Overcast, rain, and gloom covered the state on June 13, 1954. Appropriate weather to mark the end of an era for railroading in the state. The Maine Central Railroad was running its very last steam powered train.
Nationally publicized, people came from across the nation to experience the event, either to ride the train or chase it from Portland to Waterville, to Newport, and Bangor.
The star of the show was Maine Central passenger locomotive 470. Built in 1924, this engine pulled crack Maine Central trains of up to 14 heavyweight passenger cars at speeds of 70 miles per hour.
The engineer of the final special was Archie Towle along with his fireman Pitt Moores. Special guests in the cab that day were Maine Central CEO Spencer Miller, and the Governor of Maine Burton Cross. In a speech made by Spencer Miller years later, he said that during the trip, Engineer Towle allowed him to take the throttle, and 470 was pushed up to 83 mph before he was relieved of his duties.
The north end of the run came in Bangor, and at 2:07 p.m., the locomotive left for the last time heading south back to Portland. Arrival in Portland happened at dusk with more rain and dreary weather. It was a fitting end to a day-long journey that was both a celebration and sad goodbye acknowledging the heritage of the steam train in the state of Maine.
One report of the day said, “Just after the trip concluded, the crowd hushed, realizing this was the last time they would all [hear] the sounds of steam.” Trains Magazine’s September cover featured the run, and the cover said it all: “Maine Central Loses Steam.”
Locomotive 470 was returned to Waterville where its fire was dumped, water drained and steam pressure allowed to decrease until she was cold. The smoke stack, firebox door, bell and various parts were welded shut by the shop crews.
In less than a week the locomotive was placed on a display plinth in front of Waterville’s Station, intended to be a historical reminder of steam railroading’s glory days. It has stood as a park feature for 60 years, occupying several locations.
Vandalism began as soon as she went on display, and has continued to the present day. Scarcely a part remains on the locomotive that could not be wrenched or broken off. Harsh Maine winters, rain and searing sunlight have weathered the one-time speedster as well.
Occasional spruce-ups with paint and sandblasting have been done over the decades to make the locomotive look better, but nowadays the 470 is looking the worse for wear.
Thankfully this is not the end of 470’s story. Six decades after the retirement run, a group of skilled and determined railroaders and enthusiasts has formed a nonprofit organization with the specific intent of removing 470 from her current display and returning her to operating condition once again.
New England Steam Corp., based in Winterport, has reached an agreement with the City of Waterville to buy the locomotive and move it to a restoration site in Ellsworth, along the Downeast Scenic Railroad, where work will begin.
During winter of 2013, an inspection of the locomotive from inside and out revealed a hearty boiler and clean running gear. The results were inspiring and the locomotive appeared to be a good candidate for restoration. Areas of the firebox, often prone to problems from flame erosion and expansion cracks, were found to have been replaced with new steel sheets by MEC shop crews before the last run.
The 470 will be moved by cranes and trucks as soon as a fund drive is completed. In the past seven months, the purchase price has been raised and New England Steam is concentrating on the price of moving the engine.
A NESCO spokesperson said, “It’s not a matter of if we will start the rebuild, but how soon. We move at the speed of money, and once the goal is met, the locomotive will roll.” Donations have been received from every continent but Antarctica.
NESCO’s Facebook page is burgeoning with “likes.” New England Steam Corp.’s President Richard Glueck said there is more to the project than just preservation. “We see this effort as a way to target three essentials in Maine. First is to preserve the locomotive as a treasure from another era of Maine’s growth. Without intervention, the locomotive will decay into oblivion. Second is education. We want to bring in Maine students from grades K to University. Curriculum developed around railroads in Maine, and specifically the steam passenger era will be developed and made available to teachers on our website.
“We hope to involve engineering students from the state university system and technical colleges. The locomotive was built from huge castings, and riveted plate steel. It was standard technology in 1924, and hands-on training can teach students a great deal about technology. Last is the economic benefit to the state’s small businesses. We hope to spend every dollar of the restoration expenses in Maine. 470 is the largest steam locomotive in New England. We have data from similar projects in other states, to show 470 drawing as many as 10,000 additional visitors each year. Those people are going to use motels, B&B’s, campgrounds, restaurants and seek other attractions. The economic ‘shot’ will be remarkable.”
Hundreds of donors seem to agree. Some of Maine’s recognizable companies are onboard already, including Governor’s Restaurants, Cianbro Construction, Darling’s Automotive, Sea Dog Brewing, N.H. Bragg, W.S. Emerson, Furbush-Roberts Printing, Maine Eastern Railroad, Downeast Scenic Railroad and others. None of the NESCO board of director’s is salaried.
“All donations go to the locomotive, period,” said Glueck.
A public event called Touch A Train will be held June 21, in Ellsworth, at the Washington Junction yards of the Downeast Scenic Railroad. The event will allow children and parents to sit in and explore diesel locomotives and a variety of railroad cars. There will be community service vehicles on display, as well as antique automobiles, with a discount train ride in the afternoon.
Organizations wishing to help in the fundraising should contact either New England Steam Corp. at newenglandsteam.org, or Downeast Scenic Railroad http://www.downeastscenicrail.org/ride/.
NESCO welcomes additional fundraising activities to benefit the cause. Donations to support the locomotive restoration may be mailed to: New England Steam Corp., P.O. Box 302, Winterport ME 04496. Email inquiries may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.