Since 1953, Nashville, Chattanooga & Saint Louis locomotive no. 576 has adorned Nashville’s Centennial Park. It was the last of the 20 class J3 4-8-4 (‘Dixie’) steam engines built by the American Locomotive Company (Alco) for the NC&StL (abbreviated ‘NC’) in 1942 and 1943, and devoted to the massive war effort, moving millions of men, and tons of ammunition, equipment, and even oil from the Mississippi to Atlanta. But by 1952, business was down, and diesel-electrics had replaced most of the mainline power. Trains Magazine editor David P. Morgan described the end of all but 576:
“We didn’t owe them anything and they didn’t owe us any thing,” says [Superintendent of Machinery C. M.] Darden of the J3’s as they neared the inevitable torch. . . Owner L&N [Louisville and Nashville Railroad], busily dieselizing itself by that date, decided not to buy the engines, so they went to the cutting torch. All except No. 576. She was presented to the City of Nashville in 1953 and mounted behind a fence in Centennial Park – just a stone’s throw (or a whistle’s blast) from the former Nashville Shops of the railway.
This year, after long negotiations, a group called The Nashville Steam Preservation Society (NSPS) succeeded in convincing the City of Nashville to permit moving the locomotive to the Tennessee Central Railway Museum, in order to restore No. 576 to operating condition and then to use it for excursions on the Nashville and Eastern Railroad.
Railroading and country music, of course, have a long history together. Life Magazine even did a cover photo of Johnny Cash leaning on the drivers of No. 576; the NSPS has a print for sale in their Company Store (see right); it’s also available on a T-shirt and coffee mug.
The whole restoration project caught the imagination of Marty Stuart and bandmate Harry Stinson. They even came up with a name for the locomotive, the ‘Duchess’. Originally the J3s were known as ‘Yellowjackets’, because of a yellow band down the sides; after that got reduced to a thin line, they were called ‘Stripes’. But why not The Dutchess, ‘Queen of the Dixie Line’? Has a nice ring to it. From the NSPS website, quoting Marty:
“Harry and I both have a long history with this train, as do so many others. Johnny Cash was photographed for LIFE Magazine in front of it, and that guitar he’s holding is now one of my prized possessions. When you think about the soldiers that rode behind this engine to war, or the folks who traveled on it to Memphis and Atlanta, or the kids who dreamed about great adventures while climbing on it in the park – that’s why we wrote this song,” Stuart said. “We call her The Duchess, and she deserves to be honored. I offered myself to the Nashville Steam organization to let me be the hood ornament on the front of this campaign, and I’ll help any way I can to raise the funds and get her rolling again.”
Here are Marty and Harry:
There’s lots more information and videos on the NSPS website. The restoration of No. 576 is a large and expensive project. They estimate it will take about two million dollars; they’ve raised about a quarter of that, so there’s still a long way to go. Marty and Harry’s song will doubtless help. You can download it HERE. They’re asking $5.76 (of course) for the download, and they won’t object if you add a few bucks. If you’re like me, you’ll want to see that engine running under steam before too long. Watching it run would be a good excuse to go to Nashville!
Oh, and here’s the song:
Hat tip to ‘jh’ on the Mac Resource Forum. /CL