Southbound editor soaks up the sun and the rails of his homeland

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Friday, April 08, 2011

I am traveling back where I come from. I am in the south, where the temperatures are already in the 70s, the sun shines bright, the trees are greening up nicely, college girls hang their arms out of an open car window to catch the breeze, lost hunting dogs look into car windows for their masters, and railroads put on a wonderful show worthy of the region. 

I am in a city that is foreign to me: Augusta, Ga. When I was growing up, it was just a bit too far to reach for a day trip out of Western North Carolina, and as an adult, its call didn't seem that strong. I had read about Southern's street running in the downtown area, and I knew about the Georgia Railroad mixed trains that lasted into the early 1980s, so I regret that I never made it. Until now. A trip that has me going from Charleston, S.C., to Atlanta over a couple of days provided the opportunity to visit. I was not disappointed. 

Upon arrival, a Norfolk Southern freight strode into town from Columbia, S.C., allowing me to catch him exiting the street running that travels down 6th Street for several blocks. I would rather have photographed the train solidly on the street running, but I felt this was not bad for a first-time visitor. 

The Master's Tournament starts today, and because of this, the two big Eastern railroads have their office car trains in town to entertain guests at one of two southern sports traditions that merit their attendance (the other is the Kentucky Derby). Norfolk Southern's ABBA set of F9s brought the Tuscan red office car consist into town early this week, and guests started arriving Wednesday. The ever-courteous railroad offered me, another local fan, and a father and son, a brief opportunity Wednesday afternoon to take a rare photo of the two A-units side by side. Otherwise, the units and the varnish remain behind a fence and gate, but you can still glimpse them by driving along Taylor Street. Most visible are NS 1A, Carolina, and former Conrail super dome Delaware, which are parked side by side near the entrance to the compound. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, CSX has its two executive F40PH-2s and a long string of office cars on Jordan Street. The train is located along a public road, so it's easy to park on a side road and walk across the street and enjoy the view. The CSX train has a mix of heavyweight and lightweight equipment, six- and four-wheel truck cars, and ancestries in its executive train, so it's a real treat to pick out the peculiarities of this collection.  One thing that struck me: NS puts "Norfolk Southern" in the letterboards of its cars, and the name fits well; CSX, of course, isn't long enough to fit up there, and the name goes onto the side of the car in the corner: Still, I couldn't help but look in the letterboards and wonder why Jacksonville "forgot" to labels its cars. 

So, that's two class acts in town for the next few days. Meanwhile, NS ran locals, a CSX freight made it into town with plenty of woodchips for the nearby paper plant, and all was right with the world. I took a break from today's show to step back in time. I paid $4 and entered into the Augusta Museum of History to get a look at what railroading was once like here. Inside the museum is well-cared-for Georgia Road 2-8-2 No. 302. The big Lima Mikado from 1914 looks great, benefits from sounds and lights, and is on display with Southern heavyweight coach 1070, which is open for inspection. Inside, one side of the passenger car's coach seats have been removed to provide a gallery. This is a well done but little-noted railroad exhibit that is part of a city museum. 

I made my way out of town, heading west to relive childhood memories of when my parents would drive to Florida for vacation in pre-Interstate highway days through one Georgia small town after another. Of course, given our last name, we often passed through Wrens, Ga., despite the fact that it is spelled differently. As I rolled into town, a NS local freight with a former Southern Railway high-nosed GP38-2 on the point was getting underway in front of the ancient wood depot. The train that trailed behind included wood chips and kaolin. I smiled as I returned to my rental car and thought to myself: "It's good to be home."

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