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Southern Railway 4501

About Southern Railway 4501

In October of 1911, the proud men of the Baldwin Locomotive Works turned out a locomotive with builders number 37085. This 2-8-2 locomotive, also known as a Mikado, was sold to the Southern Railway, as the first of 485 locomotives of varying designs. Leading a rather unremarkable career, this locomotive operated for the Southern in East Tennessee, Central Kentucky, and later in Southern Indiana.

In 1948, L.C. Bruce, general manager of the Kentucky & Tennessee Railway in Stearns, Kentucky, was in need of a third locomotive to supplement his numbers 10 & 11, which were built new for the K&T. Being a former Southern man himself, he naturally headed there to find what would become K&T 12. In Princeton, Indiana, Mr. Bruce found the eldest of the Southern’s 2-8-2’s, which he purchased and brought to Stearns, where it would live for the next 16 years.

During the following 16 years, this rather inauspicious locomotive remained in obscurity in the mountains of east/central Kentucky, until it was discovered by Robert Soule and Paul Merriman, two gentlemen on a mission to see and photograph the remaining holdouts for steam power in the east. The two men would later form the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in 1961. They immediately took a liking to the 12, which is different in appearance from stablemates 10 & 11. It was obviously of Southern Railway pedigree. When Soule and Merriman learned that the K&T was converting to diesel, they raised the $5,000 asking price that Mr. Bruce wanted for the 12 through TVRM, and off to Stearns they went to acquire ownership of the locomotive. After a meeting with Mr. Bruce, Merriman came back outside exclaiming “Fellas, I did it!,” to which Soule replied with, “You did what Paul?” “I bought the 4501!,” he exclaimed. Indeed, Paul Merriman had purchased with his own funds, this locomotive, instead of with TVRM funds as planned. Left standing with a $5,000 check, the members of TVRM later went back to Mr. Bruce to purchase stablemate K&T 10 for their museum.

After that eventful day in 1964, this rather unremarkable locomotive was thrust into the spotlight, where it quickly became one of the most traveled, photographed, and inarguably one of the most famous steam locomotives in the world. Since the mid-1960s, Southern Railway 4501 has pulled countless mainline passenger excursions for the Southern (later Norfolk Southern) Railway Steam Excursion Program, and museum excursions for TVRM as well.

The 4501 ended its service in 1999 due to rising maintenance costs, but was later selected for service in the “21st Century Steam” program, being restored to service between 2011 and 2014. The “21st Century Steam” Program has since ended, but the 4501 can still be found operating over TVRM tracks today, to the delight of many happy passengers. Over the last 57 years in preservation, Southern Railway 4501 has carried hundreds of thousands of passengers on excursions all over the east and the midwestern United States, and it has been through those ticket sales, along with countless donations, that this locomotive is still operating today. So here’s to the first 110 years, and to the next 110! The 4501 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (#79002440).

Learn more: 050: Southern Railway 4501 Documentary – the roundhouse podcast


Locomotive: Southern Railway 4501

Locomotive Type: Steam

Operators: Southern Railway, Kentucky & Tennessee Railway, Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

Class: Ms

Builder: Baldwin Locomotive Works

Builders Number: 37085

Date Built: 1911

Date Retired: 1964 (Revenue Service), 1998 (1st Excursion Service)

Date Restored: 1966 (1st Restoration), 2014 (2nd Restoration)

Wheel Arrangement: 2-8-2 Mikado

Driver Diameter: 63 in

Locomotive Weight: 272,900 lb

Fuel: Coal

Boiler Pressure: 205 psi

Cylinder Size: 27 in x 30 in

Valve Gear: Walschaerts

Tractive Effort: 53,900 lbf

Paint Scheme: Black

Status: Operational