Michigan is full of history and scenic adventures, and the Steam Railroading Institute offers a combination of both. That’s because there’s more to the SRI than train rides on the Pere Marquette 1225. This guide will cover everything that you need to know about visiting this awesome attraction in Mid-Michigan.
About the Steam Railroading Institute
Along with a commitment to educating people about steam trains in Michigan and around the Great Lakes, the Steam Railroading Institute preserves and operates steam locomotives and other equipment. Also, it offers many opportunities to see steam trains operate throughout the Lower Peninsula.
The SRI’s History
Located in Owosso, the SRI was originally formed as the Michigan State University Railroad Club in 1969 when some students took an interest in the retired Pere Marquette 1225, which was donated to the university in 1957.
In 1979, the club became the Michigan State Trust for Railway Preservation Incorporated. The nonprofit educational corporation adopted the name Steam Railroading Institute in 2000. Six years later, the organization started offering Michigan train tours to West Owosso.
The SRI headquarters and Welcome Center occupy the former Ann Arbor Railroad roundhouse and steam shops. Including the Pere Marquette 1225, it has two steam locomotives, a fleet of passenger cars, two diesel locomotives, and a variety of historic structures.
The Pere Marquette 1225 Locomotive
Built in 1941, the Pere Marquette 1225 measures 16 feet tall and 101 feet long and weighs 440 tons. With this size, it takes 150 gallons of water per mile and 1 ton of coal per 12 miles to operate.
The Pere Marquette 1225 cost $245,000 to build at the time, which is the equivalent of over $2.5 million in modern-day. For 10 years, it was used to haul freight between several cities in Michigan and Ohio. The locomotive was retired in 1951 and replaced with a diesel locomotive.
Forest Akers, a Michigan State University Trustee and the vice president of Dodge Motors, saved the Pere Marquette 1225 in 1957 and donated it to the university. Since then, the SRI has restored and continues to maintain the locomotive.
It’s the largest and most impressive steam equipment in the organization’s collection and one of the largest steam locomotives that operates in Michigan. The blueprints and sounds of the Pere Marquette 1225 were used to bring to life the train in the 2004 animated film “The Polar Express.”
Things to Do at the Steam Railroading Institute
The SRI offers loads to do for visitors of all ages. From the scenic train rides to the visitor center to the mini railroad, this attraction makes a fantastic Michigan day trip.
Ride Through Scenic Michigan
The SRI offers a variety of train rides through Michigan’s countryside and quaint downtown areas. The fall train rides are particularly popular during peak fall foliage. These excursions can range from one hour long to several hours round-trip.
Connecting to several depots in cities throughout the Lower Peninsula, the destinations reach as far north as Petoskey and as far south as Whitmore Lake. So that you have time to get settled on board, the SRI requests that you board the train one hour before the scheduled departure.
The North Pole Express
For a very special Polar Express Christmas train ride, hop aboard the Pere Marquette 1225 to experience the North Pole Express firsthand. You can even wear your pajamas for this nostalgic 4.5-hour round-trip journey to the Village of Ashley Country Christmas.
Seating Options for SRI Excursions
On SRI Michigan train tours, several types of seating are available in the passenger cars. The layout is similar to that of a bus or airplane with padded seats on each side of a center aisle.
In the bi-level car, the first-floor seats are arranged side by side, while the second-floor seats are arranged in a single row. Seven steps lead to the second floor, and then the seats are up another step.
In the historic 1940s and ’50s vintage cars, there are seats for 70 people. Two seats sit next to each other on both sides of the central aisle. They’re arranged in groups of four so that one pair of seats faces another pair. In some of the vintage cars, there are small tables in between.
Additionally, there are 12 seats in the caboose. The caboose is the only car that you can’t leave until the train stops. Otherwise, you can walk between the other cars.
Keep in mind that every passenger has to climb four or five stairs to board the train because SRI doesn’t have loading platforms. Even though the cars have a limited number of handicap-accessible seats, handicapped passengers must be able to board. Also, only collapsible wheelchairs are permitted on the trains because of space.
About the Food & Restrooms
If you get hungry or thirsty during your scenic train ride, you can visit the gift shop on the train for snacks and drinks. Since you can’t leave the caboose while it’s in motion, complimentary snacks and beverages are available.
If you have any food allergies, though, you can take your own food as long as it doesn’t take up a lot of space. For instance, you can’t take a large cooler for security and space purposes.
Across all of the vintage and coach deluxe passenger cars, there are eight restrooms that you can use during the train ride. Not all of the bi-level and coach cars have restrooms, though. Furthermore, most of the cabooses only have outhouse-style restrooms available in case of an emergency.
Explore the Welcome Center
Opened in 2004, the SRI Welcome Center resides in a renovated freight warehouse, the foundation for which was established in the late 1880s. It’s believed that the previous structure burned down and was replaced with the current structure in the 1920s. The floor is capable of withstanding heavy loads, while king posts and solid wood trusses support the ceiling.
Now, the Welcome Center contains a model railroad layout and exhibits. There’s a gift shop with Pere Marquette 1225 and SRI souvenirs, specialty gifts, and fun railroad toys too.
Additionally, it houses the SRI library on the below-ground level, which consists of a collection of archival materials and preserved artifacts. Some of these items are books, magazines, and other literature that date back to the steam era.
The most prized pieces are historic artifacts and documents from the early days of the Michigan State University Railroad Club and the initial Pere Marquette 1225 restoration.
Go Behind the Scenes on the SRI Grounds
Volunteer tour guides are available to show you behind the scenes on the SRI grounds. You’ll get to look at a rarely accessible collection and equipment. The highlight is a firsthand look at the restoration and maintenance of the Pere Marquette 1225 in the Backshop, where it stays when it’s not operating train rides in Michigan.
Ride the 7.25-Inch-Gauge Miniature Railroad
Also on the SRI grounds is the 7.25-inch-gauge miniature railroad, which the organization started running in 2009. Throughout September, guests of all ages can ride the nearly 0.25-mile track, which stretches along the Shiawassee River Trail.
Restaurants in Owosso Michigan Near the SRI
Before or after your visit to the Steam Railroading Institute, you can grab a bite to eat at one of Owosso’s local restaurants. Here are a few top-rated options.
Joe-Lee’s Crosswinds Cafe
A great place to grab breakfast and coffee, Joe-Lee’s Crosswinds Cafe is a family place with some unique menu items — breakfast pizza, breakfast Monte Cristo, and German chocolate chip pancakes.
There are plenty of classic breakfast options too, as well as burgers and sandwiches to choose from for lunch. Also, the restaurant has a variety of unique cheesecake flavors, which change regularly.
Itsa Deli Thing
Whether you’re looking for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner, Itsa Deli Thing can deliver. This restaurant pushes the boundaries to create unique sandwiches, wraps, salads, soups, and more. Plus, there are more meat and topping options than you’re probably used to.
For a very healthy option, head to Bangin’ Bowls for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The menu features a range of foodie and acai bowls, and you can even build your own. And, don’t forget to add a delicious smoothie to your meal.
Mancino’s Pizza & Grinders
If you’re in the mood for pizza or a sub sandwich, Mancino’s Pizza & Grinders is open for lunch and dinner. This restaurant has been family-owned since 1992. It makes its own pizza dough and uses only fresh ingredients to prepare generous portions. The menu also includes baked pasta, calzones, wings, salads, and more.
See Scenic Mid-Michigan With the SRI
Taking a train ride through beautiful open lands and charming downtown areas is a wonderful experience for kids and kids at heart. And, the Steam Railroading Institute is one of the best operators in the state. If you enjoy this experience, consider booking other Michigan train tours.