A Visit to Tennessee's Official Train Museum

The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga is the state’s official railroad museum although it’s run by volunteers and paid staff. It was started in 1960 and now has 3 miles of track. I and a number of train fans recently had a chance to spend the morning visiting.

There are a number of vintage freight and passenger cars as well as locomotives on spurs adjacent to the museum itself which only contains a few railroad artifacts. The museum is designed to be an operating attraction for train fans and the general public. Next to the museum is the extensive collection of the Southern Railway Historical Association with rooms full of pictures, plans and drawings.

Most of the rolling stock and locomotives stored outside are scheduled to be restored to their former glory like this Wilson Meats Reefer. The museum eventually hopes to have all of the outside exhibits located under roof when the money is available.

This 4-6-2 from the Canadian National had its automatic coal stoker taken for use on the operating Southern #4501. It was built in 1919, but most probably will never be restored to operation because of its use as a parts supplier.

Our train left town behind Southern #630, a 2–8-0, for the 3 mile trip to East Chattanooga where the shops and another depot are located.

Some of the cars are air conditioned like this coach. Here the conductor is punching tickets as was the custom for many years on train travel. In addition to short runs like this, the museum also sponsors longer trips on the trackage of freight railroads. Remember this is an operating museum with moving trains not static displays.

When we got to East Chattanooga,#630 was turned on the turntable. It’s now motorized but at one time it was powered by hand…known as an “Armstrong Turntable”.

The turntable is over 100 years old and is used several times each day to turn engines on the Missionary Ridge train. The train is called that because it passes through the Missionary Ridge Tunnel which predates the Civil War.

One of the highlights of the trip was seeing the famous Southern Mikado, #4501 under steam. In the back is #630 as it prepares to move to the front (formerly the rear) of our train for the return trip. It’s extremely rare to see 2 locomotives under steam at the same time nowadays. Also in back is a Southern derrick which is used to scoop up and load the coal for the steamers.

The key to keeping it all working is an extensive backshop where equipment is repaired, restored and made ready for revenue service again.

Here is Southern E8 redone it’s the glorious 1940s Crescent paint scheme.

Of course no work can be done without heavy lathes and presses. The Museum has vintage equipment that was imported from Poland because similar American equipment was unobtainable.

We finish up with this parting shot from the rear of the train as it returns to the starting Depot. Although this was a short trip it was fun and well worth doing again.

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11 Responses to “A Visit to Tennessee's Official Train Museum”

  1. Mike Borghi

    That's quite an amazing museum. I would love to see it sometime. I have been "playing" with model trains for 57 years. Trains have always fascinated me. It's been quite a life watching the changes in locomotives and various rolling stock come about over the decades. Thank you for such an enjoyable trip down memory lane. It's a pleasure to be part of the Academy.

  2. BYRON

    Fascinating story/pics!

  3. Ronnie A Thompson Sr

    I am blessed to leave just north of Chattanooga. I have ridden the trains several times. I also went on a dinner train.

  4. Bill Donlen

    I grew up with a coal branch of the Reading RR in my back yard. I have coal smoke in my lungs and lots of toys models train but NOTHING beats working with the real thing!!


    My club of 50 members, is interested in visiting your fine operation in Chattanooga.

  6. Lester W Larrew

    I and my wife visited there on our honeymoon, hope to go back soon. It's and awesome dream !!

  7. Lynn Thompson

    Did the NMRA work out here?

  8. Nancy

    Thanks for the ride!!! Chatanooga is now on my 'bucket list". 😊

  9. Jim

    Nice pics. We frequent north Georgia and will make it a point to visit the museum next time in the area. Looks like fun. There is some me thing magical about a steam locomotive. It's as if they have a life of there own.

  10. Vernon

    <strong> That was a nice tour of the museum. When was that trip. I'm asking because you said you saw 4501 under steam. That engine has been in the Smithsonian Museum at Washington, D. C. For at least 20 years.