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  • Locomotive 253

HISTORY OF LOCOMOTIVE #253

Steam Locomotive #253 has a rich and glorious history by any measure.

Henry Flagler Photo

                                                                                                                                        HENRY MORRISON FLAGLER

Henry Flagler, one of America's foremost visionaries, founded the very successful Florida East Coast Railway in 1885. His F.E.C. Railway was instrumental in the early development of Florida's east coast as more and more towns and cities grew up as the tracks pushed south bringing more settlers to the "Sunshine State". Today the F.E.C. trains still rumble up and down the coast carrying essential goods and materials sustaining the Florida economy.

Steam Locomotive #253 was purchased in 1924 for Henry Flagler's Railway and remained in service until 1955. She is a high powered locomotive generating 6,000 horsepower and is capable of pulling a train weighing 5,100 tons. Locomotive #253 was built by the American Locomotive Company, Richmond Works. It is by far one the heaviest 0-8-0 steamers in the world at 187 tons, 70 feet long, with a tender weight of 54,500 lbs.

While most steam locomotives were scrapped in the 1950's and 60's, somehow #253 escaped the cutting torches. She was found by two Floridian's, Robert E. Bates and Steven Spreckelmeier in Texarkana, Texas in 1998. Although complete and unmolested, the locomotive and tender could be described as deteriorating hunks of rusted steel. Not to be deterred, Bob and Steve saw its potential, purchased the locomotive and shipped her back to her home rails in Florida. She is now on display in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Over a period of the next 17 years, under their direction, countless numbers of volunteers have spent more than 35,000 man hours on the restoration effort. First, the locomotive and tender were brought to the F.E.C. Railyard in Miami, Florida where disassembly was undertaken. One huge project was the removal of the four axles and eight 51" drive wheels which were shipped to Durango, Colorado for reconditioning of those components and the axle bearings. During the next several years, all of the major mechanical components were disassembled and rebuilt including the air tanks, brake valves, reverse gear cyclinder, firepan, turret valves, drive rods, steam gauges, tender oil and water tanks, boiler plate replacement and much more.

On June 13, 2009, after the major work was completed in Miami, Bob and Steve moved old #253 to her new home with the good graces and generosity of Florida East Coast Railway.

The Association is deeply grateful to the City of Fort Pierce and the Florida East Coast Railway for their extensive contributions and their continuing in-kind support.

Since the move, much more work has been accomplished including restoration and installation of the brake rigging, completion of all cab interior woodwork, windows, and doors, welding of boiler plate, and painting of the entire locomotive and tender, plus cosmetic restoration of numerous steam pipes and other appetencies.

This important legacy of Florida's past will be showcased for centuries to come and shared, not only with South Florida, but throughout the Nation as well.

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