WMSR launches new fundraising campaign

The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad is continuing its efforts to restore the Baldwin steam locomotive No. 1309, shown here at the railroad’s shop in Ridgeley, W.Va. WMSR has been operating with diesel locomotives since 2016 while 1309 and Mountain Thunder are overhauled, but officials expect an anticipated return to steam later this summer.

CUMBERLAND — Officials with the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad have launched a new fundraising campaign with hopes to finance repair work needed to get their Baldwin Steam Locomotive No. 1309 on the rails.

WMSR kicked off the fundraising effort in the online publication Trains.com. Scenic railroad officials say $390,000 is needed to finish the restoration work.

“We started this appeal working with Trains magazine,” said John Garner, scenic railroad’s general manager, said Friday. “We are excited about it. The drive kicked off this week and we had a soft rollout. We’ve already received some donations. The vast majority of the work is finished on (Baldwin No.) 1309 and we want to complete the job.” 

Gary Bensman of Diversified Rail Services, the contractor performing the restoration work, told Trains.com the project is 85% complete.

The 1949 engine was purchased by the railroad in 2014. The restoration effort has faced many setbacks since. The latest round of repair work was halted in August due to a lack of funding.

WMSR has spent $2.8 million so far on the restoration.

According to Bensman, the $390,000 restoration job includes $239,000 for labor, machine work, rewheeling, final upfit, testing and break-in. An additional $70,000 will be needed for a coal loader and ash removal system required by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection at the WMSR workshop in Ridgeley, West Virginia.

Project estimates include $43,000 for storage of treated water, $10,000 for a covered coal storage area, $10,000 for a crane to set the locomotive on its drivers and $21,000 for contingency costs.

Once funding is secured, Bensman said, the project can be finished in less than six months, including a break-in period. WMSR officials said grants are also being sought, but they hope to find support among the public and in particular the railroad enthusiasts.

In the Trains.com article, editor Jim Wrinn said the magazine “contributed to the project with its $10,000 Preservation Award in 2015. Trains readers have kicked in another $50,000 in donations themselves. In early 2019, the John Emery Trust contributed $40,000 to the work. I have personally made my own modest donations.”

In operation, No. 1309 will be the only articulated locomotive in regular operation in the eastern U.S. and the world’s largest operating compound Mallet, a locomotive that uses its steam twice to drive two sets of cylinders.

Garner said the restoration work will be videotaped.

“We will be filming a video series to help people walk through this restoration process with us,” he said. “We will have guest hosts, celebrities in the railroad industry. One guest host will be John Hankey of Omaha, Nebraska, who is coming to town. Others will be participating as well. We’re really excited about this.”

Garner said he hopes to put out a video every week or so. “It will allow everybody to see the work in progress and be on the same page with what we are doing,” he said.

The videos will be linked to the railroad’s webpage, wmsr.com.

Garner said things have been looking up at the scenic railroad. He said the WMSR’s Polar Express excursions were a big success.

“We had an awesome Polar Express season,” said Garner. “Years ago, we shut down through winter but we ran through January and will continue in February, March and April. Our dinner trains have sold out. The Frostburg excursions have been strong. We advertised a St. Patrick’s dinner train and it sold out. We’re excited; this will be a good growth year.”

Bensman said, “We’re asking individuals, organizations, and corporations to donate to help raise $100,000 toward the restoration effort.” To help, send donations marked, “for 1309,” to Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, 13 Canal Street, Cumberland, MD 21502, or donate online at www.wmsr.com/1309.

Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.

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