Across the world, there is still a huge interest in steam locomotives,
large and small. These wonderful machines refuse to die though
they have been out of regular service in most countries 20,30,40
or more years. There are places (China, for instance) that still
build them. Talented craftsmen design, build and operate steam
powered miniature locomotives. People come from miles around to
ride behind and see operating steam engines. Princely sums are
expended to recover, restore, maintain and operate them. Why this
Further questions one might ask are:
- Why are they wonderful?
- Why are they out of service?
- What happened to all of the ones that no longer grace the
- How is it that there are still these dinosaurs in operation?
I will attempt to answer a few of these questions (and undoubtedly
raise a few more valid ones!) as I discuss one particular engine
that I have had a fifty-year love affair with.
Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, USA during the hey-day
of steam, I early on became interested in Nashville's own "home" road,
the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis RR. I was aware of other
RR's, but the N&C, as it is sometimes called, reverting back
to the initials of its originally chartered name, was the only
road for me. This road served an important economic area of the
US and fielded some wonderful equipment. Its people were mostly
what made the RR special, and it was not uncommon for Son to follow
Father who followed Grandfather in service on this RR. This fact
earned the road the nickname of "Grandpa's Road". Americans
are commonly known to apply nicknames to almost everything, and
RR's were no exception.
The N&C, or "NC&StL" (sound your "saint" when
pronouncing the initials) was very distinctive and forward thinking,
being a classy operation in every way. Between the beginning of
World War two and the end of steam operations on the N&C, the
RR found itself strapped for decent modern power to pull the heavy
and frequent trains of wartime. As a result, parent company Louisville
and Nashville RR authorized the purchase of 20 additional large,
speedy and efficient steamers to supplement the road's aging fleet
of engines. The new engine was based heavily on the basic design
features of a group of five engines the road already, had, which
served them well in the semi-mountainous territory they traversed.
It was of the 4-8-4 (Whyte system) wheel arrangement, yet was
fairly small in comparison to other road's engines. US mainline
locomotives tended to be quite large. The first five engines built
in 1930 (class J-2) were highly successful just the same, and carried
trains with speed, safety and comfort over quite rugged profiles
of track. The new design (Class J-3) improved on that older design
with few, but significant upgrades.
Importantly, Nashville's own Clarence M. Darden, Chief Mechanical
Superintendent of the NC&StL assisted in the original 1929
design and drew up the specifications for American Locomotive Company
(Alco) to build the new locomotive as well. All principal dimensions
of the previous design were retained except total wheelbase, overall
length and weight.
Such improvements as cast steel frame, cast integral with cylinders
and valves, carrying the main air reservoir cast between the frame
rails, and providing for mounting of all important appliances on
the frame rather than the boiler were designed in. The previous
class J-2 had successfully proven the value of an all-cast steel
frame. Sealed Timken roller bearings were used everywhere except
the side rods. The boiler incorporated thermic siphons, a large
combustion chamber, Worthington type "4-1/2SA" feedwater
heater and type "E" superheaters. Superheated steam was
used everywhere, including the whistle. A semi-streamlined jacket,
nose cone and skirting was applied for aesthetics and lowered wind
resistance. Mounting appliances to the frame provided a very clean
appearance to the boiler shape. A lengthwise set of wide and narrow
yellow stripes accented the stark black paint. Mid-War deliveries
of this engine had no stripes or skirting applied, so the RR applied
a thin lengthwise stripe along the running board edge extending
back on the tender. Of course, the two varieties of engines earned
the nicknames "Stripes and "Yellow Jackets". Design
speed was 80 Miles per hour, though later a successful test was
run to 110 MPH. This approaches double the universal standard of "speed
in MPH is limited to the same number as the diameter in inches
of the main driving wheels". Drive wheel diameter was 70 inches.
Wheelbase was kept less than 87 feet in order to be able to turn
the engine (inconveniently) on the road's 90-foot turntables. She
could negotiate a 20-degree curve because of special lateral motion
devices on the first driving axle. Total engine weight was 400,500
Lbs. Alco's designation was S484-399. The interpretation of that
is "Steam, 4-8-4, 399,000 lbs." It gained 1500 lbs with
later additions of cab extensions. This was one gorgeous, high
performance locomotive well liked by crews and management. Their
tenure was short, however.
The tender carried the stoker motor, and also was equipped with
Timken roller bearings in Commonwealth six wheel trucks. Its frame
was also cast with support for all appliances. This particular
design was exclusive to the NC&StL, and not repeated on any
other railroad. Being of a "semi-Vanderbilt" appearance,
carrying 16 tons of coal and 15,000 gallons of water the tender
body was of riveted construction. A single duplicate tender was
later supplied to the NC&StL by Alco in 1946 for use in updating
an old 4-6-2 engine for a special home-made streamliner train called
the City of Memphis, but it's construction was all-welded, and
kept the railroad's "eye recognition" (spotting features)
All steam locomotives were soon phased out after the end of the
war and Diesels had been discovered to provide superior economies
in the larger picture. The most modern ones and those that had
been out-shopped recently were allowed to work out their government
regulated five-year terms on flues and other major system rebuilds.
Diesels soon made the Stripes and Yellow Jackets surplus, and by
early 1952 all steam was inactive on the NC&StL. Every one
of the engines were unceremoniously cut up for scrap and hauled
away in gondolas.
All except one, that is, and this is where the story gets interesting
to the restorer.
In 1952, the N&C, who's shops were located near Centennial
Park, Nashville, Tennessee somehow managed to save one engine from
the scrap-line. She was then donated to the good people of the
City of Nashville, for display in one of their parks. This engine
was one of the last ones running till that time, and was one of
the modernized 4-8-4's, number 576. Though it had been received
in an earlier batch and was thus supplied with full jacketing,
it had later been converted from Yellow Jacket to Stripe status
by the removal of skirting and simplification ofthe streamlined
The shop forces cosmetically restored her with fresh paint, and
in September 1953 the donation was made complete. Only 11 years
and one month old, 576's intended career was done. In her new career,
engine 576 was to reside in nearby Centennial Park. A temporary
track called a "shoe-fly" was laid from the Shops to
the Parks grounds and the RR shoved 576 down the track to rest
in a shady spot in the park. Actually, the track ran downhill a
little, and the engine "shoving" was more likely "pulled" by
the bulk of the free-rolling 576. A lightweight GM Diesel was used,
and there must have been a moment when the engineer on it had concerns
for whether they would ever get stopped in time! NC&StL 576
was then open to the public, as access ramps were soon built so
people could tour the cab safely. One of the first visitors was
this writer, all of 11 years and one month old myself.
On that day my life was transformed forever. As I sat in the engineer's
seat, I could still smell the smells of a working steam locomotive,
and imagine myself at the helm of such a grand beast. I vowed someday
to see this engine run again. But first I had to learn much, so
that is what I did. I have since had the opportunity to repair
and operate steam locomotives large and small, and often visited
old 576 sitting there so cold and lonesome in Centennial Park.
I always pay attention to her condition, which in later years has
been increasingly worse as one might expect from sitting out unprotected
in the weather. She has been given a coat of paint now and then,
and had to have a fence erected around her to protect from vandals.
She even has had her asbestos (insulation) removed for environmental
concerns, with the side benefit of helping keep the boiler outer
barrel and sheets relatively dry. There has always been oil in
the lubricators, and the side rods had been solidly packed with
grease after moving in. Every visit has had a turn or two on the
lubricators. What was full fifty years ago is now almost empty,
and one lubricator is broken now. I had no idea anyone else might
feel the same way I did.
Enter home computing and the Internet, two of man's greatest inventions
in my opinion. In the interest of getting a cover of some kind
built over the engine, my wife and I established a discussion group
on the Internet, and suddenly things began to happen. Having only
a shed was not enough; we had to see if the city could be talked
into releasing the engine for full restoration. This would not
be the first time the city had been approached in this matter,
as 576 is really an ideal size and in very good basic condition.
The last three proposals have all been flatly rejected, and one
was accepted too late to pursue the idea. That group had already
chosen another engine to restore since the city took too long to
favourably decide at that time.
In the meantime, 576 sits there rusting away, unprotected.
As a direct result of this Internet discussion group, a new group
was born, The Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway Preservation
Society (NCPS). Officially chartered in the great State of Tennessee,
its mission is to preserve any and all things pertaining to the
NC&StL. Now that is a grand mission, as much still exists,
though not as much as in earlier years. The RR's trappings and
memory is fading fast. Highest on the priority list is the preservation
of engine 576. The president of the Richmond, Virginia Railway
Station Museum has been quoted on national television as saying
(in essence) that "the best preservation of an antiquity is
it's proper and regular use plus proper maintenance and that is
why the Richmond Station is still in such fine condition".
This seems to ring true. Therefore, the NCPS has approached the
city of Nashville with a solid proposal for such preservation.
While there are difficulties and certain legal hurdles yet to solve,
the city has agreed to not say "no" to our proposal.
We are working diligently to satisfy whatever requirements there
may be to have the city's blessing.
In the event that the city agrees to release their engine for
restoration, then there are larger hurdles such as moving, funding
and the nuts and bolts of restoration. At this point, we, the NCPS
can use all the help we can get! In fact, being a volunteer organization
with a need to grow our membership, anyone can help merely by joining.
While we understand this is no small project, we feel something
must be done and soon. Though the engine has weathered her stint
outdoors for almost 50 years quite well, the last few years have
been very rough on her. She will not stand much more exposure to
the elements and still be restorable or even presentable.The big
plus in all this is that even though there is an anti-steam climate
in the US propagated by mainline RR's, we have found a willing
partner with over 130 miles of scenic Tennessee trackage. Now what
we need to do is convince the City of Nashville that "now
is the time", and find substantial financial backing.
Thank you very much for you having taken the time to read about
one of the nicest 4-8-4's you'll ever see. Hopefully, one day you'll
see her in steam, and maybe you will have helped!
Chief Preservation Officer, NCPS