Is There an Abandoned Steam Engine at the Bottom of Round Lake?

Last month, we talked about the myth that an abandoned locomotive is buried beneath the BNSF Railway near Hinsdale. Today, we're going to explore another mystery of railroad history; namely, that there is a steam engine in a watery grave at the bottom of Round Lake.

A bit of background for starters. The village of Round Lake was founded in 1908, taking the name of the lake upon which an ice house had been constructed, one of the numerous such ice houses in Lake County, some of which we've discussed before in detail.

According to the Village's web site, "In 1901, Armour and Company completed work on a five acre ice house in Round Lake and was said to be the largest in the world.  The plant made 100,000 tons of ice each winter and provided employment for many people in the area. One-hundred-and-eighty tons of ice were hauled out of the lake each day.  A large guest house adjoined the plant that was home to some of the 300 employees who worked at the ice house."

Armour's Ice House, Round Lake, IL. (Illinois Digital Archives)


A 1917 fire destroyed the ice house, which wasn't rebuilt since refrigeration was taking over the industry at this point, rendering these ice houses obsolete.


Possible photo of the steam engine that used the spur. Image: Village of Round Lake.

Before its closure, the ice house would connect to the Milwaukee Road line in the area via a spur leading directly to the lake, shown below.

An arrow points to the Round Lake Spur above. In this map, spurs to Long Lake and Taylor Lake (via the Soo Line) are also visible, and most likely served a similar purpose.

Now that we know the story of how and why railroad operations occurred at Round Lake, we have to ask how exactly an abandoned locomotive would wind up there, and that is summed up quite anti-climactically by former Round Lake Mayor Bill Gentes.

Gentes states that, "with the advent of refrigeration the ice house business collapsed quickly in the late 20's and with the depression, business contracted even quicker. So when the decision not to continue with the ice house was made, the question was what do to with the equipment. So legend has it that when the last ice cutting season was finished the engine was parked on the ice, and allowed to fall in when the ice melted."

So is this story true? My guess is most likely not, much like the story of the Burlington locomotive. At its deepest, according to boating charts, Round Lake is less than 30' deep, meaning any locomotive wouldn't sink that far, and may even be visible occasionally on satellite imagery. Even if it weren't visible, Round Lake is used recreationally for boats and fishing. I feel like someone would have noticed something by now. Finally, the most pressing issue with this story is simply why wasn't the locomotive scrapped? 

This isn't a story like the Eagle Lake Locomotives, which were left in place in the forest upon commencement of logging operations because it would have been more expensive to ship them out. In this case, the spur easily connected to the Milwaukee Road line, and could easily have been scrapped.

Birds eye view of Round Lake, IL, with the station in the background. Image: Village of Round Lake

Thus, while I can never say never with a legend like this, it's quite likely that the only thing you'll find in Round Lake is the occasional car or two.

Thanks as always for reading!

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