10 Country: Stephen's Impossible Job - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

10 Country: Stephen's Impossible Job

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April 13, 2006

Albany---  Some people talk about things that need doing, but only a few people do the things that need doing. In this case, a man who loves steam locomotives so much that he took on a restoration project that looked hopeless.

Few people can say they have managed the impossible. "It's been going on for me for 10 years," says Stephen Syfrett, a professional geologist and steam locomotive enthusiast.

He has spent ten years saving a steam locomotive from certain destruction. "She was in very rough shape. It wouldn't have been much for her to be a candidate for scraping," says Stephen, who volunteered to work on the restoration project and would later become its part-time project manager.

Stephen single handedly derailed the 1911 locomotive's certain demise to the scrap yard, after years of slowly watching it almost rust away before his eyes.

He would drive by and see the locomotive had deteriorated a little more with each visit. It was too much for him to bear. "It hurt to see the engine looking like it did for so long," says Stephen.

Engine 107 was built in 1911, and had started showing her age. He did what many people wouldn't do: Took wrenches into his own hands and did something about it. "Hated to see the locomotive sit here looking as decrepit as it did," says Stephen.

He persuaded the Thronateeska Heritage Center's administration to save the old locomotive that had barely survived a tough retirement. Stephen volunteered his time, early on, to refurbish the engine. A lonely job, but on occasion, people would see him working and drop by to inquire. Some of them told Stephen they remembered the locomotive operating between Albany and Moultrie.

They probably did.

To Stephen, it was more than replacing nuts and bolts, and finding local contractors to do the big jobs. Community pride was at stake. "My hometown steam locomotive," says Stephen.

We all know people who really get into their hobbies. Stephen is the same way. One time he had to go through the smoke box door to check the internal condition of the engine. It needed lots of work, but since the Center had no place to run the locomotive, they decided to concentrate on its outward appearance, for now.

 That didn't matter to Steven. He wanted the exhibit to be historically perfect. He spent more time researching than working on the train himself. A network of railroad friends helped tremendously. "It's an exceptional find," says Stephen, holding original paint samples so he would have the right colors.

 "Having something like this to go by is phenomenal," says Stephen, who prides himself on the technical accuracy of the refurbishment. "Anything that's worthwhile is going to take time to do it right." 

What you could easily call a labor of love became an obsession. "It's really been enjoyable," says Stephen, as he climbs down from the front of the locomotive.

And it all started because he did something instead of doing nothing. Stephen and the Thronateeska Heritage Center hope to open the train exhibit to the public in July.


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