The Many Tracks That Run Through Savannah

 

Megan Daring

As you enter our beautiful city in Savannah, Georgia, train tracks are among us as we travel throughout the roads. The whistle on the train is a common thing heard around the town. These tracks provide goods to our city and to our main port where they then travel around the United States to their destination. The tracks also serve as an important transportation line to take people on their journey as well. The history in our tracks date back to the 1800’s and have a story to tell.

As a young girl, my family and I would ride the Amtrak passenger train system quite often to different locations up the eastern coast on vacations. We traveled to West Virginia, Washington DC, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. The joy of interacting with other travelers that were riding the train was the highlight of the trip. The train cars consisted of baggage cars, food cars that served breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a community car with tables that we would play card games on. The sights that I saw while on the rail car were like no other scenes that could be seen while riding in a car or flying on a plane.

While on the trip, we would stop at different stations to drop off passengers and to welcome new passengers on the train. The passengers hand over their luggage to the baggage claim and are assisted by the train attendant up the stairs to the rail car. The way to get from one car to another on the train is to go through the connecting doors that link the cars together. Without the first rail system being created in Georgia, passenger trains would not exist.

The first stop to make in Savannah, to learn about our tracks, would be to the Georgia State Railroad Museum located on Louisville Road in downtown Savannah. The museum is filed under the National Historic Landmark District and provides visitors with authentic demonstrations of blacksmithing and turntables. While you are there, check the train ride schedule to take a ride into the past in either a steam or diesel locomotive. They also offer real rail cars available to view and guided tours to educate you on the experience. “Georgia State Railroad Museum is believed to be the largest and most complete antebellum railroad repair facility still in existence, in the world!” (Georgia State Railroad Museum). The cost to visit the museum is $10.00 per adult and $6.00 per child. This price also includes the train rides and the guided tours located in the museum. What a deal!

I took a trip to the Georgia State Railroad Museum in Savannah to explore the great history that is found there about the first locomotives, train tracks, and the round house located there. The tour that I went on was the locomotive tour that was given by Emily. A lathe is the only machine still here that was originally on sight from the beginning. The museum still does work for other railroads in the shop. One project that they are working on is for the Richmond Hill railroad. Right now they are recreating a locomotive, and have the boiler on display in the shop. Just the boiler cost the museum about $250,000.00 to build new.

The Number One car was the first diesel that the Central of Georgia purchased. This train was more streamline for maintenance than steam engines meaning that it required less maintenance work than other locomotives. The Number Eight train from 1886 was the oldest car at the museum and has a six-wheel switch engine. Also located at the museum is the Atlantic Steel Company’s Number One steam engine.

As I said before, they give train rides on certain days for the guests at the museum. One month they have steam train rides and the next month they have diesel train rides. The museum only offers one particular train for passengers to ride each month, because the museum switches from one train to the next. After the rides that month, the train is then inspected and the museum still uses the same standards that the railroad uses now on the rail cars that run through our beautiful city, even though the train ride is not far and goes in a small circle around the museum. They use a 1942 Diesel train to give the rides with. They also use a 1920 replica of an open passenger train car that the museum built themselves.

The 223 train is the largest steam locomotive from 1907, and the location of the train was from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This train weighs about 163,000 lbs. and includes steel tires. The way to change a steel tire back in the day was more than a hassle. They used an electronic drop table that is 18 feet deep to change the steel tires while still on the train. They would then heat the tire to a blaze to get it off. The drop table is still visible at the museum. I actually stood on the old wood beams that cover a part of it, and did not know at the time that it went 18 feet below me! This train also uses Kentucky coal that burns in the train. The coal is lit the night before so that it cuts the time down that it takes to get the train rides going the next morning.

The next stop that we took on the locomotive tour was to an old train car that the museum is refinishing. The Georgia railroad car is from Augusta back in 1911. The motto that was written above the doors in the car said, “Safety Courtesy Service”. The car is from the Jim Crowe era which was a time that blacks and whites were separated. Right next to the car were the old bathrooms that they had when it was segregated. The museum hopes to restore the bathrooms and use the old train car and the old bathrooms as a new exhibit in the museum.

The last stop on our tour was to the turntable that it located in the middle of the roundhouse. There is only half of the roundhouse left at the museum. The other half was taken down to reclaim the bricks that were located in the area. The turntable started there at the museum in 1907 at 50 feet and was lengthened to 85 feet in 1985. This turntable is the last one in the state of Georgia. There are only 12 turntables left in the United States. Emily, our instructor, then told us to get on the turntable and stand in the middle of the tracks for safety. She then turned on the turntable at a speed about half as fast as it normally goes. We went one fourth the way to the right, then back to the left to the starting point.

There is also a smokestack present at the museum. The smokestack was used to pull smoke away from the boiler room and blacksmith shop. It also brought fresh air into the boiler room, making a hotter fire. The stack also contained a large, 14 foot water reservoir that held 40,000 gallons of water needed by the shops. The base of the stack house also contained sixteen toilets and changing rooms for the workers at the Roundhouse. The smokestack is 125 feet tall. The foundation was of 120 cedar pilings.

The museum also included an old print shop room that was once used in 1926. It says that it is the most complete and near-identical recreation on the site. The print shop printed forms and newsletters for the Central Railroad Company. The storeroom also included the safe from Central of Georgia from the early 1900’s. This storehouse was built in 1925 to hold supplies for the railroad. Some of the items located in the storehouse would have included locomotive parts, cloth, fire brick, housekeeping supplies, copper ingots, and signal flags. The Roundhouse Foreman’s Office is now the gift shop for the museum and where guests can buy tickets and souvenirs.

The museum is a great place to start when you want to learn information about the railway that was formed and the way that it had progressed over the years. The ticket that you buy to enter the museum will give you entrance to the museum for three consecutive days. The reason for this is that the museum gives the guests many different tours that they can participate in throughout the day, so you may come back to visit more tours or any of the other museums that the Georgia Historical Society has to offer.

Now, I will explain the reason behind the need for railroads in Savannah back in the 1800’s. “Waterways were the easiest routes and most of Georgia’s larger cities such as Savannah, Augusta, Columbus, and Rome, grew up along rivers. However, while it was easy to travel down the river, it was much more difficult to travel against the current (gpb.org).” At first, the only ways to travel before the railway were by sea or horse and buggy to get the product where it needed to go. The main crop produced here in Savannah was cotton and they needed a way to export the crop throughout the states. The steam locomotive was the way to easier transportation through the south.

The steam locomotive was created in the late 1800’s by a man named, James Watt (railroad.lindahall.org). He was not the first man to create the steam idea, but was the first man to put it use on an engine that would soon power a locomotive. “To achieve motive steam power would, for the first time in history, allow man to travel on land at a speed faster than that of the domesticated horse” (railroad.lindahall.org). This meant that goods could be sold to others across the states faster and the industry would have a more advanced system of buying and selling goods.

In 1830, the 136 mile track was created for the transportation of goods to the southern states. The Central Georgia Railway and Canal Company dates back to the 1800’s and was the largest rail company that extended in the south east. The intended purpose for the company was to secure the trade in Savannah, and make it so that Charleston did not over power Savannah in the ports. This led to the creation of the rails to Macon from Savannah (American-rails.com). It took the company around ten years to complete the track to Macon and the next stop was connecting to Atlanta, it was once called Terminus, by rail. After the railroads connected, the company ventured along to the other main counties in Georgia so that almost the whole state was connected by railways. The company, which had changed names a couple of times throughout this transition, continued to grow and prosper. In addition to connecting throughout Georgia, the company also wanted to connect with the state of Tennessee so that it could trade to the North. The project was completed in 1851, and connected from Atlanta to Chattanooga, Tennessee (georgiaencyclopedia.org).

The massive, four year Civil War between the Union and the Confederate states started in 1861, and the rails were used mainly in Atlanta for shipping goods for the war. “The Civil War is the first war in which railroads were a major factor “(civilwar.org). This put Atlanta in a bad spot knowing that it would get hit because of the military goods that it had on hand, and it was such the case (georgiaencyclopedia.org).

 

The railroads were then rebuilt by the workers and the process of commuting goods started again. If not for the railroads then we would receive most of the many goods that are brought around the world on the tracks. We also would not have the passenger travel that is offered to many for guests as a different way to cross the United States. The history of the railroad is jam packed in Savannah and the museum is a great place to start to learn about them.

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