The restored Dwight D. Eisenhower locomotive exhibit opens to the public Saturday at the National Railroad Museum in Ashwaubenon, Wis. / H. Marc Larson, Green Bay Press-Gazette
ASHWAUBENON, Wis. - The Dwight D. Eisenhower is ready for its second tour of duty at the National Railroad Museum.
The restored British steam engine - named for the American war hero and former president - is being rededicated this weekend as part of an updated World War II exhibit at the Ashwaubenon museum.
Railroad buffs who think they know the Eisenhower will discover not only that it looks brand new, but also that the exhibit is more open and accessible for museum patrons.
For the first time ever, visitors can climb inside the Eisenhower's cab and take the 100-ton locomotive by the controls.
"You want to be able to get in there and get behind the wheel," museum curator Dan Liedtke said. "That adds to the excitement."
The train engine originally was a gift from Great Britain as a show of gratitude for U.S. support during World War II. It was named after Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who commanded the Allied forces in Europe during the war.
Located at the National Railroad Museum since 1964, it was shipped to England two years ago for a temporary exhibit celebrating British steam engine history. The borrowing museum agreed to pay all transportation costs and to perform a complete restoration, including a fresh coat of the original green paint not available in the United States.
John Fenner, a frequent visitor to the Ashwaubenon museum for many years, said the restoration makes him feel like he is seeing the Eisenhower for the first time.
"This is remarkable," he said. "It's a beautiful sight again."
Museum officials are celebrating the official reopening of the Eisenhower exhibit Saturday with a ceremony and public tours.
Jacqueline Frank, the museum's executive director, said public anticipation has been running high for the Eisenhower's return and for the opening of the new exhibit.
Officials hope the excitement will translate into increased attendance at the museum, which opened in 1956 and draws about 75,000 people a year.
"This is a huge day for us," Frank said. "It's also a huge day for the community."
During the locomotive's two-year stint in England, some railroad buffs over there became so enamored of the bright green engine that they offered as much as $1 million to purchase it. But officials at the museum in Ashwaubenon declined the offers and instead made plans to celebrate their prized artifact's return in grand style.
Along with the restored steam engine, museum staffers have rehabilitated two adjacent railroad cars that Eisenhower himself used in traveling around Europe during WWII. The two cars have been displayed alongside the locomotive for years, but were not sent to England.
Instead, staffers conducted a detailed historical restoration of the two cars. Liedtke, the museum's chief curator and operations manager, was assisted in the project by restoration specialists Jeff Truckey and Hank Van Stedum.
Like the Eisenhower engine, the two traveling cars will be open for visitors to venture inside and touch where Eisenhower slept and met with colleagues during WWII.
Liedtke said the restoration project was a special experience for a museum curator and a lover of history.
"It's just amazing," he said. "It's wonderful to be part of the history and to be part of the story."
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