(Courtesy Photo)

   In September, the Steam Railroading Institute (SRI) announced it would not operate any excursions in 2020, including the popular SRI Fall Color Tours and North Pole Express.

   The SRI announcement stated, “The operation of excursion trains is identified among the highest risk activities associated with the spread of COVID-19, which includes bringing large groups of people together in enclosed spaces for extended periods of time. This is the first time in 16 years that SRI’s historic North Pole Express will not be offered. Every year, thousands of guests come to Owosso to experience this nostalgic Christmas adventure, and this announcement is disappointing.”

   Obviously, the decision was not made lightly. SRI is a nonprofit organization, focused on educating the public on the wonders of steam era railroading. A large portion of the effort involves preserving an historic skillset for the technology involved in steam locomotive maintenance. SRI incorporates a multi-faceted program endeavor from the “roots up” where the locomotives are rescued for reconstruction by individuals and/or groups with the necessary know-how with the essential focus on offering living, breathing history – as witnessed in experiencing a fully operational locomotive such as the Pere Marquette 1225.

   In a recent interview, SRI Executive Director Kim Springsdorf announced that 2019 had been the best year they had ever had within the organization. She mentioned the success of a “round of Pure Michigan rail-by-summer trips,” which had not been done previously. She said 2019 was amazing, but then nobody could predict what would happen in 2020. Even with the success of 2019, any revenue brought in went directly back into SRI – given overhead expenses.

   When the pandemic hit in March, Springsdorf shared the nonprofit “kept hoping. We will get to April. We will get to May. We work on our Christmas trains all year long. Our Christmas trains are the best. That’s our revenue train.” So with the early uncertainty in place of what was going to happen from month to month, she explained SRI opted to take the extra time to refocus, re-plan and re-strategize – to “take some time and build foundations. We took the time to look at it as an opportunity to reevaluate and build on our foundation. Organizational planning. Mission planning. Strategic planning. Planning the ‘what ifs.’ In a sense it has been a blessing.”

   The down period has also allowed the volunteers and staff some needed time to work on other jobs that required attention. “How can we make the grounds better? How can we do everything better? The positive we take from 2020 is it allowed for us to refocus. Something good always comes out of something bad and its just giving us the time to figure out how to proceed forward.”

  Heading into 2021, three new SRI goals all neatly outlined in a booklet are education, enjoyment and experience. The new goals will be a part of the planning and execution of “future events, programs, activities and excursions.”

   Highlighting just a couple ideas in the works are a “Steam Under the Stars” night photo session, “Behind the Steam,” planned for the same days as “Hands on the Throttle,” which will allow for a trained volunteer to lead a group in a tour of preparing the 1225 for a day’s operations, and then also the Christmas trips.

   For people wishing to become involved with SRI, please call (989) 725-9464. Other information is available at www.michigansteamtrain.com. SRI is located at 405 W. Washington St., Owosso.

   Donations to the SRI are tax deductible as charitable contributions to the extent allowed by law. Visit michigansteamtrain.com/save-our-steamer or mail donations to the Steam Railroading Institute at P.O. Box 665, Owosso, MI 48867.

SRI Planning Refocuses on Steaming Ahead to a Bright Future was last modified: November 23rd, 2020 by Karen Elford