Preservationists launch emergency GoFundMe page for Texas steam locomotive

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Demolition equipment is in place to cut up No. 503 in Port Arthur, Texas, unless preservationists prevail.
Jason Sobczynski
PORT ARTHUR, Texas — Railway preservationists are launching a last-minute grass roots campaign to try and save a unique Ten-Wheeler that is only days away from scrapping in this coastal city that was devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

They’re reaching out through area media, setting up a GoFundMe page with a $50,000 goal, and working with the contractor bound by an agreement with the city to remove No. 503, a 1913 Baldwin product that operated for Kansas City Southern subsidiary Louisiana & Arkansas and has been on display here since 1957. Time is critical as the contractor is already behind schedule, and equipment is already on site to cut up the engine.

“The only reason the engine is still here is because it rained so hard last week,” independent steam locomotive mechanic Jason Sobczynski told Trains Newswire Saturday. “If it had not been for the rain, it would have already been cut up.”

He and Nick Hovey are in Port Arthur trying to raise awareness through regional and local media. On Friday, they set up a GoFundMe page with a $50,0000 goal. As of 10 a.m. Saturday morning, they’d raised almost $6,000. Sobczysnki says he will receive the money and use it to buy the engine, hire a crane to lift it onto a trick, and move it to the Texas State Railroad Museum in Rusk for temporary storage until a long-term plan for is set. He says the locomotive is an ideal candidate for a display locomotive or even an operational restoration. “There just aren’t Ten-Wheelers of this size just laying around any more.”

The locomotive crisis has roots in last summer’s deadly Hurricane Harvey, which inundated the city with feet of water. State environmental officials ordered the city to take action on asbestos and fuel oil coming from the engine. As a result, the city agreed to pay a contractor $24,000 to remediate and remove the engine.
The remediation has been done, but the scrapper is sitting on the project until mid- to late- next week to see if railway preservationists can mount a credible campaign to save No. 503. On Saturday morning, a trucker offered to move the engine at a substantially reduced cost, which could lower the goal to $40,000.

“It’s worth saving,” Sobczynski said, “because it’s one of two surviving examples of the largest Ten Wheelers left in existence. Its an artifact that can survive as an exhibit an operational piece, and it’s 2018. Something like this cannot be allowed to happen with the network of people and institutions we have today that are involved in railway preservation.” A sister engine is on display in Cookeville, Tenn. Both have tall drivers and wide spacing of the axles to tread light rails of 75 pounds per yard.

Just in case, if the worst does happen, Sobczynski and Hovey were returning to the engine Saturday with cans of spray paint to mark critical steam parts that should be saved. “I hope it doesn’t come to that,” Sobczysnki said.

To reach him to help call 404-550-2823 or email To reach the GoFundMe page, go to

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