Fundraisers to continue effort to move locomotive

Laws dictate Port Arthur's action on display engine, says man who will head local preservation effort
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Louisiana & Arkansas No. 503 remains on display in Port Arthur, but an effort to move the locomotive continues.
Courtesy of Jason Sobcynski

PORT ARTHUR, Texas — The City of Port Arthur has voted to keep its steam locomotive, but the two men who raised funds to save the engine say the story is not over.

Jason Sobcynski and Nick Hovey raised more than $67,000 to save Louisiana & Arkansas Ten-Wheeler No. 503 when it appeared to be at risk of scrapping. The two men believed they would be able to purchase the engine at scrap value from the company that had been contracted to remediate the locomotive display site because of city concerns over leaking oil and asbestos. But the Port Arthur City Council said that the engine was still city property and on Tuesday voted to keep the locomotive in the city. The council decision provided for funding to remediate the contamination, and then to take requests for proposals on how to cosmetically restore, maintain, and possibly move the locomotive.

Sobcynski tells Trains News Wire that he and Hovey will to submit a request to the city outlining the same plan as their Go Fund Me drive: To move the locomotive to the Orlando & Northwestern railroad near Orlando, Fla., where it could be a candidate for a functioning restoration. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, Port Arthur’s city attorney said that there isn’t a way to donate or sell the engine directly to Sobcynski or any other entity. Legally, the city government must open requests to the public and judge them based on the best use of the property and what the proposals bring the community.

Sobcynski says that if the city does not accept his proposal, he would refund the money raised on the Go Fund Me account. He says that donating the funds to preserve No. 503 in Port Arthur, or his previously stated intentions to transfer the money to a different charity in the event that he failed to obtain the engine, are not possible due to Go Fund Me’s terms and conditions.

During Tuesday’s meeting, several citizens spoke out in support of keeping the locomotive, and former city councilman John Beard offered to form a Port Arthur-based group to oversee its future.

In a phone interview, Beard told Trains News Wire that since the city council meeting, he has been talking to engineers and other professionals to put together a long-term plan for the engine. He said he hoped it could be moved to the city’s replica Kansas City Southern station.  

Beard also said that while he understands that some people are frustrated with the council’s decision, residents’ biggest concern is that they have a voice regarding the fate of city property, and that city government follows the process outlined by Texas law.

“[In February] I drove past the 503 and saw equipment in place,” Beard said. “I called my city councilman and he had no idea what was going on. The city council wasn’t aware of the issue with the 503 at all, so I started asking how did it get so far down the road that there was a contractor on site and a guy who was going to buy it?”

Beard says that attempting to change the engine’s ownership without following proper procedure could potentially put the city afoul of Texas open meeting laws and bring charges from the state. City Councilman Harold Doucet Sr. previously told Trains that former members of the city government were responsible for skirting the regulations.

“I have nothing against the fundraisers,” Beard said. “and I share their sentiments — I’ve enjoyed visiting places like the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and the Texas State Railroad. Many people may see running the 503 as the best use of the engine, and I agree with that, but they should put themselves in our shoes. The legal process for acquisition was not adhered to.”

Beard said he will try to find a way to keep No. 503 in a climate-controlled space, in case a local opportunity to perform a running restoration does appear. “That might not happen soon,” he says, “but if we work together, we can execute a sustainable plan."

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