Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s new switch engine locomotive arrived in February, and the equipment brings with it opportunity for further economic growth and expansion at the Tribe’s Iron Horse Industrial Park.
Director of Economic Development Dr. Jim Collard said the train assists in the daily operation of the transloading facilities at Iron Horse, moving rail cars from the park to different businesses. (Transloading, he explained, is moving product between truck and rail.)
“Our transloading facility will serve customers for the entire region that may need to have containers come in on rail or go out on rail,” he said.
The new switch engine, in addition to moving train cars around the industrial park, will also connect the cars to the Arkansas-Oklahoma Railroad (A-OK), a short-line operator that runs the track from Shawnee, Oklahoma, to Oklahoma City. From there, A-OK will move cars on to Union Pacific Railroad.
The engine will also bring cars with resin to CPN’s Sovereign Pipe Technologies Company, SPT. Resin is the key ingredient in the pipes manufactured at SPT.
The person charged with moving the rail cars and working with the engine will be Transload Facility Manager Randy Story.
Story said they originally intended to buy an “overgrown tug.” However, they were able to find a 1954 switch engine in the Tulsa-Sapulpa Union Railway Yard in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. The railyard offered to refurbish the engine for the Tribe as well as teach Story and other CPN employees how to use it. It cost less than purchasing an overgrown tug, and, Story added, the switch engine pulls more loaded rail cars.
“They’re made for disconnecting and connecting really quickly and being able to move cars around in the yard pretty quickly,” Story said of switch engines.
“It helps Randy maneuver more cargo at the same time,” Administrative Research Analyst Vedrana Milakovic said. “Because it’s a stronger engine, it can operate bigger volume.”
Refurbishing the engine
The coronavirus pandemic delayed the refurbishing process. What was originally supposed to take 90 days ended up taking almost a year.
One of the advantages, however, was how much the Tribe was able to customize the engine. The Iron Horse logo is on the front of the train, and several CPN employees were involved with the design.
Collard called the engine “beautiful” and “distinctive.” It features the Nation’s seal as well as the Tribal colors of red, white, yellow and black.
“You should have seen it before,” Story said. He added that while it looked rough before the refurbishment, underneath it was “really solid,” and with the refurbishment, it “could last another 100 years.”
The money for the engine and refurbishments came from part of a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration.
“It didn’t come from Tribal money,” he said. “It was hard work to get grants. It didn’t cost us a dime.”
Chairman John “Rocky” Barrett named the train, choosing “Linda” after Vice-Chairman Linda Capps.
“We name all our heavy equipment,” Collard said. “Since the switch engine is the most important, it needed to be named correctly.”
Collard said the switch engine provides the Tribe the opportunity to develop a campaign to advertise the transloading facility and use it as an incentive to anyone considering locating their business in the industrial park.
“A big thing is that we’re privileged to have our own rail, which makes us more like a yard,” Milakovic said. “We can have Randy working it rather than an engineer, and we can make our own decisions.”
Though they are still building rail lines throughout the park, the ability to move train cars in, out and around the park with the switch engine is a big step.
“It’s bringing wealth to the entire region,” Collard said — not just to CPN, but also to Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma and many of the towns in the area.
“And well-paying jobs out there, too,” Milakovic said.
When it comes to Iron Horse itself, Collard said that though it is small, it has “a really solid foundation, and it’s not going to be shaken off that foundation. It will only expand.”