KCS 503: a symbol of what we have become

Published 8:07 am Thursday, July 19, 2018

I had hoped that there would be a day we would call the Kansas City Southern 503 train engine on Gulfway “The Little Engine that Could,” but I doubt that day will ever come.

As the saga that started back in February comes to an end, one looks at how the city of Port Arthur handled this issue of a decaying historic relic, its inevitable doom and how it mirrors the very city in which it resides.

This should have been an easy one. Nobody cared about the KCS 503 until February when testing for asbestos within and around the engine was revealed.

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A train preservationist from Kentucky, Jason Sobczynski, with little to no background on the city of Port Arthur, began the effort to save this train, to make it operational and move it to a theme park in Florida. His GoFundMe account raised more than $67,000 in mere days to have the train moved and begin its comeback. For the first time in years, someone actually cared about what was going to happen to this train engine.

He had a plan, he had the money, and he just needed the go-ahead from the Port Arthur City Council to proceed. Easy right? Not so fast.

As what seems to be a trend, looking at the upkeep of Rose Hill, parks around town, swimming pools, neighborhood streets, etc… this was destined to be anything but easy.

Pulling a hundred-dollar bill theatrically from his pocket during a City Council meeting, former council member John Beard challenged the city to allow him to raise the money and keep KCS 503 here in Port Arthur.

It’s a heck of a nice gesture, but an easy out for the city would have been, “Thank you, Mr. Beard, but if KCS 503 wasn’t important to you while you were a sitting city council member, why should we believe that it is now”? That would be too easy as well.

Unless Beard has some aspirations in the upcoming 2019-2020 elections that he needs to thrust himself back into the limelight by becoming the “Savior of KCS 503,” there was no reason to allow this.

Months rolled by while call after call made to the city of Port Arthur was met with silence. Jason Sobczynski, the only person that really cared, needed an answer. Well, the silence was his answer. So he decided to take the money his group had raised and put it into other historical train engines around the nation — engines also in need and able to work with people that also wanted to work with him.

As much as I hope Beard is not using this as a political stunt, and is able to come up with the $400,000 needed to completely restore KCS 503, I don’t see it happening.

Not many areas of town have seen the level of graciousness needed that KCS 503 does. Four hundred thousand dollars could go a long way to restoring Rose Hill, for that matter. But it has never happened.

So it will be a sad ending to the KCS 503, which I expect will find its way to the scrapyard, piece by piece. It was only one decision away from being restored.

But isn’t that really the story of Port Arthur? Always one decision away from making a better decision.

Rich Macke is publisher of The Port Arthur News.