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 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