The mighty 819: some repairs needed


Engine 819

Engine 819, restored in 1986 to original operating condition and put into service for special steam locomotive rail trips lies idle in the Arkansas Railroad Museum in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, after a partial dis-assembly for a Federal Railroad Administration inspection, it fell victim to rising metal prices and a shortage of funds to complete the necessary repairs.

In its heyday, the 819 pulled trains with the best of them. It is one of the last steam locomotives built for main line use and was absolutely the last steam locomotive built in the Cotton Belt St. Louis and Southwestern Railroad (more popularly known as the Cotton Belt), shops in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. To get a few more details about the life, times, and a picure of the restored 819, visit the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com, where this story started. Click here to go there. We’ll wait here.

High prices, dwindling experts

The 819, once proudly restored, fell victim to ballooning metal prices and a dwindling pool of knowledgeable volunteer labor. The restoration effort started in 1983 and was completed by 1986, led by current and retired employees of the Cotton Belt, many of whom worked in the steam locomotive area of the Pine Bluff shops.

engine 819 driver wheels

The driver wheels on the 819 are about shoulder high to my 6'-3" frame.You can probably see some faint chalk lines in a checkerboard pattern on the side of the boiler. These are to facilitate the ultrasound inspection. See the next picture below for details.

By 1993, when the engine was sidelined to undergo its mandated 15-year inspection, the number of steam-experienced volunteers had begun to shrink. At the same time, world metal prices went through the roof. To make matters worse, a short time thereafter, the Cotton Belt changed hands and some of the shop facilities which afforded help to the 819 volunteer corps were relocated or shut down. Not a good thing when you have a 212-ton steam locomotive lying around in parts.

Ultrasound test grid on engine 819 boiler

The chalk grid on the side of the 819 boiler are to facilitate the ultrasound test of the boiler plate. The ultrasound test is completed by the square foot. If an anomaly is detected in a given square foot, that square foot must be divided into square inches and retested to isolate the anomaly. None of the square feet on the 819 boiler required the square inch trick. Not to shabby for a 67-year old boiler. Disregard the appearance, the old girl is in good condition.

Members of the Cotton Belt Rail Historical Society, caretakers for the 819, tell me that as far as the inspection went, it went well and the old girl passed with flying colors. After the inspection was nearly complete, their ultrasound machine went on the fritz, so in addition to everything else, they are waiting on that repair to materialize.

Joe Btfsplk not welcome here

Despite some daunting odds, don’t look for long faces in Cotton Belt Rail Historical Society, They know what they are up against and know it is up to them to do something about it. That being so, they never stop looking for sources of help and support to get the 819 back where it belongs … pulling cars of happy people over the railroads of America.

But wait, there’s more!

See all of this week’s Weekly Grist and Corndancer pictures, plus a few not published, in glorious, high resolution color. The collection includes a couple of T-Model Ford shots and a freshly painted diesel locomotive seen at the Arkansas Railroad Museum. Click here to go there.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind
http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/
http://www.joedempseyphoto.com/
http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

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6 Responses

  1. I have alot of fond memories of the 819. My dad used to be a telegraph operator for the RR. I can remember the roundhouse and going through the shops. I stoood on the dam in Oakland Park when it pulled up to be put on display. I was also there when it was removed to be rebuilt. I’ve got pictures, I’ll copy and send to you.

  2. Truly a shame that beautiful machines like this can’t be kept operational. I live near Steamtown, (see website link) and I’ve personally seen the extensive work done on similar fine machines. My hat is off to the Members of the Cotton Belt Rail Historical Society and I wish there was a way I could help. Sadly there is not anything I can do except offer my prayers for their success to preserve this beautiful machine for posterity.

  3. Jim, I was part of the crowd at Third and Pine that watched it go by on the way back to the shops for restoration. People pretty well lined the tracks to get a glimpse.

    Thanks for commenting,
    Joe

  4. [...] 2012 update. The 8i9 is now disassembled and “on hold.” See a Corndancer article¬†and a companion Weekly Grist article from 2010 which give some explanation of the 819 [...]

  5. Just stumbled onto your blog. Thanks for the great post. I’m working with the Arkansas Railroad Museum and the 819 Crew to get the 819 back on the web. Our new website can be found at http://www.arkansasrailroadmuseum.org. We can also be found on Facebook by searching for “Arkansas Railroad Museum”. We will greatly appreciate any photos that anyone is willing to share with us. You can send them to me at webmaster@arkansasrailroadmuseum.org.

    Thanks,
    Robert H. McClanahan
    (son of former Cotton Belt Superintendent Robert R. McClanahan)

  6. […] Construction started on the building in 1882 and reached completion in 1894 as part of an extensive complex of railroad shops. This building is all that is left of the former complex is now home to the Arkansas Railroad Museum operated by the Cotton Belt Railroad Historical Society. You can see and learn more of the 819 and the museum on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-com. We’ll wait here while you look. You can also find more information on our Weekly Grist post of April 11, 2010. […]

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