The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading
NUMBER SIXTY

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© September 10, 2005 

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Volunteers Restore
Steam Locomotive
in Railyard

Written by Judy Campbell Karpis   


Thousands of people pass by the small, guarded entrance to what is called the FEC Hialeah Railyard on Rosedale and Ludlum Drive each day.   Unless you see if for yourself you could never possibly imagine what The Steam Locomotive Association is doing over there.   A group of over 90 volunteers are in the process of restoring rescued engine 253 – from the ground up.   Association President Steve Sprekelmeier and his volunteer crew (and one paid worker) are in the process of restoring the last of 29 steam engines purchased by the Florida East Coast Railway.   As diesel-electric engines were introduced, these pieces of history were literally scrapped.  These hard-working and dedicated volunteers are trying to make sure that the 253 is restored completely and accurately. 

Work began in 1999 at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum and now continues on F.E.C. property with their support and assistance. The project extends beyond the steam locomotive itself. There is the tender that carries the water and fuel-oil for the engine. Then, there is F.E.C. Caboose #806 which will be converted to a "private varnish" crew car in the future. A white boxcar serves as a well-equipped workshop while former passenger coach #3607 serves as a railroad tool car with quite a collection of wrenches and parts, most requiring both hands and a big of a tug to lift.  The “Fort Ribault”, a silver-sided dining car will be also eventually be restored to its original 20’s style splendor.  The steam crane that was part of a “wreck train”, similar to the one that ran down to Matecumbe Key to salvage the wreckage from the 1935 hurricane that put an end to the F.E.C. Key West Extension.

Keep walking down the yard and you will find the the 253 S.L.A., which serves as custodian of 3 Pullman clerestory cars owned by the Dorothy Walker Bush Museum in Hollywood, Florida; before they were moved to the yard, you might have seen them alongside the tracks at N.E. 13th Street in Sunrise with their  “Buffalo Bill Wild West” paint. The ex-Southern Railway car wears the “Buffalo Bill” paint and stands as an example of the few remaining intact Railway Post Office cars, complete with sorting bins.  

 With the exception of work requiring special certification, volunteers perform almost every job. It's greasy, grimy, rusty, tiring work and most of it is done in very unpleasant working conditions.  But the volunteers say, “It is worth every minute.” Their leader, Steve, is a high-speed, low-drag guy and his energy and enthusiasm are contagious.  This trim and tan 41 year old stay at home dad spends much of his free time at the railyard.  He is the brains of the operation.  Why does he do it?  “For the love of it.”   The rewards of the hard work would not be obvious to an untrained eye.  To the volunteers, however, the rewards come in small doses - evident after every work session as bare metal shines through where rust and grime once caked it over, or when a fresh coat of F.E.C. blue paint covers what used to be dry, cracked wood and scale, or myriad other small accomplishments that add up to one big smile at a job well done.

Steve has stated repeatedly that this job will be done properly.  There is no cutting corners. Hopefully, the proper restoration work done now will pay rewards for years to come as the engine and its contents will not be riddled with preventable failures.  The group is assisted by a grant, donations from Tri-Rail, FEC and other train lovers.   Steve’s father is a train aficionado as well and Steam learned the love of trains over the years.  He is now taking his 5-year-old son along on steam engine rides – Steve’s own personal  reward for hard work and sweat.  

A documentary is being made about steam locomotives and is available through the group’s website, http://www.fecrs.com/FEC253.html.  Information is also available through the website regarding membership in the association.  The future plans for the 253 are for it to move to the Belle Glade area.  The over 90 volunteers working on this project will all surely beam with pride when the 253 rolls down the track, headlights and horns blaring, steam hissing and the locomotive chugging.

 

Written by Judy Campbell Karpis

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