Stone Mountain Scenic Railroad
Stone Mountain Scenic Railroad depot (1971 photograph)
|Locale||Southeastern United States|
|Dates of operation||1962–present|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Length||3.88 mi (6.24 km)|
|Headquarters||Stone Mountain, Georgia|
The railroad utilizes what was originally an industrial spur built in 1869 by the Stone Mountain Granite Company to serve quarries at the foot of the Stone Mountain, with a connection to the Georgia Railroad's main line in Stone Mountain Village. The railroad later started an excursion service to the mountain. The spur was later abandoned, but the right of way remained in place (though the rails had been removed). In 1962, the present day scenic railroad opened, which had rebuilt much of the old right of way, with additional trackage to create a complete, continuous circuit around the mountain. The mileage of the circuit around the mountain is advertised as being five miles long, however, the actual mileage is 3.88 miles. The Stone Mountain Scenic Railroad, privately owned at the time, operated steam powered excursions on the restored trackage.
The Stone Mountain Memorial Association (the state-operated owners of the mountain itself) assumed operations of the railroad in 1981. The association expressed little interest in maintaining the steam locomotives, and when the engines became in need of major boiler work or other repairs, the railroad withdrew them and simply ran diesels instead. In 1987, the spur connecting the mountain trackage to the CSX main line was restored, and the railroad hosted several visiting trains, including Savannah and Atlanta Railway steam locomotive number 750. With the connection, the railroad became subject to FRA regulations, in which case the road, just as the railroad to which it is connected, was required to maintain its track, infrastructure, and rolling stock to a certain degree of good repair to be permitted to operate.
In January 1998, the railroad was privatized once more when the Memorial Association contracted Herschend Family Entertainment to operate the railroad and the other attractions within the park. Under this arrangement, the state continues to own the railroad, but Herschend now handles the operations and management of the attractions. Herschend also operates the Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson, Missouri and the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, both of which have operating steam locomotives, and thus it was believed that, under their management, more effort would be put forth to operate the steam engines again.
Unfortunately, Herschend, like the state before it, had little interest in operating the steam engines. Many employees had left, and the Herschend's operation of the railroad has been subject to much criticism within the railfan community. In 2004, the trackage connecting the railroad to the main line was dismantled and the spur truncated to just before the bridge spanning Robert E. Lee Boulevard within the park's premises. The trackage and decking were removed, though the bridge's girders remain, and the right of way to the west of the bridge was converted to a pedestrian trail, while the railroad continues to use the remaining track to reverse the train's direction. This move had been perceived by railfans as a means to become exempt from having to maintain equipment to FRA standards. However, while the disconnection does exempt the road from certain specific requirements such as the need to observe hours of service rules, and the need for a dispatcher when running more than one train within the park, it remains subject to the FRA's jurisdiction and continues to maintain the equipment and trackage accordingly. In 2011, major upgrades of the track, passenger cars, and diesel locomotives were performed. The diesel locomotives received new motors and other upgrades, as well as a new paint scheme. The steam locomotives received some cosmetic restoration at this time as well. The railroad had de-accessioned its last remaining steam locomotives in early 2013, and currently owns and operates diesels exclusively.
Stone Mountain originally had three steam locomotives, the "General II," "Texas II," and "Yonah II." The SMRR named the engines after the famous engines of The Great Locomotive Chase, and were given nineteenth century style smokestacks and headlights. Despite these modifications, the engines, having been built between 1919 and 1927, still have noticeably modern appearances, with larger proportions than their ancestors and have more advanced cylinders, valve gear, and other modern applications. While steam engines ceased running in the 1980s, they continued to "pull" trains for some time. In these instances, one of the steam engines was coupled in front of a diesel which, while disguised as a baggage car or auxiliary tender, would push the engine. The diesel's controls were placed in the cab of the engine and air piped from the diesel's main reservoir to allow the steam engine's whistle to sound. Aside from the whistle, the steam locomotive remained inactive, with the diesel being the train's sole motive power.
In the late 1980s and early 90s, the railroad supplemented its GP7 and GP9 diesels with ones inherited from the recently dissolved New Georgia Railway, which have pulled trains regularly since. At that time, the steam engines would only be pushed on special occasions, and no attempt was made to disguise the diesel behind it. The practice of pushing the steam engines ended in 2002, and they remained within the yard until being donated to other tourist railroads or museums, the first leaving the railroad in 2008, followed by the remaining two in 2013.
The Stone Mountain Railroad currently has the following locomotives:
- 6143 and 6147 - Two FP7A diesel locomotives built by EMD in 1950 for Southern Railway's Chicago, New Orleans, and Texas Pacific subsidiary. SR successor Norfolk Southern sold these diesels to the New Georgia Railway, and were turned over to Stone Mountain upon the New Georgia's demise. One of these locomotives can normally be found pulling the train on a daily basis. In 2011, both locomotives underwent a major rebuild. When finished the two will have new diesel prime movers (the old 567BC engines replaced with 645E prime movers), new main and auxiliary generators, new air compressors, a full 26L air brake system installed, rebuilt trucks with D87 traction motors, rewired with Dash-2 control mechanisms, air conditioned cabs, and upgraded cab layout, repainted in a Central of Georgia style paint scheme, and power generators installed in the rear of the locomotives to supply power for the passenger cars. this upgrades the formerly 1500 horsepower locomotives to 2000 horsepower and extends their life by at least 15 to 20 years.
- #5896 - A former Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad GP7 diesel built by EMD in 1953. This engine is occasionally used to pull the train, when the other diesels are not available. At the end of 2010, 5896 was rewired, a rebuilt main generator and auxiliary generator installed, 16 all new power assemblies installed in the 567 diesel engine, a full 26L brake system installed and repainted in a Central of Georgia style paint scheme.
The following have resided at Stone Mountain at one time, but have since moved elsewhere:
- #1910, The Dinkey - Originally Johnstown Traction Company number 358 built by St. Louis Car Company in 1925 as an electric streetcar. It was outfitted with a diesel motor when acquired by the park, eliminating the need for overhead lines. Now at the Trolley Museum of New York, Kingston, New York.
- #51 - 25 ton diesel switcher built by General Electric for Georgia Power. Currently operating at the ISG Resource's concrete plant in Lakeville, Minnesota.
- #42, The Mary Payne - 45 ton diesel switcher built by General Electric for the United States Marine Corps. Current whereabouts unknown.
- #6661 - A former Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad GP9 diesel built by EMD in 1956, and later transferred to the C&O subsidiary, Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and finally, to the Atlanta, Stone Mountain and Lithonia Railway before acquisition by the Stone Mountain Railroad. The 6661 was sold for scrap in late 2011.
- Baggage car/tender - An EMD SW1 diesel built in 1946 as Boston and Maine Railroad #1114. Acquired by Stone Mountain in 1973 to assist the steam locomotives. Later fitted with a false baggage car shell when the railroad began to dieselize so as to make the steam locomotive placed in front appear to be pulling the train when, in fact, the diesel was actually powering the train. Sold in 1995 to become Standridge Color's #3 in Social Circle, GA.
- #104, The General II - a former Red River and Gulf Railroad 4-4-0 steam locomotive built by Baldwin in 1919. Acquired from Spence's Louisiana Eastern along with number 60, both represent two of four LE steam engines still in existence. Withdrawn 1986 due to boiler and mechanical issues, 104 was the last engine to operate under steam at the park. The engine continued to occasionally "pull" the train while pushed by a diesel until 1991. In 2005, the engine was placed on a plinth outside the engine shed and received a new coat of paint on the sides visible to passing trains. The Stone Mountain Memorial Association donated the engine to the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth, GA in 2007, and moved to the museum the following year, where it currently resides.
- #110, The Yonah II - a former McRae Lumber & Manufacturing 2-6-2 steam locomotive built by the Vulcan Iron Works in 1927. The engine went to the Beechwood Band Mill in Cordele, Georgia, in 1930 before being sold in 1933 to the Cliffside Railroad. The Cliffside retired the engine when the road dieselized in 1962, and sold it the following year to the Swamp Rabbit Railroad in Cleveland, South Carolina, who sold the engine to Stone Mountain in 1969. First steam locomotive to be withdrawn from active service, having encountered running gear issues in 1982. Placed on display at the Memorial Depot in 1984. The Stone Mountain Memorial Association donated the engine to the New Hope Valley Railway in Bonsal, North Carolina in 2012, and the engine was moved to the railway in early February 2013. The New Hope Valley intends to restore the engine to operating condition, which is anticipated to take five to seven years at an estimated cost of $600,000 based on an initial survey of the engine performed in 2012. The engine was given a cosmetic restoration and placed on display, while the railway continues to evaluate the engine's components and raise funds for operation.
- #60, The Texas II - a former San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway 4-4-0 built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1923. Through merger, came into Southern Pacific Railroad subsidiary Texas and New Orleans. Paulsen Spence bought the engine for his proposed Louisiana Eastern Railroad and was sold to Stone Mountain after his death. Withdrawn in 1983 when it came in need of boiler work and other mechanical issues, though it continued to occasionally "pull" the train while pushed by a diesel until 2002, and remained within the rail yard thereafter. In 2011, the engine received a partial cosmetic restoration, including the removal of the undergrowth and repainting the portions of the engine that are visible to passing trains, similar to what was previously done to the General II. The Stone Mountain Memorial Association donated the engine to the Gulf and Ohio Railways in Knoxville, Tennessee in 2012. The engine was rumored to have been moved to Tennessee around the time of the 110's departure in February 2013, however, the engine was not moved until a month later. The engine is currently in storage pending assessment for possible restoration to operating condition for use on the Gulf and Ohio's Three Rivers Rambler tourist train operation.
- #3525, The Big Dixie - a former Illinois Central Railroad 0-8-0 steam locomotive built by Baldwin in 1922. Acquired by Stone Mountain in 1967, sold shortly thereafter when its size and short wheelbase proved to be too heavy for the railroad's sixty pound rails at the time. Currently at Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, NC.
- (1962, July 23) Cliffside Railroad's Steam Engine Retired After Friday's Run. The Forest City Courier. Retrieved December 3, 2012, from http://remembercliffside.com/galleries/railroad/old_puffer.html
- The General II at Steam Locomotive.info
- Friends of the SA&AP 60 - San Antonio Railroad Heritage Museum's page on the Texas II
- Photos of the General's move
- Historic locomotive to move to Southeastern Railway Museum
- Our Georgia History