Lincoln funeral train replica nears finish in Elgin

Lincoln funeral train replica nears finish in Elgin

 
 
Updated 2/12/2015 5:14 PM
hello
  • Master mechanic David Kloke of Bartlett has devoted about six years to building a replica of the train car that carried Abraham Lincoln's body in 1865 to his burial in Springfield.

      Master mechanic David Kloke of Bartlett has devoted about six years to building a replica of the train car that carried Abraham Lincoln's body in 1865 to his burial in Springfield. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • This is an ornamental brass fitting that will be placed on the axles of a replica of the funeral train car that carried Abraham Lincoln's body in 1865 from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Illinois.

      This is an ornamental brass fitting that will be placed on the axles of a replica of the funeral train car that carried Abraham Lincoln's body in 1865 from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Illinois. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • David Kloke is working 10-hour days to finish building the Abraham Lincoln funeral car replica in Elgin. He funded much of the cost of the project himself.

      David Kloke is working 10-hour days to finish building the Abraham Lincoln funeral car replica in Elgin. He funded much of the cost of the project himself. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • The replica of the Abraham Lincoln funeral train car will be in Springfield on May 2. Here, David Kloke examines the interior of the car at his Elgin shop.

      The replica of the Abraham Lincoln funeral train car will be in Springfield on May 2. Here, David Kloke examines the interior of the car at his Elgin shop. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

A six-year effort to build a replica of Abraham Lincoln's funeral train car is reaching a near-fever pitch, but funding for a commemorative Washington-to-Springfield trip is $100,000 short of the goal.

Master mechanic David Kloke of Bartlett is working 10-hour days at his Elgin shop to make the April 15 deadline, the anniversary of Lincoln's assassination.

The funeral car will be done in time, he says, but fundraising for the re-enactment of the funeral trip the assassinated president made in 1865 has fallen far short of expectations.

The funeral car is scheduled to be on display in Springfield on May 2 as part of a two-day commemoration organized by The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Coalition.

"Lincoln was one of the most famous presidents," Kloke said. "You'd think this would have been more popular, but we had trouble finding sponsors. This should have been a cakewalk. Ten years ago, 15 years ago, maybe it would have been."

Volunteering to help

The initiative has raised $150,000 out of $250,000 needed for the trip, said Shannon Brown, director of media and public relations for The 2015 Lincoln Funeral Train, the group that is backing Kloke.

Construction costs have been mostly covered by Kloke along with a few private donors, Brown said. The overall project is estimated at $600,000.

"We don't want to have to tell people the train is not going to make the trip," she said. "We still believe that, with corporate sponsorship, this is doable. It's entirely doable."

Efforts to secure grants were unsuccessful, and two online campaigns were disappointing, Brown said. But as the anniversary nears, excitement and interest are growing, she said.

"We have so many people now who are asking, 'When are you going to be in Syracuse, Cleveland or Columbus? All of the places this (original) train went through," she said.

Kloke, a Lincoln enthusiast, painstakingly studied drawings and photographs to build the replica of the funeral car that was destroyed in a fire in 1911.

The replica -- a steel frame clad in wood, 48 feet long and 13 feet tall -- was built with the help of volunteers, including retired industrial arts teacher Jerry Mennenga of Iowa City, who did the majority of the woodwork.

"This is probably the most important project I've been involved with," Mennenga said. "There is less than a dozen people in the country that can say that."

Kloke's girlfriend, Linda Pesche of Elgin, helps with a range of tasks, including cooking meals for the volunteers. "I'm assisting him in every way I possibly can," she said.

On a recent morning, Pesche and volunteer Ainsley Wonderling of Antioch looked over some carpet samples for the funeral car. The samples came from a specialized Pennsylvania weaver who worked on Lincoln's home in Springfield, they said.

"This is such an important part of history," Wonderling said. "The fact that Dave and Linda have taken on this monumental project is really awesome."

D.C. to Illinois?

The logistics of the making the trip -- via a combination of rail and highway -- won't be easy, Brown said.

"We could be competing with freight trains, CSX, Amtrak passenger trains, so it is logistically difficult to be on tracks," she said. "It's like trying to take a horse and buggy in the middle of the interstate."

A 19th-century steam locomotive replica that Kloke built years ago. the Leviathan 63, would pull the Lincoln funeral car.

Kloke built the funeral car so its wheels can come off to place the frame on a semi trailer, Brown said. The Leviathan 63 also can ride on a special semitrailer. "It's pretty ingenious," she said.

The hope is that the train will be on display in Washington, D.C., from April 15 -- the day Lincoln was assassinated in 1865 -- until April 21, when it would begin its journey west to Springfield, Brown said.

The funeral car will be an "extraordinary" addition to the commemoration in Springfield, said Katie Spindell, chairwoman of the 2015 Lincoln Funeral Coalition.

"I've seen pictures of it, and it's breathtaking," she said. "I think the funeral car is wonderful. It really is. I don't know anybody who can do it better than Dave Kloke."

After Springfield, the funeral car will be headed to cities and towns for booked, paid appearances, Brown said.

Already, more than 120 cities across the country have expressed interest in making that happen later this year or next, she said.

"There's tributes to Lincoln all over the place, but there's never been anything like this," she said, "nor will there ever be again."

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.

Get articles sent to your inbox.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.