They traveled here from Connecticut in the frozen darkness before dawn.
"To save it," said Scott Dorman, "save it from the scrap torch."
Dorman and fellow volunteers from the Friends of the Valley Railroad, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the "golden age of railroads," came to Peabody early yesterday for a 1940s-era H.K. Porter steam locomotive.
They found it on a small section of tracks in the overflow parking lot beside the city's public works headquarters on Farm Avenue. Its future was put up in the air this past fall when Dick Carnevale, the department's former director who brought the locomotive to Peabody, resigned.
The Friends of the Valley Railroad intend to finish a restoration Carnevale started. The group bought the locomotive from him to take back and display at Essex Steam Train & Riverboat, a tourist attraction with a working rail yard in Essex, Conn.
"This is going to a home where we know how to put this back together," said Brendan Matthews, an organization member.
Essex Steam Train & Riverboat has two active steam locomotives and a third expected to be "under steam" by 2011. The initial plan for the Peabody train is to raise enough money for a full cosmetic restoration. Her future beyond that hinges on fundraising.
"If we get it there and we can raise more money, we may try to fire her up someday," Matthews said.
The organization learned the train was available after North Shore residents forwarded them a newspaper article about it, and it also became the subject of a discussion on Internet sites for railroad enthusiasts.
Matthews said it will cost about $20,000 to get the locomotive to "display quality." That amount includes purchasing the train for $8,500 and between $4,000 to $5,000 to transport it, he said.