With little spoken, city seeks to remove Engine 503

Published 10:56 am Tuesday, February 13, 2018

By Ken Stickney


The city of Port Arthur appears to be pressing ahead to dispose of an historic Kansas City Southern locomotive that’s been displayed at Bryan Park for more than six decades.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

A plastic “cocoon” had been placed over the locomotive Monday, with plans to mitigate the presence of asbestos and eventually dispose of the train.

The timeframe is apparently short on the disposal project — the asbestos disposal was to be handled this week and the “tear down” next week.

There was a wrecking ball at the site Monday.

City officials revealed little Monday except that they plan to dispose of the locomotive.

The train represents the remnants of Engine 503, reportedly the last of the 500 series of locomotives built by the KCS between 1913 and 1920. The 116-ton locomotive was given to the city of Port Arthur in 1957 and placed at Bryan Park in the 1000 block of Gulfway Drive.

The Port Arthur Lions Club led the movement to move and display the oil-burner steam locomotive at Bryan Park. The locomotive had been used for decades by the Louisiana & Southern Arkansas Railroad in Port Arthur, a subsidiary of the KCS until 1939, said Tom Neal, director of the Museum of the Gulf Coast.

The engine and car behind it at the park and a plaque, donated by Kainer Memorials, said the engine was “born 1913 — died 1957.”

The engine was described as 61 feet, 8 inches in length with a gross weight of 337,000 pounds. Its water capacity was 7,000 gallons, its oil capacity was 3,616 gallons. The KCS donated the engine on Dec. 13, 1957.

Concerns about the train arose most recently during Tropical Storm Harvey flooding, especially because of the asbestos reported to be in the engine and because of oil that escaped the train.

But concerns date back to at least the mid-1980s, when George “Scooter” Auld, then Port Arthur’s director of parks and recreation, pressed to get rid of the train. He said the city could not afford to repair and maintain the locomotive, even then.

“I know three things about this train,” he said in a Feb. 13, 1985 article in the Port Arthur News. “It’s hard to get rid of, I want to get rid of it and I hope to get rid of it.”

But Auld’s hopes ran headlong into efforts by Martha Ferguson Buest-Eton, a history columnist for the Port Arthur News, who led fund-raising efforts for perhaps a decade to repair and preserve the locomotive.

She chaired the Save Old No. 503 Committee, which worked under the Texas Sesquicentennial Commission of Port Arthur. For most of a decade, ideas about preserving the locomotive, “ravaged by humidity and vandals,” according to a News article, abounded.

Buest-Eton, who sought to raise some $50,000 to save the locomotive, wanted to move it to a site on Lakeshore Drive

Former City Councilman Charles Rhodes suggested moving it to the old KCS terminal site at Procter and Houston, creating a park there.

Other suggestions included storing it in the First National Bank, now the Museum of the Gulf Coast, or donating it to the Port Arthur Historical Society.

According to news articles from the 1980s and 1990s, the city itself appeared to be of two minds, with some hoping to keep and preserve the locomotive and others favoring donating it or otherwise getting rid of it.