December 3, 2013

MAINE COMPASS: New England Steam wants to restore 470 in honor of Maine Central workers

Locomotive is in state of steady deterioration

A great deal of fear and misinformation has been generated during the hearings about the fate of Locomotive 470. New England Steam Corp.’s purpose is to rescue, rebuild and restore 470 to operational condition.

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Staff photo / DAVID LEAMING The 470 locomotive in Waterville on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO The 470 steam locomotive makes it way to the old College Avenue crossing during its last run in front of 2,000 spectators on Sunday June 13, 1954 in Waterville.

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Locomotive 470 is in a state of steady deterioration. It has stood static for 60 years without shelter, subjected to Maine’s extreme seasonal weather. Vandals have stripped the boiler and cab of gauges, controls and other operational parts. The asbestos abatement of the 1980s was haphazard and incomplete, leaving a good deal remaining on the locomotive. This toxic substance has collected water and further impairs the metal beneath it. The locomotive itself is also a health hazard, covered with lead paint that, like asbestos, was once a building standard, but today is recognized as toxic.

The locomotive was never meant to serve as a playground, yet people climb, walk and even run across the boiler regularly. That somebody has not fallen and broken their neck is, quite honestly, a miracle. People have been similarly injured on locomotives in other communities in America.

Parts of the tender are rusted through to the point where they face imminent collapse. They cannot be filled or welded to remain closed, nor will such procedures add strength to the structure. Homeless people frequently sleep in the tender.

Should anyone be seriously injured on 470, the city underwriters would call for a swift and terrible solution. Clearly, the exterior of the locomotive, and all the features that people have access to, are in disrepair and are long overdue for replacement or repair.

New England Steam is a nonprofit Maine organization, made up largely of Mainers. No one on the board of directors is paid. Several of us have been Waterville residents.

Why do we want to take on the rescue of 470? The locomotive was meant to honor Maine Central employees. Through six decades of display, maintaining the locomotive has proved unaffordable, and today, when teachers are being laid off and other fiscal crises face city government, the locomotive continues to take a back seat. In February, New England Steam opened the boiler for the first time since 1954. Our project engineer, took data, analyzed the numbers and determined it to be good condition. The exterior is, as pointed out, not so good.

Our belief is that 470 can be returned to operational status. This requires the locomotive be transported to a secured location. It will require disassembly, metal part replacement, cleaning, machining. This project will take several years, done by people who know and love locomotives. Every member of New England Steam Corp.’s board of directors has gotten black grease under his nails by working on this type of railroad equipment. We are people determined to raise the funds, do this correctly and see the project through.

The finished locomotive will be able to return to Waterville as a moving, breathing, living restoration of what it once was. Pan American has agreed to allow the locomotive to move in transport over its rails. Maine Central 470 will run regularly on both the Maine Eastern, out of Rockland, and the Downeast Scenic in Ellsworth. Downeast will be its home base. Terms of our contract with the city mandate 470 may never be relocated out of state.

We are currently raising funds for this project. In the first two weeks, we received cash donations of more than $2,000 and pledges for twice that. We have submitted eight grant requests and have three to go out. The capital campaign is an ongoing effort. If it was easy, it would have been done long ago. We have business associations and are working to achieve others. We have a brand campaign to capture the imaginations of merchants and customers alike, referring to 470 as “The Mascot of Maine.”

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