Old 1225, a discarded steam train, was headed for the scrap heap before it was rescued from the campus of MSU, restored and became a star in the movie “The Polar Express” which had its debut in Grand Rapids Michigan November 5, 2004. All this was due to the magic of a children’s book written and illustrated by Grand Rapids and University of Michigan graduate Chris Van Allsburg.
The book was written by VanAllsburg in 1985 and quickly become a Christmas tradition not unlike “The Night Before Christmas.”
“The Polar Express” is the story of a young boy who is a true believer and takes a Christmas eve ride on a steam train to the North Pole. Interestingly, the steam train featured in the book also has a Michigan connection and was chosen for its unique identification number 1225. Since 1957, the train had been relegated to showpiece status on the campus of Michigan State University. In the 60s, I remember walking by the giant, rusting hulk many times; especially on cold winter days. I first discovered the train in the summer of 1966 while at freshman orientation and I have always had fond memories of the steam train.
A little more than a decade later a group of MSU students formed a fan club and started restoration work, which ultimately would take another two decades. In 1983, it was moved to Owosso and in 1988 it took its first rail trip.
In 2004, the train began making holiday winter excursions and starred, along with Tom Hanks, in the film based on the book. Due to grinch-like copyright problems the train excursion can’t use the name Polar Express.
Read more about Chris Van Allsburg on his website and read about the movie version here. 1225 is currently undergoing massive rebuilding of its engine so check with the Owosso Steam Railroading Institute website to see when it will be up and running.