Southern Railway 4501 is coming together at Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, September 04, 2013


Southern Railway 2-8-2 No. 4501 is coming along in the shop at Tenneesee Valley Railroad Museum. Note the feedwater heater apparatus in the smokebox and on top.

No. 4501's rebuilt trailing truck should help steer the engine better, and a new Sellers non-lifting injector from Strasburg has been affixed.
CHATTANOOGA — On the wall of the Robert M. Soule Shops at Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is a park bench-sized sign with legendary 1960s Southern Railway President D.W. Brosnan’s famous axiom, “It can’t be done” with the “n’t” crossed out by a slash. It is a most appropriate sign for the sight that unfolds beneath it.

This was the Mikado that launched Southern and successor Norfolk Southern on a 28-year series of steam excursions with a host of locomotives from a tiny 0-4-0 replica of an 1828 engine to a giant Norfolk & Western 2-6-6-4.

The 4501 was the freight hog that Southern presented in its hallowed passenger green and gold as the pride of a profitable railroad during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s when much Eastern and Midwestern railroading was in trouble.

No. 4501's tender with stoker installed.
This was the first mainline engine that so many people saw in steam or took their first mainline steam trip behind (including me in 1966 for my first viewing in Asheville, N.C., and August 1975 on a Knoxville, Tenn.-Jellico, Tenn., round trip).The museum and Norfolk Southern are once again counting on the 4501 to be a roving goodwill ambassador as part of the railroad’s 21st Century Steam excursions for employees and the public. The 4501 is also TVRM’s pride and joy, the engine that made the operation famous.
Oil lubricated main bearings for the 4501's drivers.
To get to an operating 4501, though, is an arduous task. The 1911 Baldwin last steamed in 1998, and it needed lots of work to run again when it entered the shop in 2011. This included a 1,472-day boiler inspection, running gear repairs, and a host of upgrades.

Today, the shop force is closing in on the day when 4501 will steam again, and last week, they passed a huge milestone when they installed three of the four pairs of 63-inch driving wheels under the engine.

The list of work that is going into everyone’s favorite Mikado is impressive:

  • An almost completely new firebox.
  • A rebuilt Hodges trailing truck that includes modifications to help guide the engine through curves.
  • Roller bearings on front and trailing guide wheels.
  • A copy of a Worthington SA type feedwater heater from a Chinese 2-10-2.
  • A stoker from a Canadian National 4-6-2.
  • An oil lubrication system for the driving axles instead of troublesome grease. Incidentally, those Armstrong lubricators are springloaded, constantly replenished by a mechanical lubricator, and come from England’s North Yorkshire Moors Railway, thus adding another international aspect to the engine’s return.

Springloaded lubricator pads for the drivers.
The appearance of the “new” 4501 may be jarring to those whose experience with the engine goes back years — the feedwater heater adds a small rectangular box to the top of the smokebox. But doing so may add 10 percent to 15 percent more horsepower, or enough for another coach. This modification, which many of her sister SR Mikados received 85 years ago, is in line with standard railroad shop practices. So, visually jarring or not, it still “fits.”

With the three sets of drivers in place — the fourth would block access to the arch tubes, yet to be installed — the next phase is to load the tubes and flues, roll those, and air test the boiler for leaks. Once those are addressed, the crew can perform a hydrostatic test of the boiler using warm water to check for leaks.

Kevin Miller, in yellow hard hat, and Shane Meador, left, and Brian Hunt, right, tighten up the binders on the No. 2 axle.
After that is months of work to run piping for air, lubrication, and electricity; fabrication of brackets for the cold water pump and stoker engine that are new to the locomotive, a new interior smokebox front end, and superheater unit refurbishing and testing. Only then can the crew think aboutjacketing and lagging. A completion date? Being good steam men, the crew doesn’t want to speculate when that will be; the engine will be done when it is finished. Period.

Right now there is just slow, hard, tedious work. One day just last week, the team was busy on three fronts: Shane Meador, Brian Hunt, and Kevin Miller worked on the No. 2 driver axle installation (each weighs about 3 tons, while the main driver weighs about 5 tons) while David Pugh was fitting up the new Sellers non-lifting injector from the Strasburg Rail Road and Al Phillips was cleaning up the front tube sheet with a grinder. John Bohon moved drivers into place and prepped them for installation while feeding parts and tools to all three fronts.

Al Phillips prepares the front tube sheet.
Al Phillips prepares the front tube sheet. [/caption]It is the kind of work that can only be done by those who are true visionaries, who believe in the day when the blower will excite the fire, water will boil, steam pressure will rise, the sun will glisten on the black paint (yes, 4501 will return in freight livery, not passenger) and gold numerals on the tender tank, the throttle will open, the cylinders will move the drivers, and the magic will happen once more.

TVRM’s Mark Ray points out that next June 6 is the 50th anniversary of 4501’s revered first ferry move from Stearns, Ky., to Chattanooga after the man who rescued her, Paul Merriman, bought her from the Kentucky & Tennessee short line for TVRM. Perhaps a replication of that trip is in order, a chance to once more affirm Mr. Brosnan’s railroad philosophy that indeed, “it can be done.”

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