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Doug Karhan: A Steward of Steam’s Legacy

The world of steam locomotion and railway heritage has recently bid farewell to one of its unsung heroes. Doug Karhan, a venerated master mechanic of steam for Norfolk Southern from 1982 until the end of excursions in 1994, passed away on November 11, 2021. His legacy is a testament to the enduring spirit of the railways and the men who keep them alive.

Doug Karhan’s journey began in the early 1970s as a volunteer on excursions out of Alexandria, VA. His passion and skill quickly became apparent, and he ascended the ranks, working closely with the late Bill Purdie. Upon Bill’s retirement in 1982, Doug stepped into the role of Master Mechanic-Steam, embracing the monumental task of bringing titans of the tracks back to life.

One of Doug’s crowning achievements was the restoration of the Norfolk & Western 2-6-6-4 No. 1218 to service in 1987 after a rigorous two-year overhaul. His expertise didn’t stop there; he also supervised the work on the Savannah & Atlanta 4-6-2 No. 750 in 1983 and the ongoing maintenance of the illustrious N&W Class J No. 611.

Following the cessation of steam operations, Doug transitioned to the diesel shop in Chattanooga and later to the Car Department in Roanoke, VA, where he specialized in air brakes. Even after his retirement and move to Southwest Colorado around 2000, Doug’s heart remained with the locomotives during the winter months in Chattanooga. There, he became a vital part of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (TVRM) shop staff.

At TVRM, Doug was instrumental in keeping locomotives like 610, 630, and 4501 in operation. His work wasn’t limited to these; he contributed to the maintenance and operation of several other steam engines. Doug’s generosity with his knowledge and his role as a mentor shaped many within TVRM who continue to preserve railroad history today or have taken their skills to other institutions.

In the silence of the shop, one can almost hear the echo of Doug’s hammer, the turn of his wrench, the soft murmur of his advice to younger apprentices. It is these intangible gifts, alongside the locomotives that continue to thunder down the tracks, that form Doug Karhan’s enduring legacy.

Doug Karhan’s story is not just one of steam and steel but of the human spirit’s drive to preserve, to teach, and to pass on a legacy. He will be remembered not only for the machines he restored but for the hearts he inspired and the community he fostered.