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Efforts underway to restore train, offer trips through Middle Georgia

Video: Restoration of Central City Park locomotive

Philip Lord details the plans for restoring Steam Locomotive 509 that's now located in Central City Park.
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Philip Lord details the plans for restoring Steam Locomotive 509 that's now located in Central City Park.

A locomotive in Macon could be brought back to life.

A drive is underway to restore Steam Locomotive 509 that has been in Central City Park for decades. The idea is to offer Middle Georgians a special way to travel inside the only coal-fueled locomotive in the state, said train enthusiast Philip Lord, who pushed for the restoration earlier this year.

The goal is to have it restored in time for the 100-year anniversary of Macon's landmark Terminal Station in October.

Lord said he hopes Middle Georgia businesses and residents will rally to support the project financially. He said he envisions steam barreling out of a smokestack as passengers are escorted on trips throughout Georgia.

"What we thought of so far are shopping trips to Juliette, shopping trips to Atlanta and Savannah as well as trips to (sporting events) in Atlanta and Athens," Lord said. "Whatever other trips we could do, it'll be something nobody else in Georgia can do. We'll have the only coal-powered locomotive."

On board for performing the restoration work is New Generation Rail Service, owned by Jason Sobczynski, who has worked with steam locomotive and vintage railroad equipment for 24 years.

Lord said the owner of Midstate Steel has offered to allow the $1.3 million restoration to take place at the Macon facility.

Once completed, the engine and attached tender, which holds the coal, would have a couple of passenger cars attached.

"One of the first steps in the rebuild is going to be to completely dismantle the locomotive like you have to for World War II aircraft. You take it down to a skeleton and inspect every part," Sobczynski said. "As it sits, it's in surprisingly good condition -- as much as you can expect a locomotive to be in after having sat out in the weather for that many years."

The 509 was built more than a hundred years ago in Philadelphia, and over the years it received various repairs in Macon.

"Another thing that's really unique for Macon is that it received so much work, so many replacement parts, modernizations that at the end of the day, that locomotive is effectively a product of Macon, Georgia," Sobczynski said.

In 509's heyday in the 1900s, the train was operated by Central of Georgia Railroad, a name that remains intact on the side of the locomotive.

At one point between Central of Georgia and Southern Railway, there were about 80 of the locomotives in use. The 509 eventually became one of those trains used as marketing tool, being taken to towns for people to see up close, Sobczynski said.

Lord came up with the idea for the restoration after learning that Macon-Bibb County intended to sell the train and have it moved to Savannah.

After Lord approached the County Commission in January, officials voted to allow him to seek control of the train. In recent months, Lord has been able to get the train officially transferred to the nonprofit Restoration of Engine 509, of which he serves on the board of directors.

Macon-Bibb Mayor Robert Reichert said Friday that its a significant undertaking to restore a train like the 509 and that he hopes the nonprofit can pull it through.

The support for older trains was evident in 2014 when more than 35,000 tickets were sold, and $800,000 in revenue was generated, during the first season of the Polar Express train rides in Wisconsin, Sobczynski said in a report.

For Lord, the drive to see the 509 project completed is motivated by the love of trains developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. At the time, he worked for his uncle at Norfolk Southern on holidays and the summer while he attended Auburn University.

"By doing that, I got railroad in my blood," Lord said.

To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623 or find him on Twitter

YOU CAN HELP

To learn more about the Engine 509 restoration project and make a donation, visit the Facebook page "Central of Georgia Locomotive 509" at www.facebook.com/CofG509, or call Philip Lord at 960-8685.

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