The Railroad Museum houses various examples of railroad history including a wood snow wedge plow, a Northern Pacific passenger car and caboose. The highlight of the Railroad Museum is a steam locomotive used by the Northern Pacific Railroad and the Nez Perce and Idaho Railroad from 1883 to 1945. The engine was built by the New York Locomotive Works of Rome, New York in 1883 and given the shop number 39. It was constructed as a 4-4-0 type engine which has four large drive wheels, four smaller pivoting wheels and no trailing wheels behind the drive wheels. This type of engine was later designated the “American Type”.
On September 10th, 1883, two days after the Northern Pacific Railroad was completed, engine NYLW 39 arrived for duty and given the designation Number 684. The engine worked mostly on the Northern Pacific’s Main Line in Montana and Idaho. As larger engines were produced, Number 684 was sent further east for use on less mountainous terrain sometimes serving tourist areas as a glamorous “old timer” of the early steam era. By the late 1920s, the Northern Pacific had no need for the out of date steam engine and retired it from duty.
The Nez Perce and Idaho Railroad purchased the engine in 1928 and was renamed the NP&I No. 4. The Nez Perce and Idaho Railroad was a small operation with only one locomotive and a total of thirteen miles of track between Craigmont and Nez Perce, Idaho. Only a few freight cars of grain or other commodities were handled at any time. Often, the engine could only handle two cars at a time due to the steep grade. By 1945, the NP&I needed an engine that could pull heavier loads and engine No. 4 was pushed off a spur of the NP&I tracks, in a field near Nez Perce.
In 1948, an appeal was made that the Northern Pacific collect relics of its past and found old Number 684 in the field where the Nez Perce and Idaho had left it. The Northern Pacific bought the engine back from the NP&I in 1951. The original track leading to the engine had been removed so the Northern Pacific built temporary tracks out to the engine to recover it. A crew worked over 16 hours to return the engine to its tracks and then dragged it to the Northern Pacific repair shop in Spokane, WA for refurbishing.
Despite missing parts, layers of rust and peeling paint, only moderate restoration was needed. Original blueprints were used during the restoration. One year after being rescued from a field in Idaho, engine Number 684 was back in operation once again. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Northern Pacific held various exhibitions along its railroad system displaying the old engine. After years of a traveling as an exhibit, the engine was stored in a Northern Pacific roundhouse for many years. Eventually, because of various railroad mergers, the engine needed to be removed from the roundhouse and found a permanent home here at the Cass County Historical Society.
Herb Banks, the General Foreman who worked getting Number 684 restored, summed up the importance of the American Standard class of steam engine when he said, “The American Standard’s history from 1837 to the late [1880s] is full of deeds of conquest over wilderness and trackless wastes – the bitter cold and mountainous snows and battles against almost insurmountable obstacles which they fought to settle the frontiers of the nation… No other single item has done more to make our country great than the Standard – by uniting vast territories into one nation and converting gloomy untrodden forests, dismal swamps and pathless prairies into prosperous states and fertile farms.”