Letter of Support: Ross E. Rowland, Jr.

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March 2, 2018

Honorable Derrick Freeman, Mayor
City of Port Arthur, Texas
444 4th. Street
Port Arthur,Texas 77640

Dear Mayor Freeman,

I write to say thank you to the citizens of Port Arthur for providing a safe home these many years for locomotive 503 and to you for your leadership in helping save her for future generations to enjoy as an important artifact from our nations great history.

70 years ago in 1947 I began my love affair with steam locomotives in my dads railroads roundhouse in Cranford NJ and I’ve been heavily devoted to them ever since. I created the steam powered American Freedom Train ( www.freedomtrain.org) to help America celebrate our bicentennial and it went on a 48 state, 25,883 mile journey ( all steam powered) 21 month journey ( 1975-76) displaying at 138 cities & towns where 7.6 million American’s bought a ticket to take the tour through its 10 display cars. An additional 40 million Americans came down to track side to cheer it on its journey It was the only national bicentennial project that worked. I served on the Amtrak BOD ( 1982-87) representing President Reagan, and have organized the restorations of numerous steam locomotives over the years. I am the proud owner of America’s last commercially built mainline steam locomotive C&O 614 ( www.co614.com)  built in 1948 and restored to service in 1980.

One of the greatest under told stories of our nations history is the crucial role played by the steam locomotive in the growth of the nation. Before the advent of the railroad steam engine in the late 1820’s we got around the same as since before the time of Christ, either by sailboat or by horse & buggy. On may 10, 1869 we finally united the entire continent by rail and that enabled the settlement of the vast western 2/3rds. of the nation and gave birth to the industrial revolution ( also often called ” the age of steam” )  that transformed America into the greatest nation on earth. All of this was only possible because of the railroad steam locomotive.

In the American age of steam railroading ( 1820- 1950 ) approx. 275,000 steam locomotives were produced by 11 different builders. In the late 1940’s the transition from steam to diesel locomotives began in earnest and 10 years later nearly all were retired from active service. 99% of the retired locomotives were sold for scrap and in less than 5 years had disappeared into the melting furnaces of the nations steel makers to become tomorrows automobiles.

A precious few were saved and donated to on line communities like Port Arthur by railroads who wanted the important history of steam to be celebrated for future generations. Locomotive 503 is representative of thousands of her sister engines that served your part of America and she proudly did what she was built to do for many years.

I want to congratulate and thank Jason Sobczynski and Nick Hovey for all they’ve done to offer their assistance to your City in finding a positive solution to the long term future for the 503. As has been amply discussed her years of sitting out in the elements have taken their toll and she now badly needs a in depth exterior de-rusting and quality repainting to halt further degradation.

I’m grateful to be able to say that Jason is one of our most knowledgeable and capable steam locomotive restoration specialists and in a field that numbers only in the low double digits his national efforts have been and will be crucial to doing what’s needed to keep our few saved locos preserved.

As you are no doubt well aware,  thanks to Jason’s leadership a Go Fund Page was created to raise the funds needed to satisfy your desires to be able to get the ground under the 503 remediated so as to meet the States environmental demands, and, to do so with minimal cash outlay to the City. I am very pleased and grateful to report that thanks to this effort over 1,200 people contributed ( many of them from the greater Port Arthur area) over $ 67,000.00 towards the stated goals of the campaign which are; 1. save the 503 from being cut up for scrap, 2. move the 503 to Rusk, Texas  for safekeeping and exterior restoration and 3. mount a campaign to raise the funding needed to restore her to service.

I respectfully recommend that the City Council work closely with Jason so as to put the first two goals into action. Under his leadership the funds raised will amply cover the services of the Inland Environments Company to date and for them to do the ground remediation once 503 is lifted off the site,  cover the substantial costs of the cranes needed to lift her and load her ready for transport, the trucking costs to get her from PA to Rusk,  and the costs once safely in Rusk to do the extensive exterior work needed to halt further deterioration.

I can fully understand that there will be some of your constituents who will want to keep her in Port Arthur. May I respectfully submit that this is not the best option for 503’s long term future. To stay in Port Arthur will require you to budget sufficient funds to lay some panel track now so she can be moved off the ground that needs remediating ( educated estimate $ 10,000.00-15,000.00), have all her exterior surfaces derusted and industrial grade primer applied to prevent further deterioration, then apply an Imron finish paint job to engine and tender (educated estimate $ 25,000.00-35,000.00 ) and then the only way to insure her long term display won’t eventually lead back to rusting away is to build a climate controlled display building for her (semi educated guesstimate $ 250,000.00-350,000.00) and then fund the annual costs of electric etc. for the display building.

Putting her in Jason’s capable hands will solve your issues, give the 503 her best chance for a long term future and save one of our nations historic artifacts for future generations.

Please feel free to call or write if I can be of any assistance in this matter.

Respectfully submitted,

Ross E. Rowland, Jr.

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One Comment

  • James Moe says:

    Awesome to have a legend such as Ross Rowland endorse this project. I still remember the Freedom Train that he organized and operated, my parents and I drove 110 miles to see it when it came through the nearest city to our farm. Saving the 503 from being scrapped is a noble thing to do that needs to be done. There are very few steam locomotives left in the United States that are still capable of being operated, most are too far gone and only useful as a static display. To be able to return one to excursion service preserves history, and allows a whole new generation to see and understand steam locomotives and their importance to our past history.

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