Saluting Southern Railroads

Each region of our Nation has its own unique characteristics that make them unique and that in turn shape the type of railroad service that evolves. The South provides an excellent example to look at with respect to railroading.

Due in part to slower development and modest farms and manufacturing, the south lagged behind early northeastern states. The lack of manufacturing and robust business base contributed to the defeat of the Confederacy. Afterward however those early weaknesses were gradually addressed and large steel plants appeared in Tennessee, locomotive and car builders established a presence below the Mason-Dixon Line and other businesses followed. Still, a laid-back atmosphere was very much part of that culture until the 1980s.

Railroads kept pace with those changes but still, most southern carriers were marginal performers. It took the efforts of J. P. Morgan to look through the problems of the moment and facilitate a series of mergers that produced the Southern Railway System. Baltimore banking interests performed similar improvements with the Seaboard Air Line. Development aside, southern railroads in the days of steam still embellished locomotives with polished brass, intricate striping and frequently outlined the footboards and driving wheels of steamers with white paint long after such care and efforts disappeared from the the New York Central, Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio to the north.

For the convenience of efficiency (with some risk to exacting completeness) we mention the ranks of the Atlantic Coast Line, Chesapeake & Ohio, Florida East Coast, Nashville Chattanooga & St. Louis, Richmond Fredericksburg & Potomac, Seaboard Air Line and the Southern Railway in that mix. All those carriers left an indelible mark on the historic record of maintenance and decoration of steam power. Those railroads went further by allowing the crew members assigned to a specific locomotive the freedom to personalize their locomotive with stars, decorative symbols and lodge heralds. Crew members often added a pair of brass candle sticks next to the headlights, a tradition that dated back to the 4-4-0 locomotives in service during the Civil War. The Norfolk & Western and Louisville & Nashville were located in that broadly defined mix but both carriers were much more modest with locomotive maintenance let alone extra embellishment and decoration. The highwater mark of southern steam came in 1926 when the Southern Railway introduced its legendary Virginia Green livery for passenger team locomotives.

The Great Depression and the gradual shift to diesel-electric locomotives lessened the care and maintenance of steam power. But what the new diesels lacked in pictorial drama and presence, their colorful liveries, created by noted industrial designers and the General Motors design department, more than compensated for the loss of steam drama. Atlantic Coast Line, Florida East Coast and the Southern all fielded early E-class passenger diesels and experimented with freight units as well before World War II.  The post war passenger optimism took hold in the south and that era was defined by great trains like the Silver Meteor, Silver Star, The Crescent and The Tennessean.

In common with a consistent railroad theme, diesels saved the south. All the referenced railroads remained strong performers and later pursued intelligent mergers and all were eventually incorporated in the transportation network that serves our nation now.

We will continue this history of the south in future articles but for now, please review the models that we offer. Many speak to the history we recalled here and more importantly, preserve that great legacy. If you elect to add a southern touch to your own model railroading empire this weekend, we guarantee that our current selection has something that will enhance your model railroad journey to that region. Steam, diesel and all classes of rolling stock, all made viable with our Rewards Program and for this week only, 10% off on locomotives with promo code 10SOUTH

FAW, MBK, Inc.