Heart of Louisiana: Locomotive 745

Published: Jan. 30, 2014 at 11:03 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 31, 2014 at 2:46 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - When it comes to the railroad, there's nothing more impressive than the sight of a giant steam locomotive rumbling down the tracks.  There is one such locomotive that is a unique part of Louisiana's history.  FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us for a ride on a classic steam locomotive at its rail yard in Jefferson Parish in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.

It's 130 tons of rolling steel - a classic 90-year-old, oil-burning , steam-powered locomotive that has reclaimed its place on the rails of Louisiana.

"The engine was actually built in Algiers at the Southern Pacific shops," said Bill Morris, with the Louisiana Steam Train Association. "She was built in 1921, and there was 11 of them built in Algiers. She is the only surviving Louisiana-built standard gauge locomotive in existence and, she is on the National Register of Historical Places."

Morris is no stranger to trains.  He's a fourth-generation engineer who worked 27 years for the Union Pacific Railroad.  Now, he volunteers his time to work on the restored No. 745.

"These two controls here are the brakes," Morris said. "The upper one is for the whole train; the lower one is just for the engine. This right here is the throttle that controls the steam that goes to the cylinders where they create the power. This over here is a reverser. This is reverse and all the way forward is forward."

Sitting across from the engineer, the fireman, Danny Rawinsky, maintains the delicate balance of heat and steam.

"Time to add water," Rawinsky said. "Not critical, but it's time to add water. I gave it 15 seconds of water, we've now got about three and three quarters bolts. I added about a quarter of a bolt."

If you grew up in New Orleans anytime from the late 1950s to the early 80s, there's a good chance you saw this engine. For nearly 30 years, No. 745 was on display in the back of Audubon Park.

But after years of fun, the old engine deteriorated, was fenced off, and then removed from the park. It was a group of railroad enthusiasts with the Louisiana Steam Train Association who saved the 745 from the scrap yard.

"It's like anything in history," Morris said. "She's a big part of history. This is actually an operating museum piece, i s what it is."

With the help of a federal grant, the New Orleans-built locomotive was put back in near-mint condition and toured the state in 2004 as part of the bicentennial celebration.

"You've got hundreds of kids out there waving at you going by," Morris said.

There is an emotional bond that pushes these volunteers to keep the old engine running.

"I like old things, and I like history," Rawinsky said.

And their reward is being able to share this impressive, rolling piece of history.

The locomotive is currently parked on a short spur line in Jefferson Parish, but the Louisiana Steam Train Association is in search of a new home where they could offer short excursion trips.  To learn more about those plans, or how to get involved in the organization, you can find additional interviews and information here.

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