SMOKE & CINDERS (1ST QUARTER 2017) – THE FIRST 55 YEARS
A Ride Down Memory Lane: Steam Locomotive 630 and The Legacy of TVRM
It seems like yesterday that we watched steam locomotive 630 roll out for test runs in the spring of 2011. I still remember the excitement in the air, the buzz of anticipation and the pride that every TVRM employee felt on that momentous day.
Shop Foreman George Walker hooked up the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis wooden caboose behind 630 so that the employees could ride behind the newly-restored steam engine. I remember sitting in the cupola, eagerly waiting to depart, when a familiar green suburban rolled up the driveway.
I immediately recognized the vehicle, as it belonged to Bob Soule. Bob’s daughter Penelope stepped out, camera in hand, as her mother, Joyce Soule, sat patiently in the front seat. Penelope was there to document the 630 under steam, a sight that her father would have been incredibly proud of.
Penelope and I shared a moment, acknowledging the fact that this was the engine her parents had visited on their honeymoon. In a way, we were all reliving their history while creating our own. It was an intimate moment that highlighted the strong bond that we all shared at TVRM. The passion for the preservation of railroad history was a fire that burned in all of us, and I believe it was moments like this that kept that fire burning.
This passion is what led Bob Soule and a group of rail enthusiasts to form the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in 1961. They saw an important part of America’s past quickly disappearing and took it upon themselves to preserve it. These pioneers, including Paul Merriman, the Museum’s first president, laid the groundwork for the extensive preservation achievements we see at TVRM today.
In 1964, Merriman secured our most prized possession: Southern Railway 4501, a 2-8-2 Mikado built in 1911. This steam locomotive has since become a symbol of TVRM, its history woven into the very fabric of our institution.
Throughout the years, TVRM has grown exponentially. Today, we carry over 110,000 passengers annually on over 100 miles of railroad using two operating steam locomotives, seven diesel locomotives, and fifteen coaches.
We have come a long way since our humble beginnings in 1961, but our mission has remained the same. At TVRM, we strive to preserve railroad history for future generations to appreciate and learn from. As I looked at the 630 that day in 2011, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment. We were continuing the legacy of our founders and making our own contributions to the preservation of railroad history. It is this passion for preservation that drives us, and we hope it will continue to inspire future generations.
So, as we prepare for future adventures at TVRM, we look back with gratitude at our journey so far. We honor the memory of those who started it all, like Bob Soule and Paul Merriman, and we look forward to the many miles ahead. After all, the journey is just as important as the destination.