Thursday, May 23, 2013
WATERVILLE — The Old 470 steam locomotive off College Avenue continues to deteriorate, but it is not forgotten.
Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans
A special city committee this spring plans to submit a proposal to a foundation that has expressed interest in helping the city restore it, build a roof over it and display it in a museum-type setting, according to City Manager Michael Roy.
“We have to give them a picture of what a display might cost,” Roy said Thursday.
The locomotive is on state-owned land off the east side of College Avenue, north of the U.S. Post Office.
It was the last steam engine used for passenger service on the Maine Central Railroad and made its final trip through Waterville, from Portland to Bangor, on June 13, 1954.
It was built in 1924 by American Locomotive Co. and given to the city Oct. 28, 1962, as a gift by Maine Central Railroad on its 100th birthday.
The engine has deteriorated over time because of exposure to harsh weather, unsupervised visitors, vandals and thieves.
In 2004, railroad enthusiasts launched an effort to restore and preserve the engine. Some work was done to spiff it up, but long-term support for the engine remains elusive.
Last year, the city sent out requests for proposals to have the locomotive removed or restored. City officials said it would cost about $1 million to fix it up and that the city does not have funding for such an effort.
A committee was formed to evaluate the six proposals. Each wanted to restore the locomotive and move it out of Waterville.
The proposals were from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and one was from Maine, Roy said at the time. They were from railroad enthusiasts and nonprofit corporations formed for the purpose of preserving railroad passenger train history, he said.
The city’s ultimate goal was to see it repaired and housed in an appropriate place in Maine, but officials last year began to think that goal was unrealistic.
However, a member of a committee the city formed last year to evaluate the proposals had a connection with a foundation in Maine and approached that foundation, Roy said Thursday.
“They indicated, yes, they’d be interested in talking about it further,” he said.
Developing a presentation for the foundation was delayed, because Roy has been out on medical leave for two months after foot surgery and working on the municipal budget.
However, Roy, whose foot cast was expected to be removed Thursday afternoon, said he plans to return to work on a part-time basis starting Monday.
“I expect that within a month, we’ll approach that foundation again and ascertain if it has enough substance to allow us to go further — if the idea has enough viability to it,” he said. “If not, we’d go back to the six proposals and decide what to do from there.”
Roy said he expects to be in his office at City Hall in the mornings, four hours a day for a week or two, until he increases his hours to full time.
Meanwhile, Parks & Recreation Director Matt Skehan, who has been working with Roy on the engine effort, said the more committee members talked about the engine, the more they really did not want to see it leave Maine.
“None of us really wanted to see it leave Waterville,” he said. “It was the most important thing for all of us.”
Skehan said he and others are hopeful that something can be done to keep Old 470 in the city.
“We really need to exhaust all possibilities before we can think of handing it over to some outside group,” he said.
Amy Calder — 861-9247