NASHVILLE, Tenn. — One of the rarest members of “the greatest generation” of modern American steam has languished in a Nashville park for more than six decades. Multiple efforts to bring it back to life have come and gone.
Now, though, steam buffs hope the stars are aligning for Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway No. 576.
The big J3 engine, the sole survivor of a class of 20 built during the desperate days of World War II, is a 1942 product of the American Locomotive Company. The last time someone proposed removing the 4-8-4 from Centennial Park, in 2001, the parks board declined the offer.
Today, though, “it almost seems as if the timing is right, with all the things coming together,” says Shane Meador, a Nashville native and president and chairman of the recently formed Nashville Steam Preservation Society.
Meador’s $5 million vision calls for leasing 576 from the Nashville Metro government and moving the engine to the Tennessee Central Railway Museum on the Nashville & Eastern Railroad. The restored J3 would lead excursions over the 108-mile N&E — the former Tennessee Central Railway east of Nashville — using 14 passenger cars from the museum’s collection.
Museum President Terry Bebout, who was involved in the failed 2001 effort and is now preservation society vice president, thinks it really could happen this time.
“This is definitely a much better team of people with the professional skills to raise money and do the restoration,” Bebout says. “We didn’t have that the last time we tried to make this happen. This team effort is what’s going to be the success of this project.”
What’s changed in the last 15 years? In 2001, Meador says, “the Music City Star (commuter service) hadn’t happened yet, so the Nashville & Eastern was not capable of supporting the operations of a large steam locomotive.”
Also, the parks board today has a deadline to move 576 somewhere so it can start a major renovation of Centennial Park. Nashville’s historic riverfront has become both a popular tourist draw and home to Riverfront Station, where excursion trains would depart.
Most important, Meador says, “We have the people with the technical skills to make this happen, people who have been involved with over 30 successful steam locomotive restoration projects around the country.”