A Nashville preservation group has the go-ahead to relocate and restore a famed locomotive that has long idled in Centennial Park. The 1940s steam engine has drawn visitors and been featured on country music album covers, but the intent now is to get it chugging again for tourism trips between Nashville and Watertown.
“It’s been a great fixture of Centennial Park, but it is an industrial machine that requires constant care and maintenance for its long-term preservation, and the best way to do that is to actually make them operable,” said Joey Bryan, spokesman for the Nashville Steam Preservation Society, which has raised more than $500,000 for the relocation.
Bryan notes that locomotive No. 576 made for a nice photo backdrop for Hank Snow and Johnny Cash — and countless tourists — but that the steam engine can truly show industrial power in motion.
“You see the sights and you hear the sounds of the various tools and appliances chuffing and the steaming and exhaust kind of going everywhere … and it’s really a sensory experience,” he said.
In its day — 1942 to 1952 — the locomotive logged hundreds of thousands of miles carrying World War II supplies, and then passengers, for the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway.
But to leave Centennial Park, it will need some help. On Jan. 13, a heavy transport company will haul the train about 2 miles to a rail spur.
Then, preservationists need to raise an estimated $1.5 million for what will be a gritty, labor-intensive restoration, with ongoing maintenance that requires forklifts and cranes — the kind of work that preservationists said was impossible in a public park.
But Bryan said it’s a doable project, thanks in part to a team that has helped get 30 other steam locomotives back into operation.
“One of our main missions as an organization is to educate the next generation on how to maintain these machines — how to build new parts, how to weld,” he said.
Once finished, the train will run 90-mile round trips to Watertown, similar to “heritage tourism” rides available now from the Tennessee Central Railway Museum.
In Watertown, the hope is for another type of train spectacle: A separate preservation group has recently secured a massive locomotive turntable from the same rail company, and intends to put it to use so that Engine No. 576 can be turned around for its return journey to Nashville.
Bryan calls the potential pairing “astounding.”
But first, the steam engine must be relocated. Metro’s plan is to close some streets along Charlotte Avenue on the morning of Jan. 13. You can see route details and safe viewing ideas here: www.nashvillesteam.org.