Showcasing the DNR: Rare historic steam locomotive returns to Iron Ore Heritage Museum in Marquette County

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Showcasing the DNR

A before and after image shows the historic Yankee locomotive.

Rare historic steam locomotive returns to Iron Ore Heritage Museum in Marquette County

Historian, Michigan History Center

On the morning of Oct. 6, 2023, a covered flatbed truck eased into the parking lot of the Michigan Iron Industry Museum in Negaunee. After three years of painstaking restoration work in Pennsylvania, the rare, single-boiler locomotive that carted iron ore out of the Jackson Mine in the 1860s and 70s was home.

While museum staff, restoration professionals and rigging experts discussed the plan to delicately off-load the 13,000-pound engine and move it into the museum, the truck’s driver retracted the cover on the flatbed to reveal the restored locomotive.

Troy Henderson and Tobi Voigt are excited with the return of the Yankee restored.

“I gasped when I saw it on that truck,” said, Tobi Voigt, director of museums for the Michigan History Center. “I had seen the locomotive before it left and in images throughout the restoration process, but seeing it fully restored was literally breathtaking.”

Against a backdrop of peak fall colors, two forklift operators carefully lifted the artifact off the flatbed and worked in tandem to slowly shuttle it inside the museum. The moving process took the better part of a day, a short but significant step in the more than 150-year journey of the “Yankee.” 

 About the Yankee

Shortly after the Civil War, the Jackson Iron Co. sent its pragmatic manager Henry Merry to Europe to study the region’s mining methods and technology. Merry was impressed by the Europeans' use of steam-powered locomotives and knew his staff could improve and increase production at the Jackson Mine.

Merry purchased a small locomotive from the Alexander Chaplin Company in Scotland. The engine was ideally suited to work the terrain of the Jackson Mine, which it serviced from 1868 to the 1890s. 

With the Yankee and its American-built twin, the John Bull, the industrial revolution swept through Michigan’s iron mining industry. Companies like the Jackson Iron Company prospered amid the enormous growth in the national market for iron products. 

A historic photo shows the Yankee locomotive in action.

In the 1890s, the Yankee was retired in a local field, where it sat for decades. As a relic of an earlier time, it drew the attention of locals and tourists. They took family photos on the engine and scavenged and removed parts as souvenirs.

In the 1930s, a local movement to preserve the engine gained momentum. The Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company partially restored the engine and proudly displayed it outside one of its shops. When the Michigan Iron Industry Museum was built in 1987, Cliffs donated the Yankee to Michigan History Center, where it was placed on the new museum’s grounds.

Restoring the Yankee

The deteriorating artifact was given new life in 2020. The Michigan History Center applied for and received a federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to fund the conservation and restoration of the Yankee.

SIDEBAR: See the Yankee before restoration and learn more about its historical significance from this 2020 Showcasing the DNR feature article.

A worker uses a torch to disassemble the Yankee locomotive in Pennsylvania.

B.R. Howard and Associates of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, spent three years restoring the locomotive to its original appearance. When the Yankee arrived at the company’s workshop, the restoration team completely disassembled the artifact to thoroughly assess the work that needed to be done.

“Disassembly was the first major task, taking over two months to completely break it down,” said B. R. Howard in its final report. “Each part was labeled or bagged and photographed. Due to the heavy corrosion found throughout each component, each required careful separation. Historic images indicate that a number of these parts were not accurate or original.”

The B. R. Howard team also discovered that several significant parts of the locomotive were missing. Team members consulted with Michigan History Center historians, researched the few existing similar locomotives, visited train and locomotive museums to see similar examples and studied historic photographs of the Yankee to identify and fabricate its missing original pieces. 

A wooden template, one of several crafter to help restore the Yankee locomotive, is shown.

They made wooden patterns for missing parts, like the fire box door, connecting rods and brackets for the boiler. Once correctly sized and shaped, the wooden templates were used to make molds for iron casting. The restoration team then milled and refined the metal pieces on a lathe to ensure precise fittings during reassembly. 

The B. R. Howard team also repaired some of the Yankee’s large original parts. Two of the locomotive’s wheels had significant structural damage. They welded large cracks with nickel electrodes, and they built back damaged edges to their original shape. 

After years of detailed work, the hundreds of individual metal and wooden parts of the locomotive were reassembled. All metal surfaces were treated with two coats of acrylic paint, and the mahogany surfaces were stained to project the appearance of age.

“When we received the engine at the workshop, it weighed about 10,000 pounds,” said Collin Howard, lead restorer on the project. “When we loaded it to bring it back, it weighed 13,000 pounds.”

B. R. Howard had added nearly 3,000 pounds of new and fabricated pieces to the Yankee to bring it back to its historic appearance.

With new life, the restored Yankee returned to the Michigan Iron Industry Museum for the next chapter of its story.

Watch a short time-lapse video of the Yankee's four-hour unloading at the Iron Ore Heritage Museum.

“Ever since the museum was built, it was a goal to have the Yankee restored and brought inside. The 2004 addition to the museum was designed specifically to allow access and house the engine,” said Troy Henderson, historian at the Michigan Iron Industry Museum. 

Workers reassemble the Yankee locomotive in Pennsylvania.

The Michigan History Center is currently developing an exhibit that tells the story of the Yankee and how it ushered in a new era of iron mining in Michigan. For now, the locomotive is prominently displayed near the entrance to the Michigan Iron Industry Museum.

“It’s a perfect time to visit the museum to see the Yankee,” said Henderson. “You can walk all around it and take in all the amazing detail.”

The Michigan Iron Industry Museum, at 73 Forge Road in Negaunee, is located on the Carp River, 8 miles west of Marquette, at the site of the first iron forge in the Upper Peninsula. It is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is free, but a Recreation Passport is required for vehicle entry to the grounds.

Learn more about the museum at

Check out previous Showcasing the DNR stories in our archive at To subscribe to upcoming Showcasing articles, sign up for free email delivery at

Note to editors: Contact: John Pepin, Showcasing editor/coordinator, 906-226-1352; Barry James or Troy Henderson, Michigan Iron Industry Museum historians, 906-475-7857. Accompanying photos and a text-only version of this story are available below for download. Caption information follows. Credit Michigan Department of Natural Resources, unless otherwise noted.

Text-only version of this story.

After: The restored Yankee locomotive at the Michigan Iron Industry Museum in Marquette County.

Before: Prior to renovation, the Yankee on display on the Michigan Iron Industry Museum grounds.

Delivery: Michigan History Center historian Troy Henderson and director of museums Tobi Voigt pose with the Yankee moments after it was revealed.

Disassembly: At the B. R. Howard workshop in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the restoration crew used torches to cut through corrosion while disassembling the Yankee. (Photo courtesy of B. R. Howard and Associates).

Mining: The restoration crew used historic photographs, like this one of the Yankee in use at the Jackson Mine, to rebuild the Yankee. (Photo courtesy of Superior View Studio).

Museum: Built in 1987, the Michigan Iron Industry Museum is in Negaunee at the site of the first iron forge in the Upper Peninsula. An addition, visible at the front of the building, was built to house the Yankee in 2004.

Reassembly: The restoration team painted all surfaces and clad the boiler in white oak and mahogany as part of the final steps in the restoration process. (Photo courtesy of B. R. Howard and Associates).

Scrapbook: After the Yankee was discarded in the 1880s, the engine became a tourist attraction. In this family scrapbook, four children climb on the Yankee in 1915. The caption reads “Favorite toy. Rusted engine used to haul ore out of mine.” (Photo courtesy of Alice Vosburg).

Templates: Wooden templates, like this one for the boiler door, were used to create molds for casting replacements out of iron. (Photo courtesy of B. R. Howard and Associates).

Wheel: B. R. Howard patched significant cracks in the Yankee’s original wheels, like this before and after photo shows. (Image courtesy of B. R. Howard and Associates).

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state's natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to