By Anne Gabbianelli
I’m glad to be associated with the steam engine once more.
That’s what I was brought up on and used to. I like the music of them better than the music, or somebody said the noise, of the diesel.
Archie Towle, Engineer on the 470, June 13, 1954
These words were shared at festivities marking the final run of Maine Central 470 locomotive (MEC 470), putting to rest the last steam locomotive to operate in Maine after three decades of service. Today this locomotive sits in pieces in a building at the Downeast Railroad yard in Hancock — yet it’s a well laid out puzzle that’s coming back together rivet by rivet.
The 470 was built in 1924 by the American Locomotive Company in Schenectady, New York. The locomotive traversed a thriving and elite passenger market serving stops between Boston, Bangor and Bar Harbor. The growth in diesel power led the 470 to its final run in 1954 during a nationally publicized event that attracted widespread spectators from Portland to Bangor. After its final departure, the 470 was put on display in Waterville where it fell victim to Maine’s winters and vandalism for close to 60 years.
“It’s a living, breathing machine,” said Richard Glueck, the former president of the New England Steam Corporation (NESCo), established for the restoration of the 470. The first mission in 2011 was to raise funds to purchase the locomotive from Waterville and then relocate it for the beginning of a long and what appears to be an arduous restoration of one of only three MEC steam locomotives in existence in the country.
“We are literally going to know every nut, bolt and rivet on this thing before we’re done,” added Leverett Fernald as he stood assessing the nearly 170 tons of the restoration project underway.
The retired machinist from Cianbro is now President of NESCo.
In addition, Fernald is the mechanical officer for both the Downeast Scenic Railroad in Hancock and NESCo, assuring all the equipment is in compliance with the Federal Railroad Administration. He is also an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to this engineering marvel.
“It’s a process,” he shared with a chuckle as he showed off the rebuilt tender designed to hold the coal and water, now reassembled on its trucks (base), the cab which is a mere shell, and the stripped down boiler which requires imagination to envision its original beauty.
Fernald and Glueck along with a handful of volunteers have been immersed in this weekend hobby for more than ten years. It’s actually a passion for not only restoring a legacy but preserving the trades. Glueck claimed there are three primary objectives in this project: preservation, education and heritage tourism.
“A lot of people have no idea this even exists, yet the steam locomotive is art; it’s literature, it’s music and it’s science all here in such an indescribable machine,” said Glueck. “I’d like to think that we are a bit [like] visionaries but also realists. This engine and this mission is going to need a great deal of support.” Glueck said the group is open to donations. “Any kind of artifacts that relate to Maine Central steam that can be donated is material that will bring in funding or be used on the loco or used in an established museum eventually.”
The volunteers range from retired folks with a love for the railroad industry, to women with varied career paths, to college students. Five University of Maine mechanical engineering students were introduced to the restoration project courtesy of Glueck.
“They took on the job of rebuilding the steam powered air pump for the air brakes. These are kids who have only seen a steam locomotive in picture books or on YouTube.”
One of the UMaine student volunteers is Alden Burns, who claimed the project is an ambitious effort. “When I first started, I was working on stripping down the boiler and the firebox. I learned a lot in this process, and not just about steam locomotives.”
Another dedicated volunteer is Hanna Brooks, an UMaine doctoral student studying geology. “I work with fragile and expensive things in my work and studies, so here in the railroad yard, I can bang on stuff and not worry about destroying anything,” she offered with a smile.
Volunteer Kendra Glueck, daughter of Richard, added, “From an engineering standpoint, moving several tons of steel using coal and water to create steam is logistically impressive. The mechanics behind the wheels and crankshaft are also aesthetically pleasing.”
Brothers Ron and Al Jenkins of the Bangor area joined the weekend warriors in the railroad yard. Their father was an engineer for the Maine Central and Portland Terminal Railroads and their grandfather was an engineer for the Boston and Maine and the Bangor and Aroostook Railroads.
Ron is a retired military mechanic who has his eyes to the future. “I keep seeing and hearing that first chuff out of the stack as 470 begins to move under its own power. I knew it would be a long, difficult process.”
The ultimate desire is to have this engineering wonder back on the tracks offering a taste of the amazing technology of its day with a scenic venue. While NESCo is responsible for raising the money and restoring the locomotive, the Downeast Scenic Railroad will be responsible for operating the locomotive when it is done. “As of now, there is about five miles of track out of Washington Junction, but the goal is to rebuild enough track to roll the 470 to Green Lake and back,” added Fernald.
Knowing the funds and time needed for this multi-faceted, precise restoration projection, Fernald noted between in-kind donations and volunteers’ support some $850,000 has been invested in the 470. Standing among the components of the locomotive he quipped, “If we had a million dollar donation and perhaps five years, that would put us in pretty good shape.”
To learn more about MEC 470’s restoration, visit www.newenglandsteam.org and www.facebook.com/MCSL470Restore.
See this Section as it appeared in print here