Once it was a steel-rail thoroughbred, speeding people between Richmond and Jacksonville under a plume of coal-fired steam.
Now rust streaks No. 1504’s huge boiler as holes pit the 94-year-old Atlantic Coast Line locomotive’s tender, parked for 24 years outside the Prime Osborn Convention Center.
But the historic locomotive’s future is brighter after Trains Magazine awarded a $10,000 preservation grant to the North Florida Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, and CSX matched it.
The locomotive just topped the national railway society’s Endangered U.S. Railroad Landmarks list. So funds to clean and repaint No. 1504 have local supporters ecstatic, said John Holmgren, president of the society’s North Florida chapter. The group joined the Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line Historical Society, North Florida Railroad Museum and Railway and Locomotive Historical Society’s Southeast Chapter to file for the magazine grant.
“The initial plan is to paint — copious amounts of paint. There is also going to be work to the cab to secure windows and keep the wind and rain out of its interior,” Holmgren said. “There are also plans to do some exterior lighting, including hopefully illuminating the headlight and running lights.”
The 73-year-old magazine funds railroad restoration projects as part of its philanthropy program, and No. 1504 was picked from 50 applications this year, Editor Jim Wrinn said.
“It is a landmark locomotive, has a national appeal and is very prominent, and there is a considerable urgency to doing something about it,” Wrinn said. “It is in a tough climate to preserve a large piece of metal. … This is hopefully the beginning. It needs a cover, and it needs a fund endowment to keep restoration and maintenance going.”
The build plate on the engine says American Locomotive Co. in Richmond made it in August 1919. The 471,000-pound engine and tender is 80 feet long and carried 10,000 gallons of water and 16 tons of coal to turn its 73-inch-tall drive wheels. In its prime, the locomotive coincidentally pulled passengers into where it stands now — the Prime Osborn, when it was a railroad station.
Moved in 1960 to Atlantic Coast Line (now CSX) on Water Street, it went to the convention center in 1989. It got $75,000 in renovation, then another $10,000 in work in 1998.
When its looks faded, the railway society’s chapter filed for grants to restore it, but didn’t get any. A new “Project Return to Glory” restoration plan began after a July inspection showed it in basically very good shape, but with rust streaks on the faded black boiler and crusty rust holes in the tender.
Holmgren said the rust and paint will be addressed while he and Wrinn hope a full restoration and a new roof over it can be funded in the future.