Iron Horse 1504

The Iron Horse

By Earl H. Perkins | published Monday, December 5, 2013 |
Thursday Review Associate Editor

If you close your eyes and listen intently, you can almost hear the old Atlantic Coast Line No. 1504 chugging through the night. Built in 1919, the iron horse powered premier passenger trains in and out of Florida for decades, primarily running between Richmond, Virginia, and Jacksonville, Florida.

Trains Magazine and CSX Corporation recently combined to fund the cosmetic restoration of the steam locomotive, which is displayed at the Prime Osborn Convention Center in Jacksonville. The train coincidentally brought passengers there when it was the Jacksonville Terminal—constructed in 1919. At that time, the terminal was the largest train station in the South. At its peak, the facility handled more passengers in three days than Amtrak handles in a year.

New York architect Kenneth Murchison designed the immense structure, copying freely from New York City's Pennsylvania Station. That building was modeled after the ancient Roman baths at Caracalla. The magazine chose the North Florida Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) for its annual $10,000 preservation award, with CSX's matching grant doubling that. The engine has been outdoors for more than 50 years and has deteriorated due to harsh Florida weather. It was chosen for inclusion on the NRHS's Most At-Risk list of endangered railroad landmarks.

The Pacific-class engine was built by American Locomotive Co. of Richmond for the United States Railway Administration during World War I, but the war ended before 1504's completion. This phase of the project will concentrate on the engine's appearance and stabilization, according to the Florida Times-Union.

"The initial plan is to paint—copious amounts of paint," said John Holmgren, NRHS local chapter president. "There is also going to be work to the cab to secure windows and keep the wind and rain out of its interior.

"There are also plans to do some exterior lighting, including hopefully illuminating the headlight and running lights."

The engine and tender are 80 feet long, weighing 471,000 pounds. Sixteen tons of coal and 10,000 gallons of water were needed to turn the 73-inch-tall drive wheels. The engine was moved from the old Atlantic Coast Line building on Water Street in downtown Jacksonville--where it resided for decades--to its present location in 1989. At that time it received $75,000 in needed renovation, and another $10,000 in 1998. The engine is structurally solid, but there are rust streaks on the faded black boiler and the tender has crusty rust holes, according to Trains Editor Jim Wrinn.

"It is a landmark locomotive, has a national appeal and is very prominent, and there is a considerable urgency to doing something about it," he said. "It is in a tough climate to preserve a large piece of metal.

"This is hopefully the beginning. It needs a cover, and it needs a fund endowment to keep restoration and maintenance going."

Also participating in the endeavor are the Atlantic Coast Line-Seaboard Air Line Historical Society, the Southeast Chapter of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society (whose photo we used for this article), and the North Florida Railroad Museum.

The NHRS was founded in 1935 to preserve and raise awareness of America's threatened railroad heritage, and it operates historic excursions and tours throughout North America. The non-profit organization includes more than 150 regional chapters, and sponsors a summer orientation program giving high school youth hands-on exposure in the industry.

People who worked for Henry Flagler and Henry Plant built the Florida railway system, so there is certainly plenty of history for these groups to preserve from one end of the Sunshine State to the other.