Today, NC&StL Steam Engine 576 somehow looks quaint sitting
beside the Tennessee National Air Guard jet in Centennial Park
like a dinosaur relic from the past. But there was a time in the
not so distant past when 576 and its sister units ruled the railroad
world. Steam engines drove this country's trains for over 150 years.
The engines came in all shapes and sizes, designed for different
purposes and jobs. Over the years, the technology of building bigger,
stronger, safer and faster steam engines developed just as it continues
to do these days with jets and automobiles.
What is amazing to consider is that the engineers who designed
and built these steam engines did so without the benefit of mainframe
computers or even simple pocket calculators. There was no Computer
Aided Design ( CAD ) back then. Intense mathematical equations
that would take up entire walls of blackboards were used to over
engineer these behemoths to insure that they could safely handle
the load assigned to them and then some.
NC&StL Chief Mechanical Engineer, Nashvillian Clarence Darden,
was responsible for the design and overseeing construction of 576
and her sister units in 1942. 576, as designed and built, was a
coal-burning steam engine of the J3 class for the railroad. She
was designed to be able to handle the heaviest passengers trains
and the highest-priority freight trains that ran on the NC&StL.
576 operated between Nashville, Chattanooga and Atlanta initially
but later were also run between Nashville and Memphis. 576 has
a 4-8-4 wheel arrangement. Normally classified as a Northern by
other railroads, that monicker would never be acceptable in the
South or on the NC . So instead the engines were known as Dixies.
Their earlier sister J2 4-8-4s, which arrived on the scene in 1930,
were also known as Gliders for their smooth ride and handling characteristics.
As a 4-8-4, that means that the front four wheels of the engine
help support its front end and guide the engine along. The next
set of 8 wheels is the drivers. These are the wheels that are actually
driven by the steam produced by the engine's boiler heating water
that is turned into steam. The final set of four wheels is known
as the trailing trucks and helps shoulder the weight of the engine
on the track. In terms of size, the NC&StL's Dixies were pocket
4-8-4s shorter and smaller than other roads' 4-8-4 units. This
was by design the engines and their tenders had to be short enough
to fit on the existing turntables at the road's various shops.
576's tender is known as a semi-Vanderbilt model. Yes, it is named
after the Vanderbilt family that built and ran the New York Central
Railroad and whose name graces the university there in Nashville.
The tender is where the coal and water necessary to run 576 was
stored during its trips. Periodically the engine would require
refuelling with both coal and water. The NC&StL maintained
a number of coaling towers and water tanks along its tracks for
The American Locomotive Company ( ALCO ) of Schenectady, New York
was 576's birthplace in 1942. She and sister units 570-579 were
constructed there and then delivered to the NC&StL in the fall
of that year. As delivered, 576 sported wide yellow skirting on
its flanks that was carried over on its tender as well. This quickly
earned this series of steam engines the nickname of Yellow Jackets
. With bullet noses and sleek Commonwealth pilots, these 10 engines
were the pride of the NC&StL.
They, along with 10 more engines of the same class that were delivered
in 1943 with yellow stripes instead of the skirting (they were
immediately dubbed Stripes ) were the engines that helped this
railroad carry the crush of troop and munitions trains across the
road, and in their own way, help America win World War II. Later
in its time with the NC&StL, 576 and several of her Yellow
Jacket sisters were modified into Stripes themselves. Its broad
yellow skirting was cut back to resemble the other Stripes. The
bullet nose on the front gave way to a simpler cone-type nose and
its pilot was switched out to an easier to use type. The NC&StL
got their money's worth from all 20 of these engines. They were
used in every conceivable type of service on the line before their
retirement in 1952. The NC&STL even offered the engines to
the L&N for their continued use since the L&N was slower
to switch to diesels than the NC&StL but the offer was declined.
Therefore NC&StL management made the decision to scrap the
engines with the exception of one unit 576.
In September 1953, 576 was officially turned over to the city
of Nashville by the NC&StL and rolled into the display space
it occupies to this day. Countless thousands of people have visited
the engine in Centennial Park over the last 49 years and have marvelled
at its size and majesty.
Numerous railfan and museum groups have made pilgrimages to inspect
the engine, turning then to the Metropolitan Board of Parks to
possibly receive permission to possess the enginefor purposes of
restoration and operation. For a number of years certain retired
employees of the NC&StL and other Nashville citizens allegedly
were not in favour of this idea, voicing their opinion in the matter
in a variety of ways. However, with the passage of time, the vast
majority of those citizens have passed on, leaving no legacy that
The restoration and operation of 576 in Nashville would be unique
in that, while there are other Southeastern cities where steam
engines are still in operation for tourist and railfan excursions,
no other city in the Southeast has a 4-8-4 steam engine. There
is the possibility that with 576 restored and operating again,
that the National Railway Historical Society could and would hold
its annual convention in Nashville periodically drawing well-heeled
railfans from across the country. However, with quarterly runs
of 576, it would attract tourists on a year round basis to Nashville
to see and/or ride the engine.