WATERVILLE — City councilors Tuesday voted 3-3 to sell the Old 470 steam locomotive to New England Steam Corp. for $25,000, with Mayor Karen Heck breaking the tie by voting in favor of the sale.
New England Steam wants to move the engine to Ellsworth, restore it and use it for excursions on the Downeast Scenic Railroad.
Organization President Richard Glueck said his organization is trying to raise the $1.5 to $1.75 million officials believe it will cost to do the work.
Councilors on Nov. 6 voted to sell the engine to New England Steam and must take a third and final vote before it’s official. A draft contract the city drew up says New England Steam will pay the $25,000 within two years and keep the engine in Maine.
Old 470 is on state-owned property off College Avenue. It was the last steam engine used for passenger service on the Maine Central Railroad and made its last trip through Waterville, from Portland to Bangor, on June 13, 1954. It was given to the city by the railroad in 1962.
The engine has deteriorated over the years and city officials say the city can not afford to restore it.
Councilor Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, opposes selling to New England Steam, saying the locomotive has a long history in Waterville and belongs in the city. He also questions the ability of New England Steam to raise enough money to move and restore it.
“I think we should further negotiate a lease (for the engine) — that we should maintain ownership of this,” he said.
Glueck said his organization initially considered leasing it, but donors were not willing to contribute to its restoration unless New England Steam owned it.
Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, said the engine doesn’t belong to Waterville, it belongs to the people of Maine. New England Steam is a motivated group that wants to restore it and should be allowed to do so, Thomas said.
“I would rather see it on a track somewhere in Maine than sitting, rotting on a track in Waterville,” he said.
Councilor Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, also supported the sale. She said she spoke with someone associated with Downeast Scenic Railroad who spoke highly of New England Steam officials. She said there are grants available for such projects and Glueck and his group present an opportunity. Also, she said, previous local efforts to help maintain and preserve the engine have been unsuccessful.
“I think we’ve got to get real,” Winslow said.
But resident Scott McAdoo urged the council not to sell the engine, saying he spoke with someone who worked on steam engines and was told Old 470 is worth much more than $25,000 and will take more work and money than what New England Steam officials are projecting.
If that organization can not raise the money to restore it and it has to be scrapped, then Old 470 will be gone forever, McAdoo said.
“We just lost a piece of history that we’re never going to get back again,” he said.
Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, asked Glueck what will become of Old 470 if his group can not restore it; Glueck said it would remain in the organization’s possession until it could find a proper home for it in Maine.
“We would make every effort to get it back — offer it to Waterville,” he said.
Rancourt-Thomas’ son, Nate Rancourt, an education major at Thomas College, said the engine is an important educational tool that should remain in Waterville. The locomotive sparks interest in kids, he said.
“I, personally, say don’t sell it, don’t scrap it,” he said.
Glueck vowed that the engine will never be scrapped.
“It is not something that will happen,” he said. “It is too important an historic treasure to allow it to happen.”
Council Chairman Thomas, Winslow and Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, voted to sell the engine to New England Steam. Stubbert, Rancourt-Thomas and Councilor Zach Bickford, D-Ward 2, voted against it. Heck then broke the tie in favor of selling.