What Happened To Milwaukee's Beloved Old Smoky?

Nov 17, 2017

From roughly 1944 until 1954, steam locomotive Number 265 carried load upon load of freight and later folks for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St.Paul & Pacific Railroad. 

Credit Tom Farence

However, the locomotive's career bumped up against progress when steam engines were out and diesel was in.

In 1956, the retired locomotive jumped the tracks and the City of Milwaukee replanted it off East Conway Street. And, that's when Number 265 became known as Old Smoky.

People like Andy Tyshynsky grew up in awe of the locomotive. “I’m from the southeast side of Milwaukee. Old Smoky was a train that we saw almost every Sunday when we would go to Grant Park for Sunday picnics," he recalls. "And this was through the whole decade of the ‘60s it seemed. And it always fired up the imagination of times gone by."

Andy, along with a handful of other curious people, reached out to WUWM's Bubbler Talk to find out what happened to the beloved locomotive.  "I’ve always wondered what happened to it, where did it go," he adds.

Credit Nancy W Ring

Mark Bialzik is another admirer / question asker. The Wauwatosa resident remembers spotting the engine years ago from a nearby restaurant.

“I took my girlfriend, now wife, to eat at Three Brothers early in 1972 and that’s when I saw the engine," Mark says. "It was a very beautiful engine and I remember I had a vintage Lionel train set that had an engine almost identical to that one."

Credit Kari Bandow - Old Milwaukee

OnMilwaukee's Bobby Tanzilo met WUWM's Susan Bence at the the spot where Old Smoky once stood in Bay View.

“It was west of the Naval reserve academy," he recalls. "They built a spur off the railroad tracks...to pull it over and then they took it right back up. They basically did it in a weekend."

Though Bobby grew up in New York City, he has his own childhood memories of the engine – his grandparents lived here. “We used to visit our grandparents every other summer and my grandfather used to bring us down here to visit it."

“But then it was only here until about 1975," Bobby says, "and I’m not sure why it was taken away, but it went to the Illinois Railway Museum."

Executive director Nick Kallas with Old Smoky at its home at the Illinois Railway Museum.
Credit Illinois Railway Museum

The museum is located about 90 miles southwest of Milwaukee in Union, Illinois.

Executive director Nick Kallas likes to think the museum saved Old Smoky. “She sat outside all of those years by the lake... getting all of that weather. She really needed to get the rust treated and stripped down and painted and that’s what we did."

Old Smoky now comfortably resides in a place of honor, protected from the elements in a specially designed steam locomotive barn.

The way Nick sees it, it’s the museum’s job to preserve its entire fleet for future generations to experience, creating something like Shari Gresk's cherished memories.

Shari, another Bubbler Talk question asker, grew up in Cudahy. Exploring Old Smoky was one of the special traditions she shared with her dad. She had a special reason for wanting to find out what happened to Old Smoky.

“It’s like my father is watching over and saying... ‘Here’s the information you wanted, kid.’"

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