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Engine 1529’s Colorful History

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Monroe Journal - Engine 1529's Colorful History

Monroe Journal Newspaper Article
Written by Colleen Conger | Photo by Colleen Conger
Originally published in print April 11, 2012

AMORY, MS — Every year, Frisco Park plays host to tens of thousands of visitors during the Amory Railroad Festival. The park’s sole resident, locomotive Engine 1529, makes a wonderful host as it shares space with hobos, crafters, and food vendors. What Engine 1529 hasn’t shared, however, is how it ended up in Frisco Park in the first place.

If you’ve spent any time in Amory, you have heard the blaring of train whistles and loud thud of rail cars bumping into each at all hours of the day and night. Those sounds are the music that remind us that Amory is a railroad town. This year, as the city celebrates their 125th anniversary, you’ll hear stories about how in 1887, Amory became the first planned city in Mississippi. It was planned because it served as the midway point for the locomotives of the Kansas City, Memphis & Birmingham (KCM&B) Railroad that ran from Memphis, TN and Birmingham, AL. In 1903, KCM&B would become part of the Louis and San Francisco Railroad (SLSF) which became know as the “Frisco”.

In 1926, the SLSF (Frisco) Railway purchased 30 of the 4-8-2 configuration type locomotives from Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, PA. The 4-8-2 designation was devised by Frederick Methvan Whyte and became a way to classify steam locomotives by wheel arrangement. Whyte’s system counted the number of leading wheels, then the number of driving wheels, and finally the number of training wheels, with groups of numbers being separated by dashes.

Frisco 1529 had the distinction of being the very last 4-8-2 “Mountain” type locomotive built by Baldwin for the Frisco Railway in 1926. The price tag?  A mere $69,586.79 each.

So what’s so special about Frisco 1529?  It was the passenger it carried during a stop in Amory, MS in 1934.

It was November 18, 1934. Beautiful weather prevailed as Frisco Engine 1529 made a stop in Amory, MS during a trip from Washington, D.C. to Tupelo, MS. This was no ordinary train. It was the special train of the 32nd president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

With around 15,000 people in attendance, President Roosevelt spoke from the back of the train platform remarking, “I had thought all the people in this part of the country must have been in Tupelo, but evidently there must be plenty more here.”  President Roosevelt also said that his was his first visit to North Mississippi, and he was coming back. He called the state a pioneer in the field of electrical development, and remarked that other states and communities were standing by watching the wonderful work and that some day the entire country would follow suit.

The arrival of diesel power in the late 1940’s caused most of the original 30 Frisco Railroad “Mountain” locomotives to be either retired or scraped. Frisco 1529’s final accolade would be that it was the last steam engine to make a passenger run for Frisco. In fact, during its service on the Eastern, Northern, and Southern divisions of the Frisco Railway, Frisco 1529 traveled 1,663,014 miles during its lifetime – the equivalent of almost 65 times around the world.

When the Frisco Railroad converted to diesel power in 1952, they decided to retire Frisco 1529. But where do you retire a workhorse like Frisco 1529?

Fast forward to October 29, 1953 and the sound of brass bands and railroad whistles. Over 5,000 people showed up to celebrate the gift of Frisco 1529 from the Frisco Railroad to the City of Amory. They would also witness the dedication of the new $200,000 Amory division office building of the Frisco railroad. During a speech by Governor Huge White at the dedication ceremony, he predicted that the retired locomotive will become a popular attraction for sightseers. “Within 10 years, there won’t be any steam engines left,” he said, “and this will probably be the only one in North Mississippi.”

Governor White was right. It’s more than 50 years later and of the only 6 surviving SLSF “Mountain” locomotives, our beloved Frisco 1529, makes it home in Frisco Park.

The good news is that restoration of Frisco 1529 is in full swing. Lorie Bryant, Director of Amory Main Street, Inc. applied for and received funding from the BNSF Foundation in 2009 and 2011. The funds were used to provide the signage on Engine 1529’s enclosure detailing the train’s significance. The funds were also pooled with donations from the Amory Railroad Festival Executive Committee and the North Monroe County Community Foundation to install a new iron fence. A new paint job for Frisco 1529 is underway too to restore the locomotive back to its original glory. “It’s more than a tourist attraction. It’s our history. We’re a railroad town. It’s where we’ve all come from.” Bryant says. If you would like make a donation to help restore Engine 1529, call (662) 256-8700.

Colleen Conger

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