Sunday, April 11, 2010
Mighty engine 819, a few years ago, was one of the few really big steam locomotives in operable condition in the USA. That time was its second life after being resurrected from a city park in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Engine 819 was built in the St. Louis and Southwestern Railroad facility in Pine Bluff, more popularly known as the “Cotton Belt Shops.”
The locomotive was placed in regular service on February 8, 1943, and remained in active service for ten and a half years. During its service, it traveled more than 804,000 miles. In 1955, after being summarily discharged from duty, the engine was given to the City of Pine Bluff by the STL&SWRR. It was moved to Oakland Park (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Park) to be put on display.
At first the locomotive was exposed to the weather, but later the Jaycees spearheaded a drive to put a shed over it. Thousands of children, including my own, delighted in seeing the old engine. So did the parents.
By the early eighties, the locomotive was on a downward spiral (if a 212 ton locomotive could spiral). Time, weather, and a general lack of attention were taking a terrible and visible toll on the 819, a fact that did not go unnoticed by local railroad enthusiasts. The good news was, the ravages of time had not yet dealt the death blow to the venerable engine. It could be saved.
In a massive volunteer effort, with support of the railroad, the community rallied behind the engine, and by 1983, everything was in place to move the 819 about four miles to the place where it had been created, the Cotton Belt shops. There a team of volunteers would restore it to its former glory. At that time, there were a substantial number of current and retired Cotton Belt employees with a wealth of steam-engine knowledge from the maintenance and operational sides still living in Pine Bluff.
Then, on December 1, 1983, the engine was moved. People, including yours truly, lined the tracks to see the engine. The city was all smiles.
A Second Life: This 1993 photo was one of the last times the 819 was fired up in its second life. The location is the Arkansas Railroad Museum, the home then and now of the 819. At the time, she was restored to pristine, original operating condition.
After restoration, for the next few years, the engine made a number of trips beginning with a short jog to nearby Fordyce, Arkansas, on April 26, 1986. In 1993, the engine was partially disassembled to undergo a Federal Railroad Administration inspection. Once the engine was in this condition and the inspection was underway, fluctuating world metal prices skyrocketed and available funds to replace necessary parts were insufficient to put the locomotive back in service.
Sadly, the engine still sits idly awaiting attention in its home at the Arkansas Railroad Museum in Pine Bluff.
The Cotton Belt Rail Historical Society, caretakers of the 819, still have hopes of completing the replacements and repairs necessary to see the magnificent beast again belch smoke and hear its distinctive steam whistle announce to the world that the 819 is underway. Alas, it is a matter of funding. Donations continue to trickle in, but not in sufficient amounts to make a serious dent in the repairs. The good news is, until that time comes, the engine is in good hands.
N O T E S:
SEE MORE photos of 819
Most of the time, there is more to the Photo of the Week story than can be told in an essay. And most of the time there are more pictures to be seen. Presuming that some folk will enjoy being privy to this trove of information, I have created a blog, “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind,” where I am showing and telling “the rest of the story." There are also some blatantly commercial mentions of some of the things we do to earn our beans and taters. Click on the Weekly Grist logo and go to the blog. — J. D.