Elgin master mechanic builds Lincoln's funeral car replica
Every day, in some form or fashion, master mechanic David H. Kloke thinks about Abraham Lincoln.
Klocke is building what he hopes will be a historic project: a full-size replica of the funeral train car that carried Lincoln's body in 1865 from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Ill.
The owner of Kloke Construction and Kloke Locomotive Works in Elgin, he says his goal is to retrace part of the train car's original journey to mark the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination next April.
An educational traveling exhibit would follow a month later.
"I like Lincoln. I was always inspired by him," said Kloke, of Bartlett. "He did a lot more than the slavery issue for this country."
Kloke already has built two 19th-century steam locomotive replicas: the Leviathan 63 by Schenectady Locomotive Works and the York N. 17 by Rogers Locomotive Works. Both date back to about 1865, he said. Kloke's replicas have been used in educational programs on the East Coast and in the Midwest.
Kloke started the Lincoln project four or five years ago, first spending countless hours reviewing drawings and photographs, and now building the replica in his shop with the help of about a dozen volunteers.
The original, built in 1864, was the only train passenger car ever manufactured by the U.S. government, Kloke said. It was envisioned as an office car for Lincoln's travels, but it ended up carrying his casket; the journey started six days after he died, on April 15, 1865. It was destroyed in a 1911 prairie fire near Minneapolis.
"Lincoln never got to ride it while he was alive. He thought it was too fancy to ride in during the war," Kloke said.
The train, dubbed "The Lincoln Special," traveled through about 160 towns on its journey. It was the nation's largest funeral, before or since, Kloke said. "Everywhere along the track, there were people along the way camped out. Altogether it was 3 million people."
Kloke has built the steel frame of the train car, 48 feet long and 13 feet tall, which ultimately will be clad in wood.
He is now working on installing window frames. He found one of the originals in Minnesota and determined their original color -- white inside, maroon outside -- through paint analysis.
Some parts took more than a year to make, such as the unique cast-iron pedestals. The wheels are from the 1940s and '50s, as 19th-century wheels aren't legal to ride on nowadays, Kloke said.
The interior -- which will contain a replica coffin -- will have black silk paneling above a strip of red leather on the walls. There will be two couches and a roll top desk and chair.
Kloke's employee, Ricardo Arellano, who's done all the welding on the Lincoln train car, said he thoroughly enjoys the work.
"I really like the projects. It's something different every day," said Arellano, of Hanover Park. "I'm now really interested in doing what I do, and it's fun to come to work."
Others who have helped in the project include retired engineer Bob Hunter of Lake in the Hills and miniature model builder Wayne Wesolowski of Arizona.
Bill Werst of Elgin, executive director of The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train project, said the plan is to have the replica start its journey April 21, 2015, by traveling by rail about 40 miles from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore.
Kloke's Leviathan 63 steam locomotive replica will pull the Lincoln funeral car, traveling up to 20 mph, Wrest said.
Then, the train will be trucked to Springfield, where it will be put on display by May 2, he said.
The real fun for most people will begin once the Lincoln train embarks on its journey back to Washington, D.C.
The train will be trucked via highway, but it will make stops along the way in as many cities and towns as possible, Werst said.
"We will put it on the rails, so people can ride it and see the educational displays," he said.
Also, the goal is to bring the train to the western and southern regions of the U.S. in 2016, he said.
Werst and Kloke are board members of The Historic Railroad Equipment Association, a nonprofit created to fund the project.
More than $100,000 has been raised out of an estimated $600,000 needed, Werst said.
"It's an educational project," he said. "We're not looking to make money on it, we're looking to expose as many people as possible to this."
Also involved are about a dozen volunteers in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Two more board members -- both railroad enthusiasts -- live in Nevada, Werst said.
Werst said he's confident the project will raise enough money to come to fruition.
"It's coming," he said. "We're getting pledges, as well as donations on a regular basis."
A couple of fundraising ventures are scheduled for later this month in Ohio and Indiana, he added.
Kloke said that, as much time and dedication as he puts into building Lincoln's funeral train car, he's mindful not to let it become an all-consuming passion.
Most days, he tries to quit working on it after 5 p.m., he said.
"I try to stay away from all of it after that," he said. "I need some down time, too."
Anyone interested in helping to fund construction of the Lincoln funeral train car can mail checks payable to The Historic Railroad Equipment Association, 1325 Spaulding Road, Elgin, IL 60120, or visit the2015lincolnfuneraltrain.com. Donations are tax-deductible