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BRUSH IT UP City should be creative with steam engine refurb

Old number 1518 on Water Street in Paducah has deteriorated into a sad state. The steam engine - which was the last to be retired from service by the Illinois Central Railroad - was presented to the city by the I.C.R.R. in 1963.

It serves as a tie to the city's deep roots in the railroad business, which include the Illinois Central Railroad Shops on Kentucky Avenue - now VMV Paducahbilt - once the city's largest employer and a location where thousands of locomotives have been built or re-built. That work continues even today.

No. 1518 is a Mikado design, originally developed in 1893 for then-privately held Japan Railways. The design, with its signature 2-8-2 wheelbase, eventually became the principle freight locomotive for North America during the steam-engine era. Paducah's example sits in front of the floodwall across from the Carson Center along with its tender, service cars and a caboose.

Earlier this week, as part of city budget discussions, the question of what to do about the deteriorating condition of No. 1518 came up. Mayor Gayle Kaler said the city has been talking about repainting the locomotive since she joined the city commission seven years ago, but no action has been taken. Part of the reason is that a previous estimate for repainting the train came in at an astounding $225,000.

This year the city sees an opportunity to act, because of a projected 3.6 percent increase in revenue in the coming fiscal year. It has tentatively allocated $80,000 to repaint the locomotive and tender based on an estimate it has in hand for the work. Commissioner Allan Rhodes, whose role as the voice for fiscal restraint on the commission is now well-established, says he thinks even the lower estimate is excessive, and asked if the work could not be performed in house at less expense.

That's a good question, and to it we will add another. There is a marker at the front of the train that indicates a trust fund was created by the West Kentucky AFL-CIO area council that received donations from the people of the region for the preservation and upkeep of the locomotive. Assuming the trust fund still exists, what funds are available from that source to assist in the renovation process?

That question aside, it strikes us that Rhodes is generally correct - with some creative thinking, this work probably could be done using local resources. We presume a big part of the price tag has to do with the task of stripping the existing paint and priming and repainting the engine. Some disassembly and reassembly is probably involved as well. One wonders, with the various skills being taught at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, as well as the knowledge available from VMV and/or shops that service the river industry, if there's not a way this could be done cheaply and well using local talent. It strikes us that it would be an interesting and useful undertaking for students if they can get the right kind of professional oversight for the task.

Just a thought. And however it works out in the end, we think Mayor Kaler is correct - the problem needs to be addressed and now is the time to address it. As Kaler told the commission, "It (the train) is ours. It's a responsibility of the city of Paducah."

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