HANCOCK, Maine — A nonprofit group with a mission to preserve steam railroad heritage is now the owner of a 91-year-old steam locomotive that has sat outside in Waterville for the past six decades.
New England Steam Corp. gave a $25,000 check on Nov. 5 to Waterville city officials to mark its purchase of the locomotive, Maine Central Number 470. The organization plans to disassemble and move the locomotive to Hancock in the upcoming year and then to refurbish it at an indoor storage facility.
The steam locomotive was built in 1924 and has been out of service since 1954, according to information posted on the New England Steam Corp. website.
The restoration process at the home of Downeast Scenic Railroad at Washington Junction, just east of the Ellsworth city line, is expected to take several years, group officials indicated in a prepared statement announcing the purchase.
“There are three principal goals to this project,” Richard Glueck, president of New England Steam, wrote in the statement. “The locomotive is a historic icon from another era, before airlines and interstate highways. It has been deteriorating for years and someone with the knowledge had to intervene and preserve it. Second, it will be a living classroom of literature, history, science and the arts, for students pre-K to postgraduate. Finally, it will be a huge draw for heritage tourism in an ideal setting. We are about Mainers standing up to help Maine.”
Contacted Friday, Glueck said the group plans to start dismantling the locomotive sometime during the Nov. 8 week and that the main portion of the locomotive will be moved sometime in late spring or early summer of 2016. It will be refurbished at Washington Junction in a building specially constructed for the project, he added.
Glueck said the volunteer organization is eager to begin work getting the locomotive, the largest steam one in Maine, back into working condition.
“It’s a unique piece of history for our region,” he said. “It’s a huge step for us.”
New England Steam has been holding fundraising events to help pay for the project, but also hopes to complete the move from Waterville to Hancock with services that are donated for free or offered at cost, according to Glueck. The group had estimated it would need $1.3 million to cover both the move and the restoration effort.
Glueck said the group has received support from all over the world, including from an American military service member stationed in Afghanistan, and that donations not just of money but of services, time and materials will be key to making the project work.
“People are anxious to see this succeed,” Glueck said.
Gary Briggs, vice president of Downeast Scenic Railroad and Downeast Rail Historic Preservation Trust, said Friday that he expects there will be close cooperation between the two volunteer groups during the restoration project.
Briggs said that after the locomotive is restored, Downeast Scenic Railroad will operate it as part of its seasonal excursion rail service along the Calais Branch Line in the Ellsworth area, but that New England Steam will remain the locomotive’s owner. He said it will be the only steam engine used by the railroad, which currently operates three diesel-electric engines.
“It’s very exciting,” Briggs said of bringing Number 470 back in service.