Requiem for Southern 722?

Posted by David Lester
on Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The past several years have been a boon for steam locomotive restoration, and the future looks promising as well.  This year, we expect to see the restoration of Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 “Big Boy” 4014 completed, and its inaugural run to Ogden, Utah as part of the 150th-anniversary celebration of the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869.  That Union Pacific devoted the time, human resources, and money for this event is nothing short of phenomenal.  In addition to the Big Boy, work is now underway to begin the restoration of Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis 4-8-4 567 by the Nashville Steam Preservation Society which, again, is a phenomenal achievement.

Those who experienced the Southern Railway steam program in the 1970s, and the younger folks who have only read about it, will recall that there were four locomotives used in the early program.  One was Savannah & Atlanta light Pacific (4-6-2) 750, owned by the Atlanta Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, which is now a static display in an enclosed building at the Chapter’s museum in Duluth, Georgia.  Since this locomotive was always near and dear to the Chapter’s heart, the static display on their grounds is not a bad fate for the engine, particularly with nowhere to run the locomotive was it operational.

Two of the locomotives, Southern 2-8-2 4501 and Southern 2-8-0 630, were lovingly restored by the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, participated in the Norfolk Southern 21st Century Steam Program, and operate today on TVRM rails, as well as on a short line into northwest Georgia.  Indeed, TVRM often runs the engines as doubleheaders on these short line trips.  When Southern ran steam double-headers in the 1970s, it was what some of us like to call "big doings."  Unfortunately, today’s TVRM double-headers have been somewhat overshadowed by more grandiose operations, like Nickel Plate 765 running flat out at 70mph and the operation of Norfolk & Western 4-8-4 611.  Nevertheless, the TVRM operation is a significant contribution to the celebration of steam and evokes new memories of past trips. 

Many know the story of Graham Claytor, president of Southern during most of the 1970s, trading two diesel locomotives with the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina railroad to obtain 2-8-0s 207 (630) and 208 (722) to bolster Southern's steam stable.  Throughout the 1970s, the four engines – S&A 750, SR 4501, SR 630, and SR 722 delighted tens of thousands of steam enthusiasts and the general public, and their operation bolsters their legacies tremendously.

The story of the fourth engine in the original Southern steam program, 2-8-0 722, is an unfortunate one.  While I don't know all of the details of ownership once it no longer operated on steam excursions, the situation today is that parts of 722 are on the property of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.  I believe the idea was that when the GSMR received the locomotive, they would restore it for use on their railroad.  For some reason, that fell through, and the parts of the 722 essentially sit in the elements, rotting away — a terrible fate for this engine.

I have a suggestion – I would like to see the GSMR sell the 722 parts to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, and TVRM restore it to operating condition or contract the work to another organization.  Now, I say this with very little knowledge of the GSMR and its operations.  And, although I am a member of TVRM, I am not an insider and do not know how the organization would react to this suggestion, or if the GSMR would even be willing to sell it.  Nevertheless, this notable locomotive deserves better.  To see it restored and reunited with 630 and 4501 at TVRM would be exciting, and a tribute to this locomotive and to the Southern steam program itself.

With all of the grand steam locomotive restorations occurring today, it's important not to forget those locomotives that planted the seeds of enthusiasm for steam locomotion long after the industry abandoned steam in favor of diesel.  If you have the time and opportunity, check into those double-headers at TVRM.  I think you'll be impressed.  Moreover, join me in the hope that someone in the steam preservation community will remember the significance of 722, secure funding and take action to restore it.  (To avoid comments such as, "David, you want it restored so badly, why don't you do it?," all I can say is that I wish I had the resources to do so.)  And, this needs to happen soon, as the engine parts are likely facing destruction in a few years, and we'll be forced to gather and sing a requiem for this grand lady from the past.

Image Below: Southern 722 pulls a steam excursion by the Sloss Furnaces, Birmingham, Ala., 1972  Photo courtesy of Martin K. O'Toole.  (Click to Enlarge)



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