By Todd DeFeo
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – A few times a year, perhaps only for a few hours, this eastern Tennessee city takes a step back in time to an era when railroads ruled.
Every May, the Tennessee Central Railway Museum offers its spring rendezvous, a 180-mile round-trip excursion from Nashville to Cookeville. The jaunt is the perfect getaway for railroad buffs and anyone wanting to take a step out of the ordinary, guaranteed to marvel at a chance to ride a 1950s diesel-powered train.
Trains first reached Cookeville in 1890 when the Nashville & Knoxville Railroad steamed into town. Twelve years later, the Tennessee Central Railway purchased the road.
In 1909, the Tennessee Central Railway built a depot in the center of town. The station serves as both a museum and a reminder of a bygone era.
Gracing the depot’s grounds is steam engine No. 509, a recent addition to the museum’s railroad-related collection.
This particular “10-wheeler” – a railroad term for an engine with six large drive wheels and four smaller guide wheels – was built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia and acquired by the Louisiana & Arkansas Railroad acquired the locomotive in 1913, according to The Time-Table, the museum’s quarterly newsletter.
The locomotive, which no longer operates, served the Louisiana & Arkansas Railroad until 1945, when it was sold to the Louisiana & Midland Railroad, the newsletter notes. It was taken out of service after a head-on collision, but rebuilt and returned to service on the South Shore Railroad.
In 1952, No. 509 was sold to a private business and later sold to several private collectors. The Tennessee Valley Railroad bought the engine in 1982. Twenty years later, Friends of the Cookeville Depot acquired the locomotive.
The locomotive’s tender bears the marking of the Tennessee Central Railway, which served Cookeville until its demise in 1968. A reincarnation of the Tennessee Central Railway, now an excursion train, brings the depot and the city of Cookeville to life twice a year.