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

Btfsplk or Addams?

What was probably a fine home in its time has now taken on the desheveled, creepy, haunted look relished by mystery fans and despised by the squeamish.

What was probably a fine home in its time has now taken on the disheveled, creepy, haunted look relished by mystery fans and despised by the squeamish.

When I saw this old house, now a bit on the mysterious side, I wondered, could this have been occupied by the Li’l Abner character and bad-luck artist,  Joe Btfsplk? Or perhaps by the equally famous champions of dark humor, the Addams Family?  Either would probably feel right at home. Speaking of which, this exploration had its beginnings on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com.  You are looking at the back yard of this house east of Ola, Arkansas on Arkansas Highway 28. To see a couple of front pictures and get in on the start of the story, click here, a very cool thing to do.

This room an addition to the house, is large and had large windows, both conditions unusual for homes of this age.

This room, an addition to the house, is large and had large windows, both conditions unusual for homes of this age.

The right side of the house is an addition and is a large room, unusual by the standards of rural residences of that day and time. I’m guessing it is in the 90-100 year old age, but be advised, “guessing” is the operative word. The room also had large windows, also a bit on the unusual side for a house of this age. The open area to the left of the picture is the back of the breezeway through the middle of the house.

The old "living room" is a repository of evidence.

The old "living room" is a repository of evidence. But who dares to investigate?

Lest you think I have lost what few marbles I have left, I did not enter the house to shoot the picture above. Having a tall tripod, a tall skeletal structure, a short ladder and an open window saved the day for an interior shot. I like to include these when I can because I suspect many people are curious as to what is in the inside of abandoned houses. I suspect that at some time, probably more than once, a transient, not too choosy about accommodations, dragged the bedding into the room and built a small fire. Not at the top of the pecking order, but, any port in a storm I suppose.

Methinks there is some value in almost everything we see or hear. This old house is an example. Most of us should be grateful we do not have a wind tunnel through the middle of our respective residences. We should also be grateful that Al Capp and Charles Addams saw fit to provide us with countless laughs. And in Al Capp’s case, some insights into ourselves and our society.

Thanks for dropping by,


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