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FULL STEAM AHEAD; STATE FUNDS TO HELP RESTORE HISTORIC LOCOMOTIVE.

Byline: Patricia Farrell Aidem Staff Writer

It was quite fitting Friday morning that a Metrolink train whizzed by, this symbol of 21st century transit momentarily drowning the noise of a small crowd celebrating a locomotive built in 1900.

The gathering was the official acceptance of $35,000 from the state to restore the Mogul engine, retired from life on the tracks in 1957 and donated to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society by the late Gene Autry 25 years later.

Since that time, a small band of volunteers has been refurbishing the 75-ton solid steel engine that sits on weedy rails along the newer, shinier tracks that cross the Santa Clarita Valley.

But money has been hard to come by, and the labor tends to dwindle, said Norm Harris, whose business card reads ``project engineer.'' So Friday's celebration at Newhall's Heritage Park renewed Harris' dreams of restoring the Mogul to its glory for its 100th birthday.

``We're aiming to have it finished by early 2000,'' Harris said. ``It looks like a very good possibility.''

With the help of local state legislators, the state budget approved a month ago by Gov. Gray Davis included the $35,000 to restore the engine.

``The goal for this kind of project is for an economic investment,'' state Assemblyman George Runner, R-Lancaster, said during the ceremony. ``And for preservation.''

City officials see the train as a focal point of the long-planned redevelopment of downtown Newhall, where the Mogul itself rolled through for decades, covering a route from Arizona to Oregon.

``I am so jazzed about this,'' Councilwoman Laurene Weste said. ``It's going to be just beautiful.''

For years, Harris and other workers have worked on the boiler, taking out and cleaning tubes, overhauling other parts and finally priming and painting the engine to prevent rust. Twelve years of weekend work will be completed by a contractor to be hired with the state funding.

Harris was a student at Hart High School more than 40 years ago when the old engine was taxied into town by Autry, owner of Melody Ranch in Placerita Canyon, where he intended to use the train in movies. That never happened, and the years slowly made their mark on the engine. Today it sits by the old Saugus Train Station, another Historical Society project that was relocated and refurbished to keep history alive.

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

Photo: (1-- Color in SAC Edition only) Norm Harris has been a driving force in refurbishing a 1900 M4 Mogul steam engine donated to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society in Newhall.

(2--Color) (Ran in SAC Edition only) Visitors admire the restoration's progress, and work remaining to be done, Friday at Heritage Park.

Joe Binoya/Special to the Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 24, 1999
Words:456
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