Emergency fund to save Texas steam locomotive tops $24,000, potential home emerges

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PORT ARTHUR, Texas — Preservationists, businesses, and members of the public have stepped up to offer material support and more than $23,000 to save Louisiana & Arkansas No. 503, a Baldwin 4-6-0 at risk of being scrapped.

The displayed engine had been a fixture in Port Arthur for more than 60 years. Since the 1980s, it has been the subject of occasional campaigns to restore it to operable condition or move it to a museum in Texas. In 2017, it appeared that the engine might have reached the end of its life after flood waters from Hurricane Harvey caused to locomotive to leak oil and asbestos. The city of Port Arthur decided that the most cost-effective solution would be to scrap the locomotive.

That's when preservationists Jason Sobcynski and Nick Hovey stepped in. Since the fine print of the demolition transferred ownership of the 503 to company contracted to carry it out, they were able to work out a deal: Find enough money to pay them the demolition company the scrap value of the locomotive by Wednesday, Feb. 21, and No. 503 could be saved from destruction.

The pair opened a GoFundMe account attempting to raise $50,000 to benefit the locomotive, and spread the work through their personal social media accounts and those representing Sobcynski’s steam restoration contracting company, That Steam Guy. The immediacy of the situation caused the post to go viral. As of Monday morning, the pair had raised more than $23,000 dollars through the GoFundMe and said that they had raised additional funds through cash pledges.

Other individuals and businesses stepped up to offer shelter to No. 503 more material support. The Texas State Railroad, a 25-mile tourist railroad which operates steam between Rusk and Palestine, Texas, offered the No. 503 temporary sanctuary if the pair is successful in raising funds to purchase and move the locomotive. Shortly thereafter, the Royal Palm Railway Experience, a startup tourist railroad north of Orlando, Fla., offered the locomotive a place to operate.

Sobcynski and Hovey told Trains that they intend the $50,000 figure to go towards purchasing the locomotive and moving it off site. They estimate the the scrap value of the locomotive as as approximately $20,000 dollars, over-the-road moving costs up to $20,000 dollars, and a total of $10,000 for crane services to load and offload the locomotive.

The pair said that should the fundraiser be successful in crowd sourcing the required $50,000 sum, ownership of the locomotive will be transferred into their name. They plan to create a "Friends of 503" non-profit and and transfer ownership of the locomotive into its name, but cautioned that the legal process for creating such a group takes several months.

The Royal Palm Railway Experience posted on its Facebook page that should No. 503 be saved, it will contribute labor and resources to restoration. A spokesperson for the railroad told Trains that it is unclear at this time whether the railroad will restore the 503 in-house or if it would pay for a contractor to perform the work.

More information is available at https://www.gofundme.com/help-save-the-la-503-friends-of.

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