Seventeen months ago, Macon agreed to lease the engine and attached coal car to Hartwell Railroad Co. of Bowersville for 30 years at $1 per year. In exchange, the company offered to rebuild the locomotive as an excursion train for use mostly on its north Georgia lines and offer discounted trips to Macon residents at least twice a year.
At the time, Hartwell representatives said it might take a year of actual work to get the engine restored and running the rails again.
Since then the park has been handed over to Bibb County, along with the engine; and city and county have voted to consolidate. Yet Engine 509 still sits behind its fence, unmoved from the site it's occupied since 1956.
Early this year Hartwell workers stripped asbestos and old paint from the engine, leaving its boiler slowly gathering rust; but the company has been mum on further plans.
In the last two weeks, however, workers returned -- and said they're preparing to roll Engine 509 away on its own wheels, according to Ben Hamrick, business service manager for Bibb County Parks & Recreation.
"They were gearing it up, oiling it," he said.
Hamrick said when the work crew arrived, he still was wondering if Hartwell might have abandoned the plan.
"I walked over there to give them their dollar back, and tell them 'The train's going to be mine again, don't move it,' " he said.
But in the ensuing hour, workers told him the restoration was "absolutely" still on, Hamrick said.
Hartwell Railroad Co. owner Bennie Ray Anderson Sr. was not available for comment late last week, according to his office; but in May 2011 Hartwell representative Jason Sobczynski said it could cost up to $450,000 to restore the locomotive.
The company no longer plans to move the engine to a shop in Marietta for restoration, Hamrick said. Instead, Hartwell has made a deal with Central of Georgia and Norfolk Southern railroads, he said.
"They're going to fix it at their shop here," Hamrick said.
That will mean laying a temporary track from the engine's current site to the nearby rail line, moving one tree in the process, he said.
"They hope to have all of that completed by the next four to six weeks, if not sooner," Hamrick said.
Hartwell operates on about 140 miles of short-line track, mostly in north Georgia, but was "scouring the country" for a steam engine to restore as an excursion train, Joey McCollough, a representative of Hartwell, said last year. The restored locomotive would operate most of the year on those lines, but it might make excursion trips to Macon and perhaps to Savannah a couple times per year, he said.
In addition to discounts for city residents, the city government would get 50 free tickets for each trip, Sobczynski said.
The engine was built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1906. It serves as a monument to Benny A. Scott, a community leader who served as fireman on the engine's last run after 42 years of railroad work. He was the first black fireman on the Central of Georgia railroad, a prestigious position at the time, Macon Councilman Ed DeFore said.
DeFore wants a plaque honoring Scott to remain, and perhaps be featured more prominently. The council has stated its intent to keep honoring Scott if the engine is removed, Councilman Rick Hutto said.