When the Smithsonian came to you!
July 2, 2017 2:47 PM   Subscribe

The bicentennial was a helluva party. The American Freedom Train, toured the country in 1975–76 to commemorate the United States Bicentenniali. The 26-car train was powered by three newly restored steam locomotives. The first to pull the train was former Reading Company T-1 class 4-8-4 #2101. The second was former Southern Pacific 4449, a large 4-8-4 steam locomotive that is still operating in special excursion service today. The third was former Texas & Pacific 2-10-4 #610, which pulled the train in Texas.

The Story.


The train itself consisted of 10 display cars, converted from New York Central and Penn Central baggage cars. They carried more than 500 treasures of Americana, including George Washington's copy of the Constitution, the original Louisiana Purchase, Judy Garland's dress from The Wizard of Oz, Joe Frazier's boxing trunks, Martin Luther King's pulpit and robes, replicas of Jesse Owens' four Olympic gold medals from 1936[28] (one of which was stolen somewhere along the way), and even a rock from the moon.

Its tour of all 48 contiguous states lasted from April 1, 1975, until December 31, 1976. More than 7 million Americans visited the train during its tour, while millions more stood trackside to see it go by.

Few special steam excursions over the years have garnered so much attention and remain regular topics of discussion as the American Freedom Train of the 1970s. First conceived by Ross Rowland early during that decade, it took a monumental effort just to see it become reality due to time constraints and funding issues. The train, of course, was meant to celebrate America's Bicentennial and it was very successful in accomplishing that endeavor. However, the lasting impression of the train was its endowment to the railroad preservation community. Not only did Rowland's idea allow for the restoration of three large steam locomotives, one of which is still in service today, but it also inspired the concept of excursions, particularly steam powered, as a popular means of drawing the public back to the rails (and preserving history at the same time).
posted by shockingbluamp (4 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I know a guy who fired a couple of the locomotives on the AFT- he had tons of stories about it. If you ever get down to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga, look up Uncle Al and tell him I said "Hi!". Be prepared to listen for a while :)
posted by pjern at 2:58 PM on July 2, 2017

posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:06 PM on July 2, 2017

I think I still have the program from visiting the Freedom Train. I remember it being pretty cool when I was 11 but don't remember much else about it.
posted by octothorpe at 3:15 PM on July 2, 2017

Do you want to meet 4449? Apart from the bicentennial, you may have seen it in the film Tough Guys, but now it lives most of the time in the Oregon Rail Heritage Center (in SE Portland, under the bridge)
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 7:56 PM on July 2, 2017

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