Train stays stalled in park

jgaines@macon.comDecember 29, 2012 

Winter weather is taking its toll on the now-unprotected boiler of Steam Locomotive 509, left rusting since the removal of paint and asbestos about a year ago.

That was done in preparation for moving it to a repair shop owned by Hartwell Railroad Co. of Bowersville. But 20 months after Macon agreed to lease Hartwell the engine and attached coal car, there’s no indication that the promised restoration is likely to come soon.

Workers showed up in September and told Ben Hamrick, business service manager for Bibb County Parks & Recreation, that the historic locomotive should be rolled away on its own wheels in a couple of weeks or so. But that’s the last he’s heard from them.

“I guess those couple weeks haven’t come yet,” Hamrick said Thursday. “They’ve been really vague on what they were going to do and when they were going to do it.”

Calls to Hartwell Railroad Co. officials were not returned.

If something doesn’t happen soon, county Parks & Recreation Director Dale “Doc” Dougherty said, he’d like to see the deal called off. Dougherty said the locomotive should stay here, where it’s been on display since 1956.

The city agreed to lease the engine and coal car to Hartwell for 30 years at $1 per year. In exchange, the company offered to rebuild the locomotive as an excursion train for use mostly on its north Georgia lines and offer discounted trips to Macon residents at least twice a year.

At the time, Hartwell representatives said it might take a year of actual work to get the engine restored and running the rails again. In May 2011, Hartwell representative Jason Sobczynski said restoration could cost up to $450,000.

Central City Park, along with the engine, transferred from city to Bibb County control in July, as per a service delivery agreement. That would probably leave any decision on breaking the contract in county hands, but if nothing is done for another year it would pass to the incoming consolidated city-county government.

Hamrick said workers told him three months ago that Hartwell no longer planned to move the locomotive to Marietta for restoration, but would instead have the work done at the shop of the Central of Georgia and Norfolk Southern railroads.

The engine was built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1906. It serves as a monument to Benny A. Scott, a community leader who served as fireman on the engine’s last run after 42 years of railroad work. He was the first black fireman on the Central of Georgia railroad, a prestigious position at the time, according to Macon Councilman Ed DeFore.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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