Tooting Perham's horn for a decade
A simple idea to celebrate Perham's railroad history has become an icon for the community over the past decade.
"The Perham Express" is the little locomotive that represents the town at special events, parades and even wedding receptions. The custom-designed, handcrafted train, which is observing its tenth anniversary this year, has become a town symbol known far and wide.
"We were on a cruise ship, and I was wearing a Perham, Minnesota, t-shirt, and another tourist came up and said 'oh, that's where they have that little train,'" laughed Carl Annalora, who was a leader in fundraising, designing and building the "Perham Express" in 1999. "That's happened to me a number of times when I've been traveling."
The idea of creating a mini train for parades and events evolved out of Perham's 125th anniversary, in 1996.
Since the town was named after Josiah Perham, a president of Northern Pacific railroad when Perham was incorporated as a city in 1871, railroad history was gathered. Annalora, as a retired 44-year employee of Burlington Northern, was tapped for his railroad knowledge.
Ultimately, the concept of a "Perham Express" was born.
"I designed the little locomotive pretty much to scale of the locomotives that would have come through in 1871," said Annalora, noting that the engine is about 40 percent smaller than an actual locomotive of the day.
"Of course, the hardest part was the fundraising for it," said Annalora.
There were detractors in the town. Some were skeptical about the expense--which turned out to be about $8,400, recalled Annalora.
Eventually, the Perham Rotary donated $6,000, and the locomotive was built--around a Ford Bronco chassis.
More money was raised, and Annalora created a rail car companion to the locomotive, designed like a Union Pacific "Palace Car" of 1871--complete with arches over the windows.
Annalora credits a handful of key volunteers who helped make the train a reality, including Bob Kinlund, Jane Aschnewitz, Alice Ellenberg, Jean Johnson, Stan Schroder and Len Johnson--one of the original "crew" who is still an engineer today.
Johnson has driven the train for class reunions, weddings and "just about every parade in the area," Johnson said. In addition, the Perham Express has made appearances in Fargo, Detroit Lakes and other locations in the greater area.
The project took about three years, from the 125th anniversary year of 1996 to 1999--when the "Perham Express" was dedicated to the Perham Area Chamber of Commerce.
"That little train has done a lot of advertising for Perham, and it has done a lot to help the turtle races and Turtle Fest," said Annalora. "I hope people keep supporting it, and Perham keeps it running."