To an energy engineer, there is nothing more awesome than live steam locomotives because that is where our discipline began. Drawn by the allure of steam, I took a day trip over the holiday to visit Grapevine, TX, home to the Grapevine Vintage Railroad, a working railroad museum featuring 21-mile rides from Grapevine down to Ft. Worth. The museum’s attractions include “Puffy”, a restored 1896 live steam locomotive, which is the oldest continuously operating steam engine in the South.
Despite the fanfare over Puffy, I was drawn to a distant corner of the museum’s property to peek at the remains of the Southern Pacific 2-8-2 Number 771 sitting out of sight on the far end of the overflow parking lot. Although the rest of the museum was very well annotated, Number 771 just seemed to be rusting away in the elements with no explanation as to what it was doing there.
I love steam engines, but every locomotive I have ever seen is either bellowing smoke, ashes, and steam, or it is fenced into a static museum display well out of reach. Either way, it is always tough to safely get close enough to any restored stream engine to examine its finer details.
Not so with SP 771. This engine was not fenced off in any way, and thus I took the rare opportunity to peruse the suspension in its undercarriage, closely inspect the rivets in its massive steam cylinders, and even jump into the cab and fiddle with the controls (to the curator’s dismay). It was an overwhelming experience to interact so intimately with such a marvelous piece of engineering history.
A little Internet searching revealed the history of SP 771 in “Lineside Legacy” at www.steamlocomotive.info. It turns out that this historical gem of 1912 vintage was once owned by the city of Victoria, TX, which sold the locomotive to the Grapevine Vintage Railroad in 2001 for $10.00. Grapevine is now raising funds to restore SP 771 to working condition to reduce some of Puffy’s workload.
Given this engineer’s awesome experience of intimacy with a real steam engine, I would like to make a suggestion to my friends in Grapevine. Once this locomotive is restored, there will be two stream engines at the railroad museum: Puffy and SP 771. While one engine is hauling tourists, I recommend leaving the second engine out in an unrestricted display similar to the current arrangement with SP 771.
Let the public get close enough to touch this piece of energy engineering history. I can now say from personal knowledge that the beauty and majesty of our steam power legacy is best experienced up close and personal.