'Texas' locomotive returns to Atlanta home May 3

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The Texas is raised for transport to North Carolina on Dec. 21, 2015. The cosmetically restored locomotive will return to Atlanta later this year.
North Carolina Transportation Museum
ATLANTA — The restored 1856 Texas locomotive, an important relic of Atlanta’s early railroading days and well-known for its pivotal role in 1862’s Great Locomotive Chase, will return to Atlanta and its new home at the Atlanta History Center soon.

Plans call for the steam engine, a key part of the Cyclorama attraction at Grant Park for nine decades, to be delivered to the History Center’s Buckhead campus on May 3, from the N.C. Transportation Museum, where it has been undergoing an extensive restoration since late 2015.

The locomotive is expected to open to the public in fall 2017, inside a specially designed glass-fronted hallway-gallery connected to the new Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker Cyclorama Building. The 2,000-square-foot gallery, accessed through the Atlanta History Museum’s Fentener van Vlissingen Family Wing (off the Allen Atrium), will be completed around the Texas following its return from North Carolina.

The Texas will be delivered on a lowboy tractor trailer, with its tender arriving on a flatbed tractor trailer. They will be lifted off of the trucks by a 110-ton crane, and placed on the same tracks that held them since 1927 at Grant Park. The tracks themselves are historic, believed to date to 1880s Atlanta, when the railroad was helping build the city into the commercial capital it is today.

“After many years of limited view in the basement of the Cyclorama building in Grant Park, we are putting the Texas in a place where it is going to be front and center,” History Center Vice President of Properties Jackson McQuigg said of the locomotive, which will be illuminated at night and clearly visible from West Paces Ferry Road at all hours. “This engine that has been at times forgotten in its long lifetime is going to become a focal point.”

Birmingham, Ala.-based Steam Operations Corp., experts in restoration of steam locomotives and other historic rail equipment, is nearing completion of the first major restoration ever of the 161-year-old Texas at the museum in Spencer, N.C.

Steam Operations Corp. has addressed extensive rust (such as under the boiler jacket and ash pan) and rot (including the tender frame). The locomotive has been blasted with baking soda (instead of more-abrasive sand), and extensive paint research was conducted.

The fanciful hues the Texas sported when it departed Grant Park in December 2015 – including bright red wheel inserts and gold and red trim — will be replaced by a black paint scheme typical of the 1880s.

At Grant Park, the engine sported those vivid details since a 1930s cosmetic restoration intended to depict it as it appeared during the Great Locomotive Chase.
Atlanta History Center leaders, believing the Texas has even greater importance as an artifact that speaks eloquently and authentically of Atlanta’s beginnings, decided to return the locomotive to how it appeared in the late 1880s.

“Talking about how the railroads built Atlanta is what we felt was our charge,” McQuigg said. “There are many stories we’re going to tell with the Texas, including the Great Locomotive Chase.”

The Texas pulled passenger and freight trains in Atlanta and around North Georgia for 51 of the region’s most formative years, retiring from service in 1907.

“As railroads are Atlanta’s reason for being, this steam engine is an icon of Atlanta’s founding and growth as the Gate City of the South — the commercial center of the Southeast,” Atlanta History Center President and CEO Sheffield Hale said. “The Texas locomotive symbolizes Atlanta’s longtime relationship with railroads and the city’s importance as a hub for people, commerce, and ideas. No artifact can be more important for telling the story of Atlanta’s beginnings than this Western & Atlantic locomotive.”

While the new color scheme is dominated by black, it will boast other secondary hues of 1880s locomotives, including brass details, a Russia-iron (blue-tinted) boiler jacket, a red cab interior, and the Western & Atlantic lettering on its side in yellow-gold – all choices that research indicated were true to the 1880s.

The Texas and the General, the star attraction at the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Ga., are the sole surviving locomotives that once served the Western & Atlantic Railroad, a company key in Atlanta’s early development.

More information is available online

— An Atlanta History Center news release. April 21, 2017.

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