as well as outside specialists will be undertaking the completion of the locomotive back to operating status.
This official steam locomotive of the State of Pennsylvania as well as the symbol of our railroading heritage for Altoona, the Pennsy railroad, and the entire nation, will once again, be home for guests to enjoy and marvel at the history and legacy of our ancestors’ drive and knowhow to grow the United States into the greatest country on earth.
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