ACL #1504 could be restored and then operated by U.S. Sugar Corp. in Clewiston.
Jacksonville could soon lose another historic landmark – not from demolition, but from relocation.
City Council is considering legislation that would declare Atlantic Coast Line #1504, the steam locomotive displayed at the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center, surplus property with a declared value of $50,000.
Ordinance 2021-0293 on the June 8 agenda also authorizes the city to rescind the locomotive’s local and national historic landmark status and transfer its title to a railroad preservation organization.
The North Florida Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society Inc. has a contract to sell the locomotive to Sugar Express LLC, a division of U.S. Sugar Corp. in Clewiston.
U.S. Sugar will restore and then operate the locomotive as a “tourist” train to offer short-line passenger excursions on U.S. Sugar’s 230,000-acre property near Lake Okeechobee.
The ordinance states that NFC-NRHS will use the proceeds of the sale or transfer of ACL 1504 to Sugar Express to fund the “NFC-NRHS/Sugar Express Railroad Educational Scholarship” to provide financial assistance to Duval County high school students who wish to attend the National Railway Historical Society Rail Camp and other activities of the society.
After the locomotive is operational, Sugar Express has agreed that ticket sales from a promotional excursion will be donated to NFC-NRHS, the ordinance states.
While moving #1504, a Downtown landmark since 1960, is not the best-case scenario, it is the only option to save the locomotive, said John Holmgren, spokesman for the historical society.
“Time and the Florida weather will do what it does,” Holmgren said.
The locomotive first hit the tracks in 1919, pulling passengers on trains including the Miamian, the Florida Special, the Palmetto Limited, the Southland, the South Wind and the Dixie Flyer.
After diesel locomotives went into service on the ACL after World War II, #1504 was used for freight service. It was retired and placed into storage in 1952.
The locomotive’s first cosmetic and mechanical restoration was completed in 1960. It went on display outside the Atlantic Coast Line’s new corporate headquarters building Downtown along the Northbank, now the home of CSX.
When the former Jacksonville Terminal Co. Depot was converted into the Prime Osborn in 1986, #1504 again was cosmetically restored, donated to the city by the railroad and placed on a platform in the parking lot.
The depot was built in 1919, the same year as the locomotive, and #1504 spent its early life pulling passenger trains in and out of the terminal on trains that ran between Jacksonville and Richmond, Virginia. The convention center is named after Osborn, a former CSX chairman and CEO who died in January 1986.
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers designated the locomotive a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 1990 because it is the only example among the 81 locomotives of its model that remains in essentially as-built condition.
Parts that were not on #1504 the first day it pulled train cars include the headlight, tender trucks and pilot truck wheels, the society said.
The most recent cosmetic restoration was in 2013 when Trains magazine awarded its annual Preservation Award and a $10,000 grant to the NFC-NHRS that was matched by CSX Corp.
That allowed local railroad enthusiasts to repaint the locomotive, but periodic paint jobs will not adequately preserve #1504 as long as it is an outdoor display.
Allowing U.S. Sugar to restore and put the locomotive back into limited service in Clewiston is the best way to preserve it and keep it in the state of Florida, Holmgren said.
“This is an opportunity for it to be maintained and operated. It’s about railroad preservation,” he said.
If the transfer is approved, #1504 would join the Sugar Express, a similar steam locomotive (#148) that was restored in 2019 and is operated by U.S. Sugar.
According to sugarexpress.com, U.S. Sugar is the only sugar cane farming operation in the continental U.S. that transports all of its cane from the fields to the sugar factory by rail.
“Our CEO Bob Buker is a history buff and has long had an interest in bringing visitors to our rural farming community to experience historical steam locomotives in action as a way of learning about both our company’s history and our current agricultural operations’ part in helping feed American families.
“Restoring the #1504 will allow us to further these public education efforts centering around our own #148, as part of The Sugar Express, which will provide both excursion trips and occasionally assist in harvest operations,” said Judy Sanchez, U.S. Sugar spokeswoman, in an email.
City Council meets at 5 p.m. at City Hall at 117 W. Duval St.