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




Locomotive 576

Locomotive 576

Across the world, there is still a huge interest in steam locomotives, large and small. These wonderful machines refuse to die though they have been out of regular service in most countries 20,30,40 or more years. There are places (China, for instance) that still build them. Talented craftsmen design, build and operate steam powered miniature locomotives. People come from miles around to ride behind and see operating steam engines. Princely sums are expended to recover, restore, maintain and operate them. Why this strange phenomenon?

Further questions one might ask are:

  • Why are they wonderful?
  • Why are they out of service?
  • What happened to all of the ones that no longer grace the rails?
  • How is it that there are still these dinosaurs in operation?

I will attempt to answer a few of these questions (and undoubtedly raise a few more valid ones!) as I discuss one particular engine that I have had a fifty-year love affair with.

Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, USA during the hey-day of steam, I early on became interested in Nashville's own "home" road, the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis RR. I was aware of other RR's, but the N&C, as it is sometimes called, reverting back to the initials of its originally chartered name, was the only road for me. This road served an important economic area of the US and fielded some wonderful equipment. Its people were mostly what made the RR special, and it was not uncommon for Son to follow Father who followed Grandfather in service on this RR. This fact earned the road the nickname of "Grandpa's Road". Americans are commonly known to apply nicknames to almost everything, and RR's were no exception.

The N&C, or "NC&StL" (sound your "saint" when pronouncing the initials) was very distinctive and forward thinking, being a classy operation in every way. Between the beginning of World War two and the end of steam operations on the N&C, the RR found itself strapped for decent modern power to pull the heavy and frequent trains of wartime. As a result, parent company Louisville and Nashville RR authorized the purchase of 20 additional large, speedy and efficient steamers to supplement the road's aging fleet of engines. The new engine was based heavily on the basic design features of a group of five engines the road already, had, which served them well in the semi-mountainous territory they traversed.

It was of the 4-8-4 (Whyte system) wheel arrangement, yet was fairly small in comparison to other road's engines. US mainline locomotives tended to be quite large. The first five engines built in 1930 (class J-2) were highly successful just the same, and carried trains with speed, safety and comfort over quite rugged profiles of track. The new design (Class J-3) improved on that older design with few, but significant upgrades.

Importantly, Nashville's own Clarence M. Darden, Chief Mechanical Superintendent of the NC&StL assisted in the original 1929 design and drew up the specifications for American Locomotive Company (Alco) to build the new locomotive as well. All principal dimensions of the previous design were retained except total wheelbase, overall length and weight.

Such improvements as cast steel frame, cast integral with cylinders and valves, carrying the main air reservoir cast between the frame rails, and providing for mounting of all important appliances on the frame rather than the boiler were designed in. The previous class J-2 had successfully proven the value of an all-cast steel frame. Sealed Timken roller bearings were used everywhere except the side rods. The boiler incorporated thermic siphons, a large combustion chamber, Worthington type "4-1/2SA" feedwater heater and type "E" superheaters. Superheated steam was used everywhere, including the whistle. A semi-streamlined jacket, nose cone and skirting was applied for aesthetics and lowered wind resistance. Mounting appliances to the frame provided a very clean appearance to the boiler shape. A lengthwise set of wide and narrow yellow stripes accented the stark black paint. Mid-War deliveries of this engine had no stripes or skirting applied, so the RR applied a thin lengthwise stripe along the running board edge extending back on the tender. Of course, the two varieties of engines earned the nicknames "Stripes and "Yellow Jackets". Design speed was 80 Miles per hour, though later a successful test was run to 110 MPH. This approaches double the universal standard of "speed in MPH is limited to the same number as the diameter in inches of the main driving wheels". Drive wheel diameter was 70 inches. Wheelbase was kept less than 87 feet in order to be able to turn the engine (inconveniently) on the road's 90-foot turntables. She could negotiate a 20-degree curve because of special lateral motion devices on the first driving axle. Total engine weight was 400,500 Lbs. Alco's designation was S484-399. The interpretation of that is "Steam, 4-8-4, 399,000 lbs." It gained 1500 lbs with later additions of cab extensions. This was one gorgeous, high performance locomotive well liked by crews and management. Their tenure was short, however.

The tender carried the stoker motor, and also was equipped with Timken roller bearings in Commonwealth six wheel trucks. Its frame was also cast with support for all appliances. This particular design was exclusive to the NC&StL, and not repeated on any other railroad. Being of a "semi-Vanderbilt" appearance, carrying 16 tons of coal and 15,000 gallons of water the tender body was of riveted construction. A single duplicate tender was later supplied to the NC&StL by Alco in 1946 for use in updating an old 4-6-2 engine for a special home-made streamliner train called the City of Memphis, but it's construction was all-welded, and kept the railroad's "eye recognition" (spotting features) factor high.

All steam locomotives were soon phased out after the end of the war and Diesels had been discovered to provide superior economies in the larger picture. The most modern ones and those that had been out-shopped recently were allowed to work out their government regulated five-year terms on flues and other major system rebuilds. Diesels soon made the Stripes and Yellow Jackets surplus, and by early 1952 all steam was inactive on the NC&StL. Every one of the engines were unceremoniously cut up for scrap and hauled away in gondolas.

All except one, that is, and this is where the story gets interesting to the restorer.

In 1952, the N&C, who's shops were located near Centennial Park, Nashville, Tennessee somehow managed to save one engine from the scrap-line. She was then donated to the good people of the City of Nashville, for display in one of their parks. This engine was one of the last ones running till that time, and was one of the modernized 4-8-4's, number 576. Though it had been received in an earlier batch and was thus supplied with full jacketing, it had later been converted from Yellow Jacket to Stripe status by the removal of skirting and simplification ofthe streamlined nose cone.

The shop forces cosmetically restored her with fresh paint, and in September 1953 the donation was made complete. Only 11 years and one month old, 576's intended career was done. In her new career, engine 576 was to reside in nearby Centennial Park. A temporary track called a "shoe-fly" was laid from the Shops to the Parks grounds and the RR shoved 576 down the track to rest in a shady spot in the park. Actually, the track ran downhill a little, and the engine "shoving" was more likely "pulled" by the bulk of the free-rolling 576. A lightweight GM Diesel was used, and there must have been a moment when the engineer on it had concerns for whether they would ever get stopped in time! NC&StL 576 was then open to the public, as access ramps were soon built so people could tour the cab safely. One of the first visitors was this writer, all of 11 years and one month old myself.

On that day my life was transformed forever. As I sat in the engineer's seat, I could still smell the smells of a working steam locomotive, and imagine myself at the helm of such a grand beast. I vowed someday to see this engine run again. But first I had to learn much, so that is what I did. I have since had the opportunity to repair and operate steam locomotives large and small, and often visited old 576 sitting there so cold and lonesome in Centennial Park. I always pay attention to her condition, which in later years has been increasingly worse as one might expect from sitting out unprotected in the weather. She has been given a coat of paint now and then, and had to have a fence erected around her to protect from vandals. She even has had her asbestos (insulation) removed for environmental concerns, with the side benefit of helping keep the boiler outer barrel and sheets relatively dry. There has always been oil in the lubricators, and the side rods had been solidly packed with grease after moving in. Every visit has had a turn or two on the lubricators. What was full fifty years ago is now almost empty, and one lubricator is broken now. I had no idea anyone else might feel the same way I did.

Enter home computing and the Internet, two of man's greatest inventions in my opinion. In the interest of getting a cover of some kind built over the engine, my wife and I established a discussion group on the Internet, and suddenly things began to happen. Having only a shed was not enough; we had to see if the city could be talked into releasing the engine for full restoration. This would not be the first time the city had been approached in this matter, as 576 is really an ideal size and in very good basic condition. The last three proposals have all been flatly rejected, and one was accepted too late to pursue the idea. That group had already chosen another engine to restore since the city took too long to favourably decide at that time.

In the meantime, 576 sits there rusting away, unprotected.

As a direct result of this Internet discussion group, a new group was born, The Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway Preservation Society (NCPS). Officially chartered in the great State of Tennessee, its mission is to preserve any and all things pertaining to the NC&StL. Now that is a grand mission, as much still exists, though not as much as in earlier years. The RR's trappings and memory is fading fast. Highest on the priority list is the preservation of engine 576. The president of the Richmond, Virginia Railway Station Museum has been quoted on national television as saying (in essence) that "the best preservation of an antiquity is it's proper and regular use plus proper maintenance and that is why the Richmond Station is still in such fine condition". This seems to ring true. Therefore, the NCPS has approached the city of Nashville with a solid proposal for such preservation. While there are difficulties and certain legal hurdles yet to solve, the city has agreed to not say "no" to our proposal. We are working diligently to satisfy whatever requirements there may be to have the city's blessing.

In the event that the city agrees to release their engine for restoration, then there are larger hurdles such as moving, funding and the nuts and bolts of restoration. At this point, we, the NCPS can use all the help we can get! In fact, being a volunteer organization with a need to grow our membership, anyone can help merely by joining.

While we understand this is no small project, we feel something must be done and soon. Though the engine has weathered her stint outdoors for almost 50 years quite well, the last few years have been very rough on her. She will not stand much more exposure to the elements and still be restorable or even presentable.The big plus in all this is that even though there is an anti-steam climate in the US propagated by mainline RR's, we have found a willing partner with over 130 miles of scenic Tennessee trackage. Now what we need to do is convince the City of Nashville that "now is the time", and find substantial financial backing.

Thank you very much for you having taken the time to read about one of the nicest 4-8-4's you'll ever see. Hopefully, one day you'll see her in steam, and maybe you will have helped!

Tom Knowles
Chief Preservation Officer, NCPS

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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