A 101-year-old steam locomotive that once ran the steel belts between Jacksonville and Virginia and then was exhibited downtown before being relocated to the parking lot of the Prime Osborn Convention Center has another journey ahead of it.
The city council’s approval for the move came despite efforts by a local historian to stop the “great train heist,” which will see the 1504 Atlantic Coast Line going to Clewiston to use the US Sugar Corp.’s historic Sugar Express. to become a tourist train attraction.
Wayne Wood called the council’s 16-to-2 vote Tuesday moving the title to the local chapter of the National Railway Historical Society so the locomotive could be brought to Clewiston’s Sugar Express for passenger excursions “a terrible idea”. Wood named # 1504 one of the great landmarks of our city called the National Register of Historic Places and said the locomotive was one of the last great railroad locomotives in the south.
He sees no opportunity to appeal against the vote.
“This train is literally on the line and it’s sad because it’s an icon and it belonged to the public,” said Wood.
But after years of maintaining the 80-foot train, including an exterior restoration in 2015, Railroad Association President John Holmgren said his board of directors readily agreed to a chance to get it running again when US Sugar called a few months ago.
“We loved the ability to restore the locomotive and put it back into service,” said Holmgren. “We all knew that the locomotive was essentially rusty. For 22 years the city really didn’t pay any attention to it. … We are pleased that it has been preserved, restored and is still operational. ”
American Locomotive Co. of Richmond, Virginia, built the 471,000-pound locomotive and tender in 1919, and used 10,000 gallons of water and 16 tons of coal to turn their 73-inch-high drive wheels on passenger journeys from Jacksonville’s train station, now the Convention Center, and Virginia.
When the giant locomotive was retired, it was finally relocated for display in front of the Atlantic Coast Line (now CSX) on Water Street in 1960. Then in 1989, after its renovation, it was moved to the rear of the convention center, just a few meters from the rails it used to travel on.
The locomotive received $ 75,000 for renovation work, then another $ 10,000 for work in 1998, but began to rust when the railroad company’s chapter unsuccessfully sought restoration grants. Then the chapter joined other historic railroad companies to apply for a $ 10,000 restoration grant from Trains Magazine in 2015 and then win.
CSX matched the grant listed as # 1504 on the Railroad Company’s list of US Railroad Landmarks at Risk. Society members cleaned and repainted No. 1504 after sanding away the rust, securing the windows, and protecting the interior, Holmgren said.
Back then, magazine editor Jim Wrinn said it was a groundbreaking locomotive with national appeal.
“There is a tremendous urgency to do something about it,” Wrinn said in a 2015 interview with the Times-Union. “It’s a difficult climate to preserve a large chunk of metal. … Hopefully this is the beginning. It needs a cover and it needs funding to keep the restoration and maintenance going.”
Six years after that work, Holmgren said the locomotive was suffering from the weather, despite the work his volunteers were able to do. Then Sugar Express LLC said it was interested in restoring it to an operational state. It was also agreed to raise funds for scholarships to help Duval County High School students visit a historic railroad camp. And it was agreed that the proceeds from ticket sales in the first year of operation will benefit social rail maintenance projects and other grants.
Wood claims there are other ways to keep the locomotive local. It could be relocated to Prime Osborn or weatherproofed until it could join the Museum of Science and History’s planned move to the Northbank area with the USS Orleck ship exhibit and the Jacksonville Fire Museum.
“It would be a great place to preserve a locomotive for future generations and make it a critical mass for a great family attraction in Jacksonville,” said Wood.
During the June 2 meeting of the Finance Committee, Councilor Matt Carlucci said that while he likes to look at the locomotive, he doesn’t like “seeing it when it’s ignored”. And he had doubts whether the final vote on the bill would come on Tuesday.
“This train is an icon,” said Carlucci. “… Can’t we wait a few weeks to see if there is anyone, organization, or person here in Jacksonville who might want to offer other plans that would keep the train at home here?”
But if anyone else on-site was interested, “they would have come to us” while that plan makes sense, said colleague Reggie Gaffney. In the end, Carlucci and Randy DeFoor were the only votes against.
Holmgren said the bill would give the historic society a right of first refusal on the return of the locomotive if the Sugar Express project fails. He also has assurances from US Sugar that No. 1504 could visit his old home again.
“We’re trying not to lose touch with Jacksonville,” said Holmgren. “… The parties are working on it. It would be great PR for us, US Sugar and their train system. We hope it will return to Jacksonville.”
City council action also removed the National Register of Historic Places label on the locomotive when it was moved. US Sugar hopes to move the locomotive first on a giant truck and then on a flatbed wagon for transportation, Holmgren said.
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