Hitting the road this weekend. Destination? Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Thursday, September 1, 2011

I'm going to Tennessee this weekend to help an old friend celebrate a landmark birthday. This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of the earliest and most successful preservation groups in the Southeast, and to celebrate, Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is putting on a show Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

The museum's most recent achievement, the restoration of Southern Railway 2-8-0 No. 630, will be the featured attraction on short mainline trips from TVRM's Grand Junction depot to CT Tower in downtown Chattanooga. This marks the first public trips for Norfolk Southern since 1994 when the railroad ended mainline excursions. To make the event a bit sweeter, the North Carolina Transportation Museum's Southern FP7, No. 6133, will pull Missionary Ridge local trips and make a Labor Day run into north Georgia, and John and Barney Gramling's new 0-6-0T, No. 126, will pull short shuttle trips. That's just the operating railroad stuff. There's also display locomotives (notably an A-B set from NS's office car train), music, food, the usual festival stuff.

My first visit to TVRM took place almost 33 years ago to the month when, as a teenager, I talked my parents into a weekend in Chattanooga. I'd read about the museum all my young life. It was the home to the queen of Southern Railway's excursions, 2-8-2 No. 4501. The museum track was on an 1850s grade that included a cool tunnel under Missionary Ridge and a pair of bridges, including one over the Louisville & Nashville (now CSX) main line between Nashville and Atlanta. One end had a station and a wye and the other a shop, depot, and turntable. It was as if you'd taken a mainline railroad, washed it in hot water, and shrunk it to the perfect size to show the public how railroading in the southeast once was in the 20th century. Those who have been to England know how good the Bluebell Railway is, and TVRM is much like the Bluebell.

I have been back to Chattanooga many times since that first visit in 1978. I was there in 1984 to see Southern 2-8-0 No. 722 run, there in 1986 to see retired Southern Railway steam boss Bill Purdie tug on No. 630's throttle, and several times more. It is a place of wonder for those of us who love steam trains.

I'll be writing blogs, posting on Facebook, and tweeting from the event in the coming days. I hope you enjoy what I'll have to show you. Or, maybe I'll see you there?

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