A train-lovers paradise in Pine Bluff

    10:16 PM, Nov 5, 2010   |    comments
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    It's a large building full of large machines

    It was built to do heavy maintenance on steam locomotives. Of course, that's all they had back then

    Now The Arkansas Railroad Museum, it was once the heart of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway yard in Pine Bluff.
    And on these very tracks - they built massive steam locomotives.

    "In fact they had to add on to the building, says Bill McCaskill. "There are three tracks in this building that are longer than the rest of the tracks. And that's due to the fact that they had to add on to the building in able to get the engines in here."

    McCaskill worked for the St. Louis Southwestern for more than 4 decades. Now he's a volunteer at the museum. And if you ask nicely, he'll give you an expert tour of the oversize exhibits.

    "That's in forward, explains McCaskill. "You widen out on the throttle here. You may feel it pull a little bit and you'll back off a little bit and then you'll just gradually work on up. And that's wide open. That's doin' all she can."

    But the pride of the museum is the last locomotive ever assembled here. The 819 is a massive machine. First finished in 1943, it was restored in the 80's and remained in working condition into the 90's. And for it's time, the 819 came with all the options.

    McCaskill points out, "It's called a rail washer. This pipe right here would blow water on the rail to blow sand off the rail. This pipe is a sand pipe that would put sand down to get your traction. So this engine had the sand washer on it. You'd use your sand and it would wash it off."

    "It's a curiosity to everyone. Nearly everyone in the building has to go in it and go inside to see how it operates, "Elizabeth Gaines is fond of the museum's snowplow.

    She's one of the caretakers at the museum, watching both young and old roam among the 100 thousand ton displays.

    Gaines says, "There's a lot of people that come in with a lot of memories. Then there's a lot of people who come in without a clue."

    A clue about how important rail travel was in our country - about how many companies operated routes to different places - or about how luxurious a mode of transportation train travel could be.

    The old Cotton Belt Route stayed in operation until 1992.
    And though almost a generation ago, memories of the St. Louis Southwestern and the heyday of train travel remain alive.

    The Arkansas Railroad Museum will leave you Amazed by Arkansas.

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