[UPDATE: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed trial court dismissal of replevin action as barred by the statute of limitation, issuing the opinion on June 2, 2010.]
On April 17, 1939, the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad gave retired, historic (1905) “Camelback” steam locomotive #952 to the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society (“R&LHS”). It was maintained by the DL&W at its Scranton shops until 1953. One year later, the R&LHS loaned the locomotive to the Museum of Transport in St. Louis, MO. Fifty-six years ago and the fight to get the locomotive back continues.
In 1979, the St. Louis Museum of Transport leased the locomotive and other assets to the County of St. Louis, which acquired the entire Museum in 1984. As #952 is now one of only two surviving Lackawanna steam locomotives. The R&LHS made numerous demands for return of its locomotive to St. Louis County and its Museum, all of which were apparently ignored. Then, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed HR 219 (1999 Session), requesting prompt return of the locomotive to its owner, at Steamtown. This Resolution was also ignored. New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman had previously signed AJR No. 20 in New Jersey on June 30, 1998, which was ignored by St. Louis as well.
Finally, after active lobbying by passionate volunteers, the R&LHS Board funded and filed a replevin action in federal court to recover its locomotive (urged on by one Donald Pevsner from whom much info in this post was gathered (here)). The action was brought in the U.S. District Court, Middle Division of Pennsylvania, in Scranton, but transferred to Federal District Court, Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis, MO on March 12, 2004. Though the lower Federal court dismissed the action, said dismissal was reversed on appeal, with the District Court of Appeals remanding the action back to Federal District Court for appropriate action on August 14, 2007.
Again, the case is at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, with argument before Judges James Loken, Myron Bright, and Michael Melloy on April 14. The District Court held that plaintiff’s case was barred by the statute of limitations, which should come as no surprise – the dispute being rather old.
At oral argument, however, it was clear that the lawyers and the Court both hoped that the twenty+ year dispute might be resolved by some form of mediation. Split the locomotive in half? (Such a resolution has a very distinguished pedigree.)