All aboard for the GoFundMe of No. 503 locomotive

Published 6:17 pm Monday, February 19, 2018

Kansas City Southern No. 503 locomotive has seen better days. One group, however, holding a fundraiser is hoping the locomotive will see better days.

Jason Sobcynzski of Next Generation Rail Services, a railroad maintenance and repair company located in Avalon, Kentucky, started a GoFundMe Page to raise funds for the locomotive and they have already raised more than half of their goal. As of Monday morning, $25, 840 of $50,000 was raised. By 5 p.m. on Monday they collected $27,824.

“It’s ongoing and it’s been a lot of help,” he said. “Jimmy Leziak with Over the Top Construction in Ohio said he could assist transporting the locomotive to the Texas Railroad Museum in Rusk (for housing). That would be a huge help.

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“A tourist railroad in(Orlando) Florida said they can get it operational and it would be its home. They will subsidize the cost to get the engine operational.”

Another option is Atlanta, Georgia.

Regardless of its destination, Sobcynzski said the locomotive will be transported to a shop.

In a prior News article, the 503 suffered for 60 years of exposure to the elements, especially salt air. Concerns about the engine arose most recently in connection with Hurricane and Tropical storm Harvey, mostly because there was a fear that flooding would carry asbestos and oil into neighboring yards and houses.

Sobcynzski said city officials seem open to alternatives to destroying the train, and the company with which Port Arthur contracted, Inland Environment, was willing to work with those who would reclaim the locomotive, within the terms of their contract unless the city give them more time.

“It’s a real Cinderella Story after the onus of getting it scrapped,” he said. “I’m amazed at the interest.”

In his dealings with both the city of Port Arthur and the contractor, Inland Environment, Sobcynzski said they have been helpful to him in evaluating the locomotive and getting in touch with other people.

He added that they are enthusiastic about saving the locomotive as well.

Transporting the pieces won’t be as difficult as one would think.

The tender, the coal car behind the engine, can be loaded using a crane onto a lowboy tractor trailer and be hauled away.

The boiler can be separated from the frame that was a common thing in order to work on the furnace. The boiler can be loaded on one tractor trailer and the chassis on another tractor trailer.

Sobcynzski said though the city lists the locomotive weighing 337,000 pounds, but that would be the weight in working condition. Currently, the locomotive weighs around 190,000 pounds — the boiler 97,000 pounds, the chassis 50,000 pounds and the tender 47,000 pounds.

Sam Monroe, president of the Port Arthur Historical Society, said the maintenance of the engine has been a longstanding issue.

Years ago, Martha Ferguson Buest-Eton, history columnist for The News, would sell red beans and rice out of her home to raise money to fix the engine.

“There’s not a lot of motivation in the philanthropic community,” Monroe said. “The significance of the locomotive is it was the age tied to Port Arthur founder Arthur Stilwell who brought KCS here.

“There was talk of moving it to another part of town and moving it to the Museum of the Gulf Coast parking lot, but the museum needs that space. That did not materialize.”

Monroe said some in the city are concerned the locomotive will leave the area.

“I hope something can be done through the city using something like Hotel Occupancy Tax money,” he said.