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The Tale of the Texas

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
November 24, 2022 3:01 am

The Tale of the Texas

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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November 24, 2022 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Jackson McQuigg of the Atlanta History Center tells the story of the principle pursuit locomotive of the Great Railroad Chase...but the story goes much deeper than just that...

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Visit Up next, a story from the Atlanta History Center, a great museum where you can see exhibits like the massive Cyclorama painting and a locomotive with a truly unique story, the Texas. Built four years before Lincoln was elected, the locomotive is best known today as the principal pursuit engine in the great locomotive chase, which occurred after Union spies stole her running mate, the general.

But the story goes far deeper than that. Here's Jackson McQuigge, vice president of properties at the Atlanta History Center, with the story. I want to say I was born into it, but I have been a fan of railroads and interested in railroads pretty much all my life.

That's something that I shared with my dad. And growing up in Tampa, Florida, with deep roots in Atlanta, Atlanta's history was always of interest to me. And I think that, you know, by the age of like 14, I was volunteering at the Florida Railroad Museum, scraping paint and doing all the things that older people didn't want to do, you know. And I've just always been fascinated by trains.

I mean, it is just absolutely one of the most fascinating technologies. And I think I'm interested in it because, you know, travel is such a fun thing and there's no better way to go than traveling by train. You can visit with friends and have a drink, have a meal, look out the window. You can get on a sleeping car and see the world go by overnight.

I just think there's nothing better. Atlanta is very, very new by comparison to many cities. Savannah is a century older than it was older than Atlanta. Atlanta is only about the same age as Los Angeles.

I mean, it's a very new city. So when a surveyor for the Western and Atlantic Railroad drove a stake in the ground, a wooden surveyor stake, right about where State Farm Arena is today, Atlanta didn't exist. And Atlanta gradually became a railroad hub. One of the nicknames for Atlanta, in fact, is the Chicago of the South.

So the locomotive Texas, it's only one of two locomotives left from the Western Atlantic. The very railroad that Atlanta owes its existence to, if you think about that for a second, the tangible links to the city's past are really few. Atlanta is a city that likes to redevelop itself over time. Sherman burned it and also suffered a cataclysmic fire and development has really changed the way Atlanta has looked time and time again. But this locomotive, like its sister, the General, date back to the 1850s. This is unusual for Atlanta. My boss likes to say they're the Romulus and Remus of Atlanta.

I think that's a great sound bite and he's almost right. But the locomotive was one of the two participants in the Great Locomotive Chase, which is a Civil War incident of some note and certainly a lot of coverage. The chase involved three different locomotives, a pole car running two miles, and you name it.

It's really an interesting story. During 1862, April of 1862, as a matter of fact, there were a group of Union spies that had made it behind Confederate lines and the effort was to disrupt the Western Atlantic Railroad in order to ultimately take Nashville. And if you could cut Nashville off from the rest of the South and Chattanooga as well, you would hurt the Confederacy. So they made it behind the lines of the Confederates, dressed in civilian clothes, got on a train in Atlanta. When the train got to what was called Big Shanny, in those days, everybody got off the train to go eat, and in that case, breakfast.

There was no club car to have Bloody Marys and stuff then at that point. So they're the last ones left on the train. Everybody's eating breakfast, and they're the last ones left on the train. Everybody's eating breakfast at the Lacey Hotel, and that gave them their opportunity to steal the locomotive general and head north. And it was to get far ahead, tear up track, disrupt telegraph lines, and really put a severe crimp into the Confederacy's war efforts. But what they didn't count on was that the crew of the general decided to give chase to the these guys and try to catch the general locomotive as it was going up the line.

The pursuers, Captain William Fuller and others, wound up finding the Texas, found that it had a good head of steam and it had enough fuel that it could be run to chase after the general. They decided, well, heck, the average track speed's 15 miles an hour. Let's do 50. Let's do it in reverse.

Let's do it on track that wouldn't be a good industrial siding by today's standards. This is just really rudimentary railroading at that stage. It must have been a frightening ride.

I'm really glad that I wasn't on it. It reflects the lack of caution that only, you know, somebody who's pretty youthful can do and pretty motivated by adrenaline, I would argue. Finally, the pursuers wound up catching the raiders led by James J Andrews. So they were known as Andrews Raiders.

Sounds like a 60s band, but there you have it. So, but they caught them, captured them. Some were hanged, including Andrews, who was hanged here in Atlanta. And the pursuers were celebrated as folk heroes at the time because that was one where the South was. Folk heroes at the time, because that was one where the South won one. And so as a result, it became the famous locomotive that caught up to the general and achieved a degree of fame just because it was the one that won the chase, so to speak. And you've been listening to Jackson McQuigge telling stories about the thing he loves most. And so many Americans do.

Always, this country has been fascinated with train travel. When we come back, more of Jackson's stories and more about trains and the great locomotive chase here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation. A monthly gift of $17.76 is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming.

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Power iHeart Radio Jingle Ball coming live from New York to the CW app and on December 9th. And we return to our American stories and the story of locomotive Texas. When we last left off, Jackson McQuigge was telling us about the famous great locomotive chase during the civil war, which the Texas participated in as the main pursuit locomotive. But there's a lot more to the story than just that. Here again is Jackson with the rest of the story. After the great locomotive chase, it wound up in Virginia because there was a salt line up there.

And of course at the time before refrigeration, salt was the way you preserved food. It was actually captured and briefly used by US military railroad for a brief time before it was sent back to Atlanta. The Texas very nearly wound up being cut up for scrap a number of times and it certainly was very nearly abandoned in many cases. Unlike the General, which is the other locomotive that participated in the great locomotive chase, which was preserved in the, it was preserved in the 1880s. It was sort of the one that was seen as the one that needed to be preserved. It was a worn out locomotive by 1900, really by the late 1890s. And historian Mark Brainerd of Chattanooga found that there was this fellow who was the master mechanic.

In other words, the guy in charge of the roundhouse here in Atlanta for the Western Atlantic and later for the NC and St. El, which absorbed the Western and Atlantic. And he knew about the history of the Texas. There wasn't a lot of interest in preserving it, but he kind of made sure that it never wound up on the retirement roster, that he kept it hid out and busy. And I'm sure he'd been told to get rid of the old thing many times, but he kept it as a pet. I mean, you know, this is the equivalent of trying to keep a 1940 automobile kicking around with your 2021 Tesla. There's no logical reason why the locomotive should still be on the roster of the NC and St. El in 1900, but yet it was.

But we wound up in a scenario with that engine, we as Atlantans, where it was, again, looking like it would be scrapped again. A fellow by the name of Wilbur Kurtz, later to become known as the technical advisor, Gone with the Wind, an interesting character all the way around. A man who was pretty much consumed with a great locomotive chase to the point where he married the daughter of one of the Southern pursuers.

Kind of weird, isn't he? He began a campaign that actually resulted in the saving of the Texas. And when I say campaign, I mean letters to the editor, a grassroots effort to get the locomotive preserved, in part because the general had been preserved. The Civil War Veterans Group, the Grand Army of the Republic Union soldiers, had helped to see that it got preserved, but the Texas had no such love.

So one of the Hearst newspapers here in Atlanta called the Atlanta Georgian, it began a campaign right alongside Wilbur Kurtz, encouraged people to, Atlantans to send in their nickel and dime contributions to help preserve the Texas. Again, all this time it's sitting at the at the railroad yard, waiting to get scrapped, you know, and that effort, while it created a lot of interest, was not successful at first. So low and behold, the the locomotive owes its very preservation not to that effort, although that helped, but by a group of women who got together and found great interest in saving the locomotive. They called themselves the Ladies of Atlanta, and it was an ad hoc group who effectively went to the president of the NC and St. El Railway and said, you're going to give us this locomotive and we're going to give it to the city of Atlanta and we're going to preserve it.

And of course, how could he disagree with the Ladies of Atlanta? He agreed and the the locomotive was saved. It took six years to get it to Grant Park, where it was finally put under a shed on display in the park. But at least it's at the park, right? In 1927, the locomotive was actually put into the same building as the Cyclorama in Grant Park. We moved the locomotive in 2015, and it had been there so long that it was literally in a basement level, behind a 1970s constructed theater where you saw the photo or the intro film about the what the Cyclorama was. So we had to extricate the locomotive out of that building by running it through a movie theater, which I think is a first. Oh, and the movie theater was underground, so we had to dig down to get to it.

It was a wonderful experience, and it was a truly fun, bizarre day. When we took the locomotive out of Grant Park and out of the old Cyclorama building, put it on a truck, shipped it up to the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, where I used to work, we really got into seeing what was there. We found out that there wasn't a lot of original Texas there. The tender was from a different locomotive. The frame was only half from the original Texas. The cab was different. The boiler was different. The wheels were different. The cylinders were different. And in fact, the bell was different. You name it, and it was from another locomotive, or it had been fab.

So what did we have here? Well, we found out that the stand, the frame that actually holds the bell onto the locomotive, that was from the original Texas. But we kind of felt liberated to tell other stories about the locomotive's history. And since the great locomotive chase story is told in so many places, we wanted to tell the broader context about railroads and being developers, railroads being city shapers, railroads being our life's blood here in Atlanta to this day. By the way, the decision that we made after determining that the Texas contained a lot of parts from engines that weren't the Texas, we decided to paint it in its 1886 colors, and that was indeed controversial. One of my friends, who I knew would react poorly to the decision, saw a picture on Facebook of the engine just after it got painted at a museum in North Carolina, and tagged me in a post and said I had a lot of explaining to do. In fact, this friend of mine accused me of ruining his childhood, and that's a direct quote, to which my response was, well, that must have been a pretty bad childhood, you know, I mean, that was the most significant thing that occurred in the United States. That was the most significant thing that occurred in it. But, you know, what we say to folks that are maybe a little concerned that it doesn't look like it did during its Civil War years, and doesn't have the paint that was on it, is it's just paint. There were three pursuing locomotives in the great locomotive chase, and the other two are razor blades now.

They're gone. The Texas got through by the skin of its teeth, and at various points, like we've been discussing, it has been all but forgotten. Through 2015, it was behind glass panels. It was this look, don't touch artifact. You couldn't go in the cab. You really didn't get to understand too much about its history. It was just this forgotten locomotive.

It was just hard to relate to. And, you know, I'm a museum guy, and museum folks, well, they're just really into, like, having visitors come and stand at a distance sometimes from the objects. But, you know, the Texas is a durable object, and part of the experience of it is to actually get in the cab and see what it was like to be at the throttle of that little, little by today's standards locomotive. And I think people really understand history more when they interact with it physically, and the fact that you can do that with a locomotive that was built in 1856, I think is just kind of fun. While I was waiting for y'all, there were a couple of families that came through, and they all went in the cab with a locomotive.

Every one of them went into the cab. I think that's neat. They just had the ability to stand where history had taken place, and that's huge. And no doubt, indeed, it's huge when people can interact with the nation's history. And a special thanks to Monty for producing that piece and bumping into that story in his travels around the country with Robbie. The two did a road trip together, and that's where we discovered Jackson McQuigge, and he is the vice president of properties at the Atlanta History Center, where they are keeping alive stories about this great southern city. Jackson McQuigge's story of the locomotive Texas here on Our American Stories. our iHeartRadio jingle ball, coming live from New York to the CW app and on December 9.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-27 11:28:16 / 2022-11-27 11:36:02 / 8

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