The United States Army recognized the importance of rail for military use and war campaigns early on. In the Civil War, the Union established the U.S. Military Railroad (USMR) to take over the rails and run the trains the army needed. Union General William Tecumseh Sherman said of his most ambitious campaign, “the Atlanta campaign was an impossibility without these railroads”.
USATC #610 does not date from those days, but it is a direct successor in spirit and job assignment.
Today’s US Army Transportation Corps was established in 1942 to do the same work the USMR did in the Civil War. At that time, both at home and overseas during World War 2. Throughout the steam era, the USATC ordered many locomotives for military use. One of the few survivors, US Army #610, is actually the last steam locomotive to be produced by an American manufacturer for domestic use by the Army.
Brief History of US Army #610
US Army #610, which is also referred to as Tennessee Valley #610, was built in 1952 by the recently merged Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton Corporation. The coal burning steam engine features a 2-8-0 (Consolidation-type) wheel arrangement. The locomotive was a prototype for the second generation of the S-160 class, but #610 was the only ‘S-160A’ built as the military moved towards diesel locomotives.
During its military career, US Army #610 was primarily used to train soldiers in railroad operation and maintenance, which was considered especially important given the conflicts of the time. She also serviced the Fort Eustis Military Railroad at Fort Eustis – which is now home to the 7th Transportation Brigade (as well as other units).
After 20 years of service, USATC #610 was retired and donated to the National Railway Historical Society’s Wiregrass Heritage Chapter in Alabama in 1972. Because of funding issues the chapter could do nothing but protect the locomotive and keep it in storage for a brighter day. Six years later, the locomotive was donated to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (TVRM).
Unfortunately, #610 would go right back into storage at the TVRM and would remain there until restoration efforts began in 1987. The restoration, which took more than two years, saw the locomotive return to operational status in addition to receiving a significant cosmetic makeover including a larger cab and taller smoke stack.
Following the restoration, USATC #610 began running excursions for the TVRM thanks to an agreement with Norfolk Southern. The locomotive would operate for the museum until she was removed from service in 2010 in need of a major overhaul.
Following her military career, the locomotive also became a part-time actress. US Army #610 has been featured in several movies, including “Leatherheads” with George Clooney, and country musician Josh Turner’s music video for “Long Black Train”.
Current Status at Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
After being taken out of service for the mandated inspection, the locomotive was taken to the TVRM’s Soule Shops in 2018. The locomotive needs a significant overhaul. It is unclear how soon the locomotive will be available to return to the rails.
Visit the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum website to keep up to date on #610’s overhaul and learn more about the museum’s roster of locomotives.