GRAPEVINE — Built in 1896, Cooke Locomotive Works Steam Engine 2248 — affectionately known as Puffy — has been a popular attraction at the Grapevine Vintage Railroad for more than a decade.As time took its toll, and Puffy was no longer able to huff and puff, the beloved steam engine was sidelined. But nobody wanted to see Puffy’s career end, so repairs were begun to put Puffy back in service. On Oct. 18 at 7 p.m., Puffy will be back on active duty as Grapevine Vintage Railroad’s Friday Night Steam Train.“It’s a whole new experience, a brand new ride,” said P.W. McCallum, executive director of the Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau and president of the Grapevine Vintage Railroad.“It’s a good way to let off a little steam on Friday night.”Riders will depart Grapevine’s Cotton Belt Depot and be treated to an approximately 36-mile, round-trip excursion.Grapevine was an early stop on the Cotton Belt Railroad and that history has been kept alive thanks in part to the Grapevine Vintage Railroad. The Railroad features 1920s-style Victorian coaches that give riders a taste of travel in days gone by.Built in 1896 in New Jersey for the Southern Pacific Railroad, Puffy is a 10-wheel passenger locomotive. The engine is 63 feet long and weighs about 70 tons.The engine originally burned coal to boil water for steam but was converted in the early 1900s to burn No. 4 fuel oil. Now it uses a mixture of heavy bunker oil, a little diesel fuel and recycled motor oil.Until the 1920s, 2248 hauled passenger cars in California and then pulled water tank cars to forest fires in the mountains. In the 1950s, it was used for ceremonial retirements. In 1961, it was sold for scrap.The engine was bought as a tourist train at an amusement park that never materialized, and sat unused until the mid-1970s when it was sold to the Texas State Railroad in Rusk, where Puffy helped launch the Texas State Railroad Excursion. Puffy was then purchased from the Texas State Railroad by private collector William S. Davis and eventually launched the Fort Worth & Western Railroad’s local Tarantula run. McCallum said Puffy was leased to Grapevine in 1999, and major renovations began.“We knew we had to take it completely apart and rebuild it,” McCallum said.They finished the rebuild in 2000; the city officially purchased the engine in 2007.Puffy delivered years of service; however, the engine had not been active since Feb. 2011 when a piston rod failed.McCallum said they have been steadfast in their determination that 2248 would be repaired and back on the rails pulling tourists again. It was not an easy fix.“We had to rebuild all these things,” he said. “It was like starting with a block of steel. You can’t buy a lot of things the engine needed.”This year, Puffy was restored to peak safety operating conditions. Final updates included getting the engine re-certified and logging the necessary hours to re-qualify for an operating certificate.“We’re glad Puffy is back on track,” said McCallum, who has served as executive director of the Convention & Visitors Bureau for 26 years. “This is all about the steam engine. This is all about Puffy. Puffy has been Puffy for 117 years.”The new excursion will be operating each Friday evening until Thanksgiving when the North Pole Express begins its Christmas Capital of Texas excursions. On nights when special events such as the Murder Mystery Train on Nov. 1 are scheduled, the Friday night excursion featuring Puffy will not take place. This report contains information from Star-Telegram archives.
Marty Sabota, 817-390-7367