TUSCUMBIA — As a massive crane lowered an 80-ton locomotive onto the Tuscumbia Railway Depot Museum turntable Wednesday, those who had long awaited the moment had one collective thought.
“It’s just a shame Harvey wasn’t here to see it,” said John McWilliams, superintendent of the depot museum.
McWilliams was speaking of Harvey Robbins, the retired industrialist who devoted countless dollars and hours into the restoration of the depot and other downtown projects.
Robbins died Jan. 30 at age 80. He had combined his love for Tuscumbia and the railroad by helping fund the restoration of the downtown depot at Fifth and Water streets, as well as a small train that has become a major attraction at nearby Spring Park.
“I wish he could have been here,” Mayor Bill Shoemaker said.
The 38-foot locomotive was donated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, which had used it as a switch engine at the Colbert Fossil Plant. TVA officials hadn’t used it for a number of years so officials decided to donate it.
Having a locomotive on top of a working turntable that leads into a roundhouse had long been a vision for Robbins, depot workers and volunteers.
Shoemaker said Robbins envisioned being able to have a short rail ride that would take passengers to various points in Tuscumbia, but issues such as funding have prevented that.
The locomotive was built in 1953. McWilliams said it has two engines, each requiring 11 1/2 gallons of oil and 16 gallons of water to operate.
The locomotive’s body weighs 112,000 pounds, and the two trucks it sits upon each weigh 24,000 pounds.
McWilliams was thankful to TVA for providing it.
“We’d been making contacts to see if we could get it, and then one day they called and said its ours,” he said. “I can’t express how much we appreciate it. This is extremely important to the depot.”
TVA used to transfer heavy items that were too large for trucks onto the locomotive, which operated on an approximately mile-long section of track at the Colbert Fossil Plant.
The agency stopped using the locomotive years ago because it was used so seldom that it was less expensive to have a rail company bring one in than to maintain it.
On Wednesday, TVA brought the engine and equipment for setting it up, with the assistance of a crane and seven trucks. By the end of the morning, it was atop the rails of the turntable.
A turntable is used as a place where train engines are turned to another track or to the roundhouse, which is where repairs, maintenance and other work is done.
The original Tuscumbia roundhouse was built about 1900 as an extension of the Tuscumbia yard, where the existing depot was constructed by the Memphis and Charleston Railroad Co. in 1888.
McWilliams said the roundhouse will include a theater, where visitors can learn about rail history and safety.
The roundhouse will serve as a museum, working roundhouse and events facility. Anyone interested in renting the facility can call the depot at 256-389-1357.
The turntable was reportedly built in 1870. An inscription on the turntable when it arrived in Tuscumbia states it was built by Union Bridge Co., of Athens, Pa. It was used in Maine by the Belfast and Moosehead Railroad until 2004.
The grand opening of the newly completed roundhouse is 1 p.m. Friday. It is open to the public.
The depot museum and grounds also is the centerpiece for Railroad Heritage Day, which is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Events include the showing of the documentary film “The Civil War in Colbert County, AL” at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Other activities include Celtic, folk and blues music, antique tractor and wagon exhibits, antique steam whistle displays, a Civil War living history encampment, track-laying demonstrations, oral history recordings and museum tours.
Bernie Delinski can be reached at 256-740-5739 or bernie.delinski@TimesDaily.com.
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