The La Grange Railroad Museum was formed by the Ohio Valley Railroad Historical Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) IRS tax-exempt organization.
This started as a vision of Robert (Bob) C. Widman, Sr. as early as the mid to late 1990s. His vision for this museum too many hours of research, contemplation, and contacts throughout the community to move forward.
The acquisition of the outside train cars was a more significant challenge than could be written here. The current outside cars consist of a Steam Engine, 1929 Dining Car, L & N Caboose, and a train-yard jitney. The estimated value of all the outside display units is between 500,000 and 1,000,00 dollars. So, as small historical museums are concerned, this museum enjoys significant value even before taking into account the interior historical artifacts.
The Louisville & Nashville Railroad was born March 5, 1850, when it was granted a charter by the Commonwealth of Kentucky “...to build a railroad between Louisville, Kentucky, and the Tennessee state line in the direction of Nashville." On December 4, 1851, the Tennessee General Assembly's act authorized the company to extend its road from the Tennessee state line to Nashville. Laying of track began at Ninth Street and Broadway in Louisville in May of 1853. By 1855, the founding fathers of the L&N, most of them Louisville citizens, had raised nearly $3 million to finance the construction. The first train to operate over the railroad ran on August 25, 1855, when some 300 people traveled eight miles from Louisville at a speed of 15 mph!
A little more than four years later, on October 27, 1859, the first train operated all the way from Louisville to Nashville, joining the two namesake cities. For all practical purposes, the 187-mile railroad was complete. Scheduled trains began running a few days later, and except for war, fire, and several floods, they have been running ever since. The total cost of this original construction was $7,221,204.91.
By the time the Civil War began in 1861, the L&N had 269 miles of track. Located almost in the middle of the opposing armies, the L&N at various times served both the Union and the Confederacy as the tides of war changed. Although the railroad suffered considerable damage during the war years, it emerged in surprisingly good financial condition. It was so well off, in fact, that at the close of the war, the L&N began expanding. Within a period of 30 years, through construction and acquisition of existing short railroads, the L&N extended its tracks to St. Louis in Missouri, Cincinnati in Ohio, Birmingham, and Mobile in Alabama, Pensacola in Florida, and New Orleans in Louisiana.
Memphis, Tennessee, was reached shortly after the close of the Civil War. By 1872, the L&N had obtained sufficient track in Tennessee and Alabama to begin running trains between Louisville and Montgomery, Alabama. The acquisition of two smaller railroads, which made the route possible, also helped to create Birmingham. The vast deposits of iron and coal in the vicinity played important roles in the city's formation, and the first commercial steel produced there was financed in part by the L&N.
It is appropriate here to mention L&N President Milton H. Smith, who served in that capacity for nearly 40 years, longer than any other chief executive. Smith went to work for the railroad as a local freight agent in Louisville, just after the Civil War. Within three years, he had advanced to general freight agent, eventually becoming vice president and traffic manager, and finally president in the 1880s. Under Smith, the L&N grew from a small local carrier into America's major railroad systems.
The railroad's entrance into the Gulf of Mexico ports came in 1881. A 140-mile rail line, including roughly nine miles of trestles and bridges, linked Mobile with New Orleans, but there was little contact with the outside world until the L&N extended its tracks to Mobile and then acquired the line into New Orleans. This acquisition enabled the railroad to extend its sphere of influence to international markets for agricultural products and goods manufactured in major cities along the L&N.
In 1881, the L&N began extending its Lebanon Branch (in Kentucky) across the Tennessee state line to Jellico. In 1891, a line was extended to Norton, Virginia, and another to Atlanta, Georgia. Between 1879 and 1881, through the purchase of track in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, and Illinois, the L&N gained access to Western Kentucky's coalfields. In 1883, the L&N completed a 170-mile rail link from Pensacola to Chattahoochee, Florida. In all, 56 railroads were acquired, leased, or constructed during the 1880s and 1890s, as the L&N system began to take its final form.
One of the L&N's most important expansions came early in the 1900s when the railroad pushed its tracks deep into Hazard and Harlan's coalfields in eastern Kentucky. Acquisition in 1909 of two smaller lines and construction in 1911 and 1912 of more than 150 miles of track along the Cumberland River and the North Fork of the Kentucky River gave the L&N access to the landlocked bituminous coal riches of eastern Kentucky. In the preceding decades, the L&N built additional rail lines in eastern Kentucky, but in western Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama, to help develop new coal production points.
The L&N and other railroads were called on to move unprecedented numbers of passengers and freight amounts during World War II. More than 90 percent of the nation's military equipment and supplies and 97 percent of all its troops rolled by rail to military bases and ports of embarkation. With dozens of online training camps and defense plants, L&N traffic soared, with 80 percent in freight traffic and more than 300 percent in passenger traffic. And yet, it is successful in handling those increases performed with comparatively little addition to power, rolling stock, or personnel. During World War II, some 6,900 L&N employees were furloughed to the armed forces.
The postwar years brought swift, striking changes to railroading, as the L&N, which purchased its first diesel in 1939, retired its last steam locomotive in 1957. The L&N introduced streamlined passenger service with the advent of The Humming Bird and The. Georgian, and gradually updated the equipment on such passenger trains as The Pan- American, The Piedmont Limited, The Crescent, The Azalean, The Dixie Flyer, The Flamingo, and The Southland. Other innovations included pushbutton electronic classification freight yards at major cities, computers, telecommunications, microwave transmission, hundreds of miles of continuously-welded rail, new signaling and centralized traffic dispatching systems, and thousands of special-purpose freight cars.
The first major expansion following World War II occurred in 1957 when the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway, a subsidiary, was merged into the company. The NC&StL, some 1,200 miles long, connected Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Atlanta.
In 1969, the L&N acquired a portion of the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad between Evansville, Indiana, and Chicago, permitting it to enter that important midwestern rail center. That same year, a 131-mile segment of the Tennessee Central Railroad between Nashville and Crossville, Tennessee was purchased. In 1971, the 573-mile Monon Railroad was merged into the L&N system. It connected Louisville with Chicago and provided a valuable second entry into the Great Lakes area. By the end of 1971, the L&N operated more than 6,574 miles of track in 13 states.
L&N had 7 Divisions
1. Louisville Division 2. Corbin division
3. Atlanta Division 4. Mobile Division
5. Birmingham Division 6. Nashville Division
7. Evansville Division
However, during that year, the Seaboard Coastline Railroad, which had owned 35 percent of the L&N's stock for many years, bought the remainder of the outstanding shares. The L&N became the wholly-owned subsidiary of Seaboard Coast Line Industries. On December 31, 1982, the corporate entity known as the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company was officially merged into the Seaboard System Railroad, ending the L&N's 132-year existence under a single name. The Seaboard System quickly lost its own corporate identity as it and the Chessie System became CSX Transportation in 1986.
The name may now be gone, but thousands of miles of trackage still exist today, serving America's transportation needs under a different banner. They remain a tribute to one of the nation's premier railroads, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company.
This 1929 dining Car #2723 was one of the original 22, 36-seat dining cars built from 1921 to 1930, by American Car & Foundry in Jeffersonville, Indiana. The railcar is 83 feet long and weighs 183,000 pounds. Unlike the newer welded design, this heavyweight design was riveted. Dining cars built in this manner are easy to spot by the large rivets along the outside of the car.
In the 1920s, each fully stocked L&N dining car represented a sizeable investment of over $250,000. In 2020 dollars, that investment would be just shy of 4 million dollars.
This L&N diner was originally in service on the Pan American between Cincinnati and Memphis and had a complete kitchen. The kitchen remains as originally installed but is not currently operational.
The tables were set with heavy china, real silver, crystal, and linen. The food was the best the railroad could provide. Each dining car was stocked with approximately 1,000 napkins and 325 tablecloths.
The L&N dining car experience was known for its specialty of Old Hickory-Smoked Country Ham with red-eye gravy and grits, Seafood Platter and Seafood Gumbo, and passengers often stated that eating on a train was a wonderful experience.
With careful planning and utilization of personnel and equipment, more than two million meals were served on the L&N dining cars during WWII.
It is believed the original name of this car was The St. Louis Hotel, having been named for a famous hotel in New Orleans. The dining car was eventually converted to work-train service in the mid-1970s, being used for rail workers at major railroad construction projects and derailment sites.
Having worked for the L&N/CSX Railroad for many years, Prospect, Ky., residents Lynn and Bob Jones were always interested in anything about railroads. As a result of their love, they purchased this Dining Car. At some point, they changed the car's name from St. Louis Hotel to Strike the Gold after a Kentucky Derby winner in 1991. They used the car for entertainment purposes and initiated a major restoration of the car in 1991. It was during this restoration that the seating configuration was changed from 36 to 43 seats.
In 2011, the 1929 Dining Car was generously donated to the La Grange Railroad Museum by Bob & Lynn Jones of Prospect, Kentucky. We are incredibly grateful to Bob & Lynn Jones for their amazing gift.
The La Grange Railroad Museum is operated by the La Grange Railroad Museum Foundation, Inc.(formerly the Ohio Valley Railroad Historical Foundation), which was incorporated in 2006, as a 501(c)(3) corporation to promote and preserve the history of railroads and railroading in the Ohio Valley.
The La Grange Railroad Museum Steam Engine MEAFORD #2 was constructed by Robert Stephenson & Hawthorne in 1951-1952.
7745 worked shunting coal at the Meaford Power Station (pronounced MEFFORD) located on the River Trent near Stone in Staffordshire, England. It operated there from 1952 until 1970 when a diesel-powered engine replaced it.
Original Picture provided by Gerald Worland
Engine 7745 was then sold and sold and moved to the Boyne City Railroad in Grand Falls, Michigan.
Boyne City Railroad
Starting in 1935, the Boyne City Railroad operated 7.2 miles of track between Boyne City and Boyne Falls. It was always an independent railroad. At peak operations, they had 13 locomotives and 180 employees. The operation ended in 1978, the line was abandoned in 1982.
The Flying Duchess was sold and moved to the Tennessee Railway Museum in the early 1980s. During its stay at the Tennessee Railway Museum in Chattanooga, it was used in passenger museum operations for two to three years.
In 2000, the locomotive was sold first to Indiana and later to a scrap yard in Louisville, Ky. Some of the history and exact time-line are not entirely clear. But, for an extensive period of time, the engine was in a state of disrepair and neglect while resting in a weed-infested mess. Pictures of this time in its life are very telling in comparison to its current-day condition.
The engine sat in the mercer transportation yard for over 10 years and came dangerously close to being cut up for scrap.
Engine 7745 moved to La Grange on August 23, 2011.
The unloading of the 80-ton engine was quite a spectacle in La Grange.
The engine sits 20 feet from the CSX rails that run in the middle of Main Street in the business district.
After arrival, the engine was painted in a flat black.
In 2018, it was painted in its current colors by a team of craftsmen
at the reformatory in La Grange.
The use of cabooses began in the 1830s when railroads housed trainmen in shanties built onto boxcars or flatcars. The caboose provided the train crew with a shelter at the rear of the train. The crew could exit the train for switching or to protect the rear of the train when stopped. They also inspected the train for shifting loads, broken or dragging equipment, and hot boxes (overheated axle bearings, a serious fire, and derailment threat). The conductor kept records and handled business from a table or desk in the caboose. The caboose provided minimal living quarters for longer trips and was frequently personalized and decorated with pictures and posters.
Early cabooses were nothing more than flat cars with small cabins erected on them, or modified box cars. The American caboose's standard form had a platform at either end with curved grab rails to facilitate train crew members' ascent onto a moving train. A caboose was fitted with red lights called markers to enable the train's rear to be seen at night. This has led to the phrase "bringing up the markers" to describe the last car on a train. These lights were officially what made a train a "train" and were originally lit with oil lamps. With the advent of electricity, later caboose versions incorporated an electrical generator. Driven by belts coupled to one of the axles, which charged a lead-acid storage battery when the train was in motion. The addition of the cupola, a lookout post atop the car, was introduced in 1863.
Coal or wood was originally used to fire a cast-iron stove for heat and cooking, later giving way to a kerosene heater. Now rare, the old stoves can be identified by several essential features. They were without legs, bolted directly to the floor, and featured a lip on the top surface to keep pans and coffee pots sliding off. They also had a double-latching door to prevent accidental discharge of hot coals caused by the caboose's rocking motion.
Cabooses are non-revenue equipment and were often improvised or retained well beyond a freight car's normal lifetime. Tradition on many lines held that the caboose should be painted a bright red, though, on many lines, it eventually became the practice to paint them in the same corporate colors as locomotives. The Kansas City Railway Company was unique in that it bought cabooses with a stainless steel car body, and so was not obliged to paint them.
Until the 1980s, laws in the United States and Canada required all freight trains to have a caboose and a full crew for safety. Technology eventually advanced to a point where the railroads, to save money and reduce crew members, stated that a caboose was unnecessary.
The most common caboose form in American railroad practice has a small windowed projection on the roof, called the cupola. The crew sat in elevated seats to inspect the train from this perch.
The cupola caboose's invention is generally attributed to T. B. Watson and a freight conductor on the Chicago and North Western Railway in 1898.
A transfer caboose looks more like a flat car with a shed bolted to the middle of it than it does a standard caboose. It is used in transfer service between rail yard or short switching runs, and as such, lacks sleeping, cooking, or restroom facilities. The ends of a transfer caboose are left open, with safety railings surrounding the crew compartment's area and the car's end.
In the past 106 years, the museum building has remained virtually unchanged from its original footprint.
Our visitors can locate a portion of one of the original passenger platforms at the building's original location. If you wish to see that platform, look on the track-side behind the 1929 Louisville & Nashville Dining Car and L&N Caboose.
The La Grange Railroad Museum building was originally built in 1914 about 100 feet from its current position. The drawing to the right is from the original drawings of the building.
The side-doors of the museum at each end of the building where passengers entered. Those end-doors and the track-side front door from the GENERAL WAITING ROOM no longer exist. The manual vent windows found over the remaining doors are still installed in the locations where the doors once stood.
The original building did not sit on a foundation. There were stairs on the back-side of the building that went to a lower furnace room below the COLORED WAITING ROOM. In 1992, when the building was moved about 100 feet to its current location, it was placed on a full basement with an additional two bathrooms, thus bringing the total bathroom count to six.
Sometime after the move, the largest bathroom in the GENERAL WAITING ROOM was converted to a kitchenette. In addition to the bathroom conversion, a set of stairs was installed, the LADIES WAITING ROOM providing access to the new lower level.
The museum building's lower level is devoted to model railroading for "older" and young kids alike.
The largest room's main display is for older kids, as it is the newer DCC system and associated controls.
If you were to place your train on the tracks and then make a complete circuit of the layout, your train would have traveled over 400 feet. Most "BIG" kids do not have a display this large.
The "kids" room features an 8 X 14-foot layout with three separate train track systems. This display's under the support system is being reconstructed for stability and safety. There will be 3 separate control stations for kids to operate trains on the conventional DC powered tracks when complete.
Also, there are two Thomas The Train type play tables for our 2-3-4-5-year-old visitors. Just a warning, once the littles once start playing there, it is a challenge to get them out any time soon.