Have you ever wanted to take a trip back in time, to a slower paced atmosphere when railroad
was a way of life and just relive the romance of the rails when vintage trains provided
an escape from the everyday routine? Me to! Actually we did during one of our latest trips.
Today, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee continues to run trains, showing people what it was like in the golden age of railroading. You can take a fantastic one-hour 6-mile round-trip ride usually pulled by a steam locomotive. Once you reach the end of the line you can see how the trains are turned for the return trip. While you are there you can also see how the trains are being restored and saved.
Some of my fondest (I call them fundest) childhood memories were seeing old trains pass by my house. I lived so close to the railroad tracks that my house would vibrate as these old trains went by. My Uncle Cecil operated a small store just across the tracks. When I hear train sounds off in the distance, my mind wonders back to those wonderful times.
In 1960, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum was founded as a chapter of the National Railway Historical Society by Paul H. Merriman and Robert M. Soule, Jr., along with a group of local railway preservationists who were concerned with saving steam locomotives and railway equipment for future historical display and use.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum originally stored equipment at the Western Union pole yard which was located adjacent to the Southern Railway classification yard on Holtzclaw Avenue in East Chattanooga. After the termination of passenger service to the Southern Railway's Terminal Station in 1971, additional cars and locomotives were stored at this facility in downtown Chattanooga. In 1969, the TVRM received a land donation from the Southern Railway consisting of a property located in East Chattanooga on North Chamberlain Avenue. This donation also included the 986-foot-long Whiteside Tunnel and about 1½ miles of abandoned right-of-way.
In 1970, the museum began to operate a new permanent facility in East Chattanooga. At the time of its opening, there were no structures on site, although volunteers had constructed a rail yard for the storage and repair of equipment and had rebuilt the abandoned rail line through the Whiteside Tunnel. The reconstructed line ended at Tunnel Boulevard as the original bridge over this road had been removed some years earlier.
With the reconstructed rail line, the museum had the ability to produce a small amount of income operating a heritage railroad by running passenger excursion trains through Whiteside Tunnel (commonly referred to as Missionary Ridge Tunnel).
Additional income was derived from mainline excursions operated biannually via the Southern Railway's Steam Program. The birth of the Southern Railway's Steam Program was brought about by Paul Merriman and TVRM, when, in 1964, Merriman purchased the former Southern Railway 4501 from the K&T Railroad in Stearns, Kentucky for $5,000. The program began in 1966 when the freshly restored 4501 emerged from a 2 years long restoration which had been done at Lucey Boiler Company in Chattanooga. After many volunteer hours by TVRM members as well as paid Lucey Boiler employee work, the 4501 began roaming all over the Southern Railway System delighting onlookers and passengers everywhere.
After years of hard work and much financial discipline, in 1977 TVRM finally built the long needed bridge over Tunnel Boulevard. The Southern Railway then donated an additional mile and a half of abandoned rail line. The next major task undertaken was to build the East Chattanooga Depot. This depot is a reconstruction of a typical small town depot of the 1920s. The 1980s saw TVRM named to the National Register of Historic Places on August 6, 1980, expansion of the organization, and more land donated by Southern Railway. During the 1980s, more track and buildings were gradually added. The Grand Junction Depot, the TVRM Administration Building, and the National Model Railroad Association were starting to take shape during the decade, as well. At the East Chattanooga facility, a repair shop and a turntable were added to provide facilities for locomotive repair and maintenance. Beginning in the 1990s, TVRM started running trains to the Chattanooga Choo Choo (called the Downtown Arrow, now discontinued) and excursions down to Summerville, Georgia on the Chattooga and Chickamauga Railway.
In 2004, TVRM and the Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association partnered up in acquiring part of the former L&N Hook and Eye line between Etowah, Tennessee (Gee Creek, Tennessee) and Copperhill, Tennessee. Since then, despite skipping the 2005 season, the new Hiwassee River Rail Adventures have been a popular addition to the railroad. With the success of the Hiwassee trips, TVRM split into two distinct operating divisions: the Chattanooga and Hiwassee Divisions, though crews and sometimes equipment often switch between the two.
The museum celebrated 50 years during the Labor Day weekend of 2011. Norfolk Southern Railway also introduced their new steam train program during the event.
In 2004, TVRM began providing half-day excursion trains to the Hiwassee Loop, a corkscrew tunnel through which the train passes near Farner, Tennessee. These trips run out of the station in downtown Etowah, Tennessee (about an hour's drive (63 miles) northeast of Chattanooga), but since it is along the main CSX mainline heavily used for freight, a bus takes travelers a short ride south to Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park to transfer. The 50-mile excursion goes east along the Hiwassee River and through the Hiwassee Gorge to Farner, just short of the North Carolina state line. Full-day trips turn south, ending at lunchtime in the twin towns of Copperhill, Tennessee and McCaysville, Georgia, and then returning in the afternoon. This route is that of the former Atlanta, Knoxville and Northern Railway and is also called the Hiwassee Route. The remainder of the AK&N (later L&N and then CSX) line in Georgia is operated by the Georgia Northeastern Railroad, with subsidiary Blue Ridge Scenic Railway operating another heritage railroad from McCaysville to Blue Ridge, Georgia, and GNRR freight running south of there.
TVRM also handles freight. On TVRM's Chattanooga Division, there is one industry, Allied Metals. TVRM also handles switching operations, under the wholly owned subsidiary Tyner Terminal Railway Company, at Enterprise South Industrial Park (ESIP), location of the Volkswagen Chattanooga Assembly Plant. Even though there are no major industries along the Hiwassee Division, TVRM has the capability to store several hundred cars at the Copperhill yard for other railroads.
TVRM has a full working locomotive and car repair shop complex. Soule Shops (named after co-founder, Robert M. Soule, Jr.), is capable of handling even the heaviest repairs. In March 2011, TVRM completed restoring Southern Railway Ks-1 class 2-8-0 630 to operational status. At present, two locomotives are under restoration to operational status: Southern Railway E8A 6914 and its flagship locomotive, Southern Railway Ms Class 4501. 630's 10 year-long restoration was the most extensive restoration ever performed at TVRM, as well as one of the most extensive steam locomotive repairs in the United States since the end of steam on the railroads.
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
4119 Cromwell Rd
Chattanooga, Tennessee 37421