Friday, August 26, 2016

Restoration and rebirth: Famous locomotive Texas readied for new home in Atlanta

(Max Sigler, preservation specialist, Steam Operations Corp.)

When a crane early next year gingerly sets the Texas into place at its new home at the Atlanta History Center, the legendary locomotive will be on full view to motorists and pedestrians.

The “showcase” position fronting West Paces Ferry Road will be a far cry from the Texas’ basement view for 90 years at the old Cyclorama building 10 miles south in Grant Park.

For those behind the restoration of the 1856 locomotive – a participant in the “Great Locomotive Chase” during the Civil War -- it’s a well-deserved honor. When construction is completed, The Texas will be in a glass-enclosed breezeway leading to the massive Cyclorama painting, the companion piece that will be moved from Grant Park and restored.

“The Texas is Atlanta in one object,” said Jackson McQuigg, vice president of properties at the AHC. “It is why we are here.”

That’s no overstatement. Railroads largely are what made Atlanta, which was a vital junction before and after the Civil War. The Texas was among the workhorses of the Western & Atlantic Railroad and other companies.

(Max Sigler, preservation specialist, Steam Operations Corp.)

Since late December 2015, the locomotive and its tender have been receiving a much-needed restoration in the back shop of the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer. Craftsmen have been tackling rust and rot, which continued even while the Texas was housed at Grant Park.

The public can see the Texas and hear about the $500,000 restoration this weekend during a “Civil War Weekend” at the museum.

The story of the Texas – its history, use and restoration – is fascinating.

The little engine that could

Built by Danforth, Cooke and Company, the Texas was typical of locomotives of its time. It weighed only 53,000 pounds and was wood-fueled. Its tender carried the wood and a large water tank that fed the engine’s boilers. (The Texas in later years operated on coal.)

The Texas was a 4-4-0 American type, meaning it had four lead wheels, four driving wheels and no trailing wheels.

Back then, locomotives hardly were speed demons.

“The tracks are right on top of the ground. There is not an extended elevated (section) that would help you on a curve,” said McQuigg. At 20 miles per hour and pulling 10 cars, the Texas was “doing pretty good.”

The Texas when it was at Grant Park Cyclorama
(Max Sigler, preservation specialist, Steam Operations Corp.)

McQuigg and Scott Lindsay, whose company Steam Operations Corporation is handling the restoration, say the development of locomotives over the years is a story of technology.

“The country grew,” said Lindsay. “We were very small with very primitive everything. As the technology grew, everything got larger and heavier,” including locomotives and freight and passenger cars.

The Texas and other engines in the mid-19th century did not have air brakes. “Stopping was more of an issue than starting.”

Lindsay agrees the Texas’ ride was slow. But with this caveat: “When you compare to a horse or buggy you were flying. You are going to another dimension.”

The hero of the Great Locomotive Chase

On April 12, 1862, the Texas took part in the famous Great Locomotive Chase, or Andrews Raid. Steaming in reverse, the locomotive pursued the fleeing General, which had been commandeered by Union soldiers and civilians in disguise in what is now Kennesaw, Ga.

James Andrews and his raiders tried to destroy much of the Western & Atlantic Railroad and communications as they rushed northward toward Chattanooga. They achieved little success and eight of the nearly two dozen captured participants were hanged in Atlanta as spies. Andrews was among them.

The Texas, with different number, in 1907 (Atlanta History Center)

The Texas continued its service after the war and was renamed the Cincinnati. It was retired in 1907. Atlanta historian-artist Wilbur Kurtz saved it from salvage, though he lamented its condition -- rust and rot left a shocking scene, he said. Money was raised over the next few years and the locomotive eventually moved into its longtime Grant Park home in 1927.

McQuigg said Kurtz, who restored both the Texas and the painting in the mid-1930s, did what he could to stem the rust and rot present on the engine and tender.

'It's still the same vehicle'

Most people probably don’t know that much of the locomotive is not original. The tender was not with the Texas during the Civil War and the Great Locomotive Chase.

“A big question for us is what is original and what isn’t,” say McQuigg, who has been involved in railroad restoration work for about 25 years. “We want to know when parts were added and subtracted.”

McQuigg says no matter the changes – it’s the Texas.

Tender (Max Sigler, preservation specialist, Steam Operations Corp.)

“It is still the same vehicle,” he said. “It went through the changes all locomotives would go through in a 60-year service life.” He paraphrases something that his been expressed by the National Railway Museum in York, England: “A locomotive is nothing more than a random collection of spare parts.”

The Texas’ wheels, boiler (the long tube), boiler jacket, pilot (cowcatcher), balloon stack and parts of the frame have all been replaced over the years. At least some of the wood of the cab on the engine is not original.

Lindsay says that’s no surprise.

“Back in the day, they were tools in the shed. They were not revered. They were constantly changed. Every day they operated there was a chance something was broken or worn out.”

The locomotive also underwent changes when the gauge, the distance between rails, was narrowed.

A lot of TLC in the back shop

Example of pervasive rust (Max Sigler, Steam Operations Corp.)

In North Carolina, Nathaniel Watts and Max Sigler of Steam Operations Corporation have spent months on the project, with much of the work on the tender.

Rotten wood on the frame is being replaced. The frame and wheel sets were disassembled and a few new pieces fashioned, said Lindsay. The rusted bottom of the tender tank is being replaced.

A contractor has used soda – rather than sand -- blasting on the locomotive and tender.

“Sand is very abrasive, and will clean metal to a shiny new surface,” said Lindsay. “It is very abrasive and destructive. We don’t want something in marginal condition and destroy it.”

The restoration crew is aware the Texas is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Tender work (Max Sigler, Steam Operations Corp.)
More rust (Max Sigler, Steam Operations Corp.)

McQuigg has said he the AHC doesn’t want a “heavy-handed” restoration. He told the Picket the last thing he wants is to see parts taken to the junkyard because officials wanted to be true to the engine’s appearance in a certain era. Anything built or put on from 1857 to 1907 will remain.

As for the locomotive it, too, has suffered from rust, particularly under the boiler jacket and a spot in the cab. The ash pan and ash pan door were rusted away. Some parts of the engine need replacement.

Close analysis of paint scheme

When talking about the Texas, you have to refer to certain points in its life – Its first years as a wood-burning locomotive to its transition to a coal-burning machine. And the century since it was saved and refurbished.

The Atlanta History Center has been looking at various paint schemes the Texas has had during all those transitions. It has not made a final decision on colors it will choose for the locomotive and tender.

Rear view of the boiler (Max Sigler, Steam Operations Corp.)

For Lindsay, no two train restoration projects are the same. But given its history, the Texas, he said, is much more than just an old locomotive.

“It is a real honor and privilege to work on something with great connections to a major event of the Civil War. We are doing our best to make … (sure) it represents the history of the United States.”

Lindsay says it is unusual that both the Texas and General, which is housed at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, are still around.

“That is a remarkable story in our throwaway society.”

COMING SOON: Decision ahead on Texas paint scheme

No comments:

Post a Comment