Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway aka NC&StL, NC&Stl.L, ncstl,  




Background on NC&StL 576

Today, NC&StL Steam Engine 576 somehow looks quaint sitting beside the Tennessee National Air Guard jet in Centennial Park like a dinosaur relic from the past. But there was a time in the not so distant past when 576 and its sister units ruled the railroad world. Steam engines drove this country's trains for over 150 years. The engines came in all shapes and sizes, designed for different purposes and jobs. Over the years, the technology of building bigger, stronger, safer and faster steam engines developed just as it continues to do these days with jets and automobiles.

What is amazing to consider is that the engineers who designed and built these steam engines did so without the benefit of mainframe computers or even simple pocket calculators. There was no Computer Aided Design ( CAD ) back then. Intense mathematical equations that would take up entire walls of blackboards were used to over engineer these behemoths to insure that they could safely handle the load assigned to them and then some.

NC&StL Chief Mechanical Engineer, Nashvillian Clarence Darden, was responsible for the design and overseeing construction of 576 and her sister units in 1942. 576, as designed and built, was a coal-burning steam engine of the J3 class for the railroad. She was designed to be able to handle the heaviest passengers trains and the highest-priority freight trains that ran on the NC&StL. 576 operated between Nashville, Chattanooga and Atlanta initially but later were also run between Nashville and Memphis. 576 has a 4-8-4 wheel arrangement. Normally classified as a Northern by other railroads, that monicker would never be acceptable in the South or on the NC . So instead the engines were known as Dixies. Their earlier sister J2 4-8-4s, which arrived on the scene in 1930, were also known as Gliders for their smooth ride and handling characteristics.

As a 4-8-4, that means that the front four wheels of the engine help support its front end and guide the engine along. The next set of 8 wheels is the drivers. These are the wheels that are actually driven by the steam produced by the engine's boiler heating water that is turned into steam. The final set of four wheels is known as the trailing trucks and helps shoulder the weight of the engine on the track. In terms of size, the NC&StL's Dixies were pocket 4-8-4s shorter and smaller than other roads' 4-8-4 units. This was by design the engines and their tenders had to be short enough to fit on the existing turntables at the road's various shops.

576's tender is known as a semi-Vanderbilt model. Yes, it is named after the Vanderbilt family that built and ran the New York Central Railroad and whose name graces the university there in Nashville. The tender is where the coal and water necessary to run 576 was stored during its trips. Periodically the engine would require refuelling with both coal and water. The NC&StL maintained a number of coaling towers and water tanks along its tracks for this purpose.

The American Locomotive Company ( ALCO ) of Schenectady, New York was 576's birthplace in 1942. She and sister units 570-579 were constructed there and then delivered to the NC&StL in the fall of that year. As delivered, 576 sported wide yellow skirting on its flanks that was carried over on its tender as well. This quickly earned this series of steam engines the nickname of Yellow Jackets . With bullet noses and sleek Commonwealth pilots, these 10 engines were the pride of the NC&StL.

They, along with 10 more engines of the same class that were delivered in 1943 with yellow stripes instead of the skirting (they were immediately dubbed Stripes ) were the engines that helped this railroad carry the crush of troop and munitions trains across the road, and in their own way, help America win World War II. Later in its time with the NC&StL, 576 and several of her Yellow Jacket sisters were modified into Stripes themselves. Its broad yellow skirting was cut back to resemble the other Stripes. The bullet nose on the front gave way to a simpler cone-type nose and its pilot was switched out to an easier to use type. The NC&StL got their money's worth from all 20 of these engines. They were used in every conceivable type of service on the line before their retirement in 1952. The NC&STL even offered the engines to the L&N for their continued use since the L&N was slower to switch to diesels than the NC&StL but the offer was declined. Therefore NC&StL management made the decision to scrap the engines with the exception of one unit 576.

In September 1953, 576 was officially turned over to the city of Nashville by the NC&StL and rolled into the display space it occupies to this day. Countless thousands of people have visited the engine in Centennial Park over the last 49 years and have marvelled at its size and majesty.

Numerous railfan and museum groups have made pilgrimages to inspect the engine, turning then to the Metropolitan Board of Parks to possibly receive permission to possess the enginefor purposes of restoration and operation. For a number of years certain retired employees of the NC&StL and other Nashville citizens allegedly were not in favour of this idea, voicing their opinion in the matter in a variety of ways. However, with the passage of time, the vast majority of those citizens have passed on, leaving no legacy that requires honouring.

The restoration and operation of 576 in Nashville would be unique in that, while there are other Southeastern cities where steam engines are still in operation for tourist and railfan excursions, no other city in the Southeast has a 4-8-4 steam engine. There is the possibility that with 576 restored and operating again, that the National Railway Historical Society could and would hold its annual convention in Nashville periodically drawing well-heeled railfans from across the country. However, with quarterly runs of 576, it would attract tourists on a year round basis to Nashville to see and/or ride the engine.


Reprinted from The Crypt Magazine, Issue 29, 2002,

For further information, contact
Dain Schult, NCPS President,
Tom Knowles, Preservation Officer,


NC&StL Preservation Society, Inc. is in no way affiliated with the NC&StL Railway or any of it's successors.
As a non-profit entity, NCPS presents these pages to the public purely for educational and historic interest.

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