Historic locomotive needs $80,000 boiler overhaul
By Steve Dreyer
The 100-year-old steam locomotive that has become an iconic symbol of the “City in the Country” is running on borrowed time, its operators say.
Officials from the city and the Poway Midland Railway are trying to figure out how best to finance the needed overhaul of the Baldwin engine’s 75-year-old boiler. It was last patched in January 2011 and, according to the expert who did the job, won’t last past its next leak.
“It’s like an old shirt, you just can’t patch it anymore,” said Chuck Cross, president of the all-volunteer railroad that operates the locomotive and several other vehicles at Old Poway Park.
A complete overhaul of the boiler will cost $80,000, Cross said. That guaranteed quote comes from an Orange County shop, only one of five in North America that still repair 200-gallon railroad boilers. Cross said the quote was the lowest among several he obtained.
Cross said a January 2013 time slot has been reserved at the Orange County shop for the boiler overhaul, which would likely take 6-8 weeks to complete.
“No. 3,” as the locomotive is known, was purchased in 1987 along with the balance of the estate of John S. Porter. After buying it in 1960 from a Vista man, Porter built a small station, house and shed on what is now part of Old Poway Park and operated what he called the “Poway Village and Rattlesnake Creek Railroad.” Porter died in 1980.
The engine is owned by the city but is operated by the volunteer railroad under a facilities use agreement, Cross said. Volunteers extensively restored the engine and its tender. No. 3 was put into service on July 4, 1997. It operates as a popular tourist attraction on the first and third weekends of the month. Operations are suspended each January and February for maintenance. The boiler is inspected every year by the state and poses no safety hazard, Cross stressed.
Since the engine is considered city property, payment for repairs falls under the city budget, Cross said. The proposed 2012-13 budget, to be considered June 19 by the City Council, does not have an allocation for the boiler work.
Cross said he and his board of directors are well aware that the recent demise of the local redevelopment program has placed a major strain on the city’s operating budget. The board, he said, is willing to discuss with the city the possibility of the Poway Midland Railroad contributing to the overhaul cost.
“Basically we have three options,” Cross said. “We can wait for the boiler to spring a leak then put (the engine) in the barn and dust it. We can go with the guaranteed price in Orange County, or we can wait for a leak, then try to find some place to fix it where we don’t have a reserved space. That could be a year or more and at greater cost, especially when you consider transportation costs.”
Cross briefed the City Council on the matter at last week’s meeting.
To Councilman Jim Cunningham’s way of thinking, the repair should be a priority. “Old No. 3 drives the Poway park,” he said Friday. “The notion of walking away is not an option.” He said he was very supportive of the idea of the railroad and the city somehow sharing the cost of the boiler overhaul.
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