Steam Train brings Mardi Gras to Kansas City

Press Release Feb 21, 2006

SP-745 Kansas City Union Station

Kansas City’s Union Station and the Louisiana Steam Train
Association announces the Sprit of Louisiana exhibit at Union Station. The Spirit of Louisiana exhibit showcases the history and traditions of Mardi Gras in antique railroad cars pulled by a 1921 steam engine. Both the repairs to the steam train and re-emergence of Mardi Gras after Hurricane Katrina result from strong traditions and deep history. The Mardi Gras exhibit will appear from Friday, February 24 through Tuesday, May 23, 2006.

Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday”, is the ancient last celebration before
the Christian pre-Easter season of penance and fasting known as Lent. But in New Orleans, Mardi Gras has also evolved into a broader celebration encompassing everything from jazz music, to the African-influenced festivities of the “Mardi Gras Indians”, to the parades both carefully planned and spontaneous, to the full-dress evening balls. Come and see the costumes, the parade throws, the bands, the marching groups, and other elements of this grand celebration.

The train containing the Mardi Gras exhibit includes the last surviving
steam engine built in Louisiana. Number 745, the former Southern Pacific
“Mikado”-type steam locomotive, was built in 1921 and served until 1956. It then retired to display in New Orleans’ Audubon Park. The Louisiana Steam Train Association restored it to operating condition in 2004 and completed repairs after Hurricane Katrina in early February 2006. Today the steam engine operates just as it did in 1921, and pulls antique coaches containing the exhibit.

March 2005 Test Run

On March 6, Huge crowds of families visited SP 745 upon her return. “Dr. Diesel” himself, Mike Palmieri, was observed hamming it up with Skip Waters of Dallas, Texas, as folks came from all over to celebrate SP 745’s return. Engineer Bill Johnson performed at the jamboree with Cajun folk singer Papillion as music takes a blue grass turn. Bill is primo banjo picker for the Backroom Bluegrass Band, creators of “Ghosts Along the Line, Ballard of Ol’745”.


December 2004 – Test Run!

On the road, SP-745 pounding the high iron, with the Ray Deplechain, caboose. Engineer Bill Johnson, Fireman David Bartee were assisted by LASTA hoggers in training – Bill Morris and Keith Bonnette.  Aboard the caboose were a highly motivated and trained crew of LASTA volunteers, who became the first riders behind 745 in fifty years.


January 2004 – Hydro Test

Work also continued on the other equipment. What started out as two ex-Auto Trains (ex-RF&P baggage cars) are well on their way into becoming theater cars. When completed, each car will have three separate and divided galleries, each supporting its own audio visual equipment as well as separate exhibits depicting the Louisiana Territory at the time of the Louisiana Purchase. LASTA volunteers have put in hundreds of man-hours into the massive remodeling project. Each theater can comfortably accommodate 25 standing adults.

August 2003 – The Big Plan?

The meeting was hosted by former Louisiana Lt. Governor & retired KCSRR Vice President Jimmy Fitzmorris. In attendance were representative of Union Pacific RailroadKansas City Southern Railroad, Burlington Northern Santa Fe RailwayCanadian National (IC) Railroad, and Louisiana & Delta Railroad.

The meeting confirmed the cooperation of the railroads involved and it was decided that the steam train will operate over the lines of BNSF, KCS, and CN railways, with the UPRR providing trackage links as necessary.


January 2003 – 745 Party!

In addition to the usual suspects, news coverage was quite good. Both the print and TV media were represented at the yard, with a nice spread in the Metro edition of the Times Picayune, and extensive coverage that night on TV.

Greg Dodd has been in town for about six weeks to work on 745. Talk about tireless, you could drive out to the yard and there was Greg under the big red tarp working away.


LASTA History – 2001 BBQ


LASTA History – 2001

Greg had the bid just for one day since it was declared invalid the following day because the bid bond check was not received. Greg was ready to quit, but under Bruce’s spell, he finally agreed to resubmit his bid. To complicate matters even more, another “interested” individual showed up at the site to view the project. This individual admitted he knew little about steam engines, but wanted to make “a lot of money” since he had given up his share of one of the state’s gaming casinos. He said he was going to hire some “good people” to fix 745. He arranged for some consultants to come by and look the job over but they never showed up! This same individual, on the day the bid was due, missed the deadline by ten minutes! Greg was again the only bidder. Bruce had a lot of scotch that night to celebrate life’s absurdities. But the drink was too soon!

The next day, the bid was again declared invalid since the bid bond check was again missing. Before planning to jump off the Crescent City Connection, Bruce wanted to at least explain to Greg why he didn’t get the bid again. When told, Greg screamed very loudly that he did put the check in the envelope with the bid. On the way to the bridge, Bruce called the DOTD and told them what Greg had screamed. They checked the envelope and found the check! They stated that they had never seen a bid without a check stapled to it and thus assumed that the check was not there. Thank God the envelope was saved! Bruce immediately turned from the bridge. but again it was much too early to celebrate.

After a bid is accepted, a certain amount of time is permitted to obtain a performance bond before the bid is declared invalid. LASTA, Greg, Jefferson Parish, and countless insurance agencies tried to obtain the required bond. LASTA was finally told that it would be easier to get the required bond to build another Taj Mahal than to restore a steam engine. Finally, at the eleventh hour, Bobby Palmer, a friend of Bruce, was able to get the required performance bond. Greg still maintains that the actual rebuild of 745 will be much easier than obtaining the “Notice to Proceed”.

” As you may know by now, my crew and I came to your lovely town on October 26, 2001, and started tearing 745 down on October 29, 2001. The 745 cooperated very well. So far it is going to be a good rebuild. I have seen both better and worse rebuilds. We are looking forward to returning in January to get the boiler ready for sandblasting and do form #4 surveys. Until then I really would like to thank everyone for all the help and support.” 
—Greg Dodd – October 2001

LASTA Histroy – 2000

Victory was only momentary, as we were soon informed that the Regional Planning Commission was not a suitable governmental sponsor since it had no power to raise money from taxes.

LASTA History – 1999

In the process of this planning, we got to meet and befriend David Fowler, then superintendent of Norfolk Southern in New Orleans. While Norfolk Southern has a “no steam” policy, Mr. Fowler and LASTA spent hours considering the possibility of LASTA leasing the short line. Another business plan was originated by Lisa Amoss and a student from the Tulane University Freeman School of Business which indicated the feasibility of such a weekend run.

This whole venture had to be discarded due to a new plant opening in Braithwaite which required rail service from Norfolk Southern on the short line. In spite of Mr. Fowler’s urging us not to give up, LASTA was particularly down and out during this time. It seemed that another noble effort to revitalize the “745” was going to be overcome by insurmountable obstacles. Then the miracle of St. Michael’s!!!!

LASTA approached Sister Lillian, one of the nuns who devoted their lives to building and sustaining St. Michael’s Special School. We described our dream to her and then told of all the setbacks along the way. She gently suggested that we go to the chapel and prayed with us for the answer to our stalemate. As we were leaving, she said that God’s will would be done and gave us some Lourdes water.

Two weeks later, LASTA was notified by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development that its application for the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) was not only found to be eligible but approved in its first phase. Sister Lillian has since passed on, but we know that we continue to have a saint in heaven praying for us. St. Michael’s School will always be one of our beneficiaries in our future charity runs for kids. At first, we were so excited we had no idea of the tunnel of madness we were entering – joyous nightmares!!

Everyone at DOTD was very pleasant and well-meaning, but they all sang (as in the chorus in a Greek tragedy) the same song: “This has never been done before. No steam engine has ever been restored with enhancement funds. We are familiar with roads, bridges, old railroad depots, bike paths, etc., but not steam engines.” They loved the proposal and LASTA was fortunate when George Gele was appointed as our project coordinator. George is a man with the wisdom and patience of the ancient pyramids. He convinced us not to jump in the River Styx when obstacles were placed in our path.

Our first hurdle was, in retrospect, the easiest. LASTA’s project description had to be mailed to all state and federal officials and agencies to invite them to voice concerns about the project’s environmental impact. We received not a single objection. God bless. The second hurdle was more complicated and absorbed our time and energy for the remainder of 1999 and 2000.


SP 745 National Historic Register

On September 14, 745 was placed on the National Historic Register and therefore eligible for various funding sources.

Established by Congress in 1966, the National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s official list of significant historic properties. Each state has a historic preservation office which is responsible for nominating buildings, sites, districts, etc. to the Register. In Louisiana, this program is administered by the Division of Historic Preservation, which is part of the Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

LASTA History – 1998

They expressed interest in the project; however, they cited increased freight business in the city as a paramount cause for not granting us track rights. They correctly pointed out that the feasibility study’s estimate of revenue was based on six runs a weekend and that we would be in serious financial difficulty if they were forced to deny runs because of freight obligations.



LASTA History – 1997

LASTA History – 1996

Introductions to the men who maintained the yard and its equipment through the years (both Eds, Brotus Krenkel, Richard, Bubba, Ralph Hopkins, and George) were made. Introductions were also made to Louis Schultz, Executive Trustee of the Louisiana Railroad Heritage Trust, who was extremely cooperative in writing letters and preparing legal documents for LASTA to become incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit association. The Trust maintained ownership of 745 and leased her to LASTA for restoration and operation.

745 moving at last – 1984

The Audubon Park Board chose to place the fate of SP 745 in local hands and transferred ownership to OKRA. From that point on, OKRA members worked within the fenced-in, close confines to get the locomotive ready for a trip on her own wheels for the first time in nearly thirty years. Rods were removed from the wheels and chained down to the top of the Vandy tender as all preparations were made for the big day!

In the Fall of 1984, a crew of OKRA volunteers began to move 745 using panel rails that had been donated by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The panels were put behind the train and 745 was pulled along with a bulldozer. With only two panel rails, the crew kept alternating pieces of track by moving them from front to the back all the way to the main line. After several months of hard work, the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad (IRCGRR) was contracted to bend their main line track to connect to the panel rails to move SP 745 onto the main track.

The ICGRR switch engine arrived, coupled up to our engine and with a triumphant “BLAAAT” on the diesel’s air horn; 745 was moving at last. When she was clear of the panel rails, the ICGRR track crew bent the main line back to its original path. SP 745 was leading the way west out of New Orleans. Being “gently” prodded along by the ICGRR switcher past Bisso Towing, the “Eagle Street Railroad” (of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board), and Lampert Junction, SP 745 left Orleans Parish for the first time in over 28 years! The switch to the yard was thrown and SP 745 entered its new home in Jefferson Parish at the Sears/A&P Warehouses.

OKRA did not plan for SP 745 to spend much time in Jefferson. In fact, OKRA president Kasdan had brought Bill Purdie, Southern Railway‘s longtime steam guru, to New Orleans to assess SP 745 and Mr. Purdie spent quite a long time crawling on, over, around and through SP 745 giving the old girl a good once over.

He pronounced her a candidate for rebuild to operation and estimated that it would take about $400,000 (in 1984 monies) to do the job. Kasdan was in long negotiations with business folks in the metropolitan area who might be looking for donations to receive tax breaks. While this was going on, changes in the tax laws made such shelters financial non-starter, and early plans to ship 745 directly from Audubon Zoo to the Southern Railway Shops at Birmingham, Alabama, fell through. But for years afterward, OKRA harbored hopes of sending 745 to the Southern Shops. Only the elimination of Southern’s steam program removed the last hope that 745 would be getting the Purdie touch.

OKRA 1982

The nearly forgotten engine was on what might have been her last, one way trip, to a scrap heap. Audubon was planning a major expansion to the Audubon Zoo, which would eventually become their signature Louisiana Swamp Exhibit. Word was that the steam locomotive would have to go.

The local model railroad club, the Crescent City Model Railroad Club (CCMRC) had many members who were both model railroaders as well as “railfans“. When word got out that the SP 745 might be on a one way ticket to extinction, about a dozen of the CCMRC banded together to form the Old Kenner Railway Association (OKRA).

Photos by Michael Palmieri


1956 – The post war downturn and the demand for diesel engines cut short the life of the Ladies and all of their brood. With only thirty plus years of service, they were sent to scrap, with two exceptions. One was presented to the city of Lafayette, Louisiana, in recognition of that city’s status as a division point on the SP.

The other was given to the city of New Orleans, the home of her birth. Brought from Avondale Yard on the west bank, 745 was given a spit and polish shine and photographed on the turntable of the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad, where she was turned to head into what was to be her final resting spot, a display track at Audubon Park.

SP 745 — 1921-1956

1921 – 1956 –  SP 745 hauled mostly freight, but occasionally passengers, from 1921 through 1956. Although it was always painted “Southern Pacific” or “Southern Pacific Lines”, it actually worked for SP subsidiaries. The state of Texas had a law that required railroads operating in the state to be based there. SP owned the Galveston, Harrisburg, & San Antonio, and sent 745 to work for it. Later 745 worked for another Texas-based, SP-owned line, the Texas & New Orleans. In these roles 745 operated mostly between east Texas and the east end of the SP system in New Orleans.

Southern Pacific 1919

1919 – In a burst of genius, the Southern Pacific placed an order for repair and replacement parts for their existing fleet of Mk-5’s. These 2-8-2 work horses were the backbone of SP / T&NO’s freight haulers, and were capable of helping passenger traffic on locals or special movements. Baldwin supplied the parts ordered; while some went to the Houston Texas shops, most came to New Orleans.

Rather than simply repairing existing locos, the Algiers Shops became a locomotive manufacturer. Thru 1921, the Shops turned out a dozen sister “Mike’s”; receiving road numbers 738-750. As part of the SP’s Texas and New Orleans subsidiary, the Mikes spent most of their working lives east of El Paso and west of the Sabine. Because of Texas railroad law, the distinctive Vanderbilt tenders were recipients of a “dog house”, a small metal out-house looking shed built atop the tender, to provide a station for the brakeman.