Welcome to the restoration page for Steam Locomotive #786. We are thrilled to share a little about her history and update you on the latest restoration news.


The 786 was completed by the American Locomotive Company’s Brooks Works of Dunkirk, New York in August of 1916. The locomotive was one of the group of 20 Southern Pacific Mk-5 class 2-8-2 Mikados (numbers 775 to 794). 786 was placed in service on the Houston & Texas Central subsidiary of the SP in September of 1916.

The locomotive received several upgrades throughout its career, including: Original extended smokebox shortened in the 1920’s, boiler pressure upgraded from 200 to 210 psi at Houston in 193, and installation of a feedwater heater and superheaters at Houston in 1941.

786 was retired from service and donated to the City of Austin in March of 1956. It was placed on display near the firehouse on Trinity between 4th and 5th streets. It would remain there for 34 years. In 1989 the 786 was leased to the newly-formed Austin Steam Train Association and was removed from display the following year.

Restoration of the locomotive began in June of 1990 at the Westinghouse Motor Co. shops in Georgetown, Texas. A team of both professional and volunteer crews completed the intense restoration in a relatively brief amount of time. For three days in December 1991 the operational 786 and one coach car were at the center of a celebratory festival in downtown Austin. The first passenger excursion pulled by the restored 786 arrived in Burnet on July 25, 1992.

After seven years of reliable service, 786 was temporarily sidelined in July 1999 following the discovery of cracks in a key component of the locomotive. This discovery sidelined the 786 for a repair which turned into a complete rails-to-stack rebuild which continues to this day.


Restoration Update 1/9/2018

Needless to say, many hours have been spent behind the scenes work in measuring and producing drawings for correct machining of the driving boxes. A tip of the hat to our volunteers Greg Duepner and John Mandell who have been working with Strasburg to get this fairly complex task accomplished.

The bearing boxes (2 per axle) ride on the axle journals and support the entire weight of the locomotive. They are cast steel, machined and fitted with a “crown brass” (actually a special bronze). Babbitt metal is formed on the sides for a thrust bearing. New bearing boxes had been cast a few years ago, but it was determined they were too thin to be used. So, Strasburg Railroad arranged for new castings, machined them beautifully and installed the crown brasses and babbitt thrust faces. An excellent job, on-schedule and on-budget! Strasburg RR has been a real pleasure to deal with.

The cylinder heads, front and back for each cylinder, had been cast new and machined in Muscle Shoals, AL. It was discovered that the diameter of shoulder (the part of the head that is inserted into the cylinder bore) was left too large by about 1/16″ so it could not be assembled. We contracted with a large machine shop in Taylor, TX (Babco) to machine the diameter of the shoulder down to the proper, accurate size (26.220″). This will allow the heads to be assembled and bolted on for a hydrostatic pressure test, to be done at a later time.

  • Also, the trailing truck, now with the new bushing welded in, has been flipped to its normal position and painting is complete.
  • Trailing truck pivot has been aligned and tack welded into the support strap and will be attached to the frame with tapered bolts.
  • Essentially, all the wheel restoration work is complete.
  • Pilot has been painted and is on display at the passenger platform until it can be installed on the frame.
  • Remaining parts inventoried, springs and rigging laid out in the yard.
  • Appliances such as the turbine, power reverse, cold water pump for the feedwater heater, cross compound air pump, air jacks and air motors for the reamers have been lubricated and operated as part of our periodic maintenance program.
  • Periodic cleaning and coating the rods with a moisture resistant coating which has held up well considering all the rain we have received in the Spring months.
  • Tested fit of the face on the smoke box for hinge hole drilling.


Restoration Project List

Next up on the restoration list will be:

  • Installing the studs on the new cylinder saddle, fitting the new valve and piston head castings, blanking off the exhaust ports and running a hydro test on the cylinder saddle.
  • Begin drilling and tapping holes for remaining studs on the lower half of the smoke box as well as installation of the lower hinge so the face can be permanently mounted on the smoke box.
  • Spot re-priming and painting the frame.
  • Fabricate oil cellars on the driving boxes so we can mount the boxes on the axles.


We need your help!

There’s much appeal to the return of 786 to active, steaming life, whether it’s the importance of preserving her as an artifact of American railroading’s high-water mark, or just the irresistible sights, sounds and smells of a moving steam locomotive. If you want to be a part of getting her back in steam, we would be most appreciative of your time and talents, your financial support or both.

To donate to the restoration of the 786, please click HERE.

To volunteer on our restoration team, please email us at volunteers@austinsteamtrain.org



This video shows the power reverse unit being lubricated and operated on shop air by the SP 786 restoration crew.

The valve gear of a steam engine is a series of levers, cranks, links and rods that ‘instruct’ the steam engine to essentially go forwards or backwards. It also controls the amount of steam that is presented to the pistons, and that amount is frequently changed depending on factors such as speed, terrain, and tonnage as the train moves along the track. The engineer operates this system by moving what is called a Johnson bar in the cab. Move the Johnson bar forward, and the valve gear is positioned to move the engine forward when the steam throttle is opened. Move the bar backwards and the locomotive goes into a reverse movement.

In smaller locomotives, the Johnson bar could be manually moved by the engineer, but in larger locomotives with heavier valve gear and higher operating pressures, a power assist is needed (similar to power steering in your car). So when the Johnson bar is moved in the cab of 786 it actuates an air driven piston and ram on the power reverse unit that links to the valve gear via the reach rod and reverse lever, thus providing much more force to position the gear than one strong engineer could muster.

So periodically, each of our air or steam driven appliances such as the power reverse unit, the electrical turbine generator and the cross compound air compressor get lubricated and exercised while awaiting their return to the steam engine.