Restoration of century-old locomotive under way in downtown Chattanooga

Sep. 18—A portion of the Lucey Boiler Co. property on South Holtzclaw Avenue in downtown Chattanooga is the new site for the historic restoration of a 102-year-old steam locomotive from Florida.

For the restoration work, Duluth, Minnesota-based FMW Solutions — which has operations in Soddy-Daisy — expanded local shop capabilities in Tennessee through the lease of a portion of the Lucey Boiler Co. site the company said in a statement on the project.

Atlantic Coast Line Railroad locomotive No. 1504, constructed in 1919, rumbled up and down the eastern seaboard for more than three decades before it was retired in 1952 and donated to the city of Jacksonville, Florida, according to Kelly Lynch, FMW Solutions director of special projects.

Lynch said work could take three years or more to complete at the 52,000-square-foot Lucey Boiler site, which is being redeveloped by Southern Spear Properties into Lucey Quarter, a mixed-used community gathering place. It's located adjacent to the former Belt Railway of Chattanooga.

The locomotive and new development will attract attention.

"Lucey Quarter will be a historical destination for Chattanooga residents and the southeast," Southern Spear president Sean Compton said in a statement. "The rebuilding of this incredible machine will drive buzz and be the crown jewel in our historical redevelopment. FMW Solutions are incredible in the work they do and pride they apply to their craft. We are thrilled in this partnership and hope to make it a staple of Chattanooga for many years to come."

Locomotive 1504 is the largest remaining locomotive of its type from the Atlantic Coast Line and was acquired from the city of Jacksonville earlier this year by Clewiston, Florida-based Sugar Express LLC.

FMW has worked in collaboration with Sugar Express since 2019, including the successful restoration of Sugar Express locomotive No. 148, now in operation at the Florida site.

Work to prepare the steam engine for a move started in July, Lynch said.

The steam engine was disassembled Aug. 21-26 to be moved from its display at the Osborn Prime Convention Center in Jacksonville with help from Tomahawk Crane and Rigging of Jacksonville, the cities of Chattanooga and Jacksonville, Deberardini Heavy Haul and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.

"Once it arrived in Chattanooga, work began immediately to further disassemble the 1504 and strip the boiler for an ultrasonic inspection," Lynch said.

FMW's initial estimates anticipate up to three years for the work, "but the length of a locomotive's restoration can be impacted by what more detailed inspections and disassembly reveal," he said.

When it's completely restored, No. 1504 will operate in Florida's Lake Okeechobee region as part of a regional railroad tourist attraction, according to Sugar Express. It will join No. 148 there.

FMW has been busy at its shops in Soddy-Daisy and New York, and the site on South Holtzclaw was a benefit for the company and the future Lucey Quarter development, executives said.

"With our client's facility very involved in restoring historic passenger cars and supporting the ongoing operation of the Sugar Express, it was prudent and cost-effective to relocate the engine here in a dedicated space near our existing facilities and employees, instead of moving our crews to Florida for the duration," Lynch said.

That means passersby in Chattanooga might see work happening on the ongoing project.

"As Southern Spear works to redevelop the space, the boiler shop will be visible and viewable by guests and visitors, so the work on 1504 will likely become part of the overall attraction and be a unique feature and the backdrop to the activities they have planned here as the site develops," Lynch said. "We know the developer wants to celebrate and retain industrial and railroad history and our work here will help fit that bill."

Meantime, there's a lot of work to do to bring No. 1504 back to life.

Shane Meador — FMW Solutions vice president of mechanical and a lifelong train buff who started volunteering at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum at 13 in 1991 — said No. 1504 now will be reduced to the smallest nuts and bolts for a complete assessment.

"Really, we have no records on this locomotive and it sat outside since 1960 in Florida which is not the best of environments for a piece of metal to be sitting outdoors," he said.

A full assessment and inspection of the torn-down locomotive and its boiler leads to a scope of work for repairs and cost estimates. The locomotive's frame will be similarly assessed, he said.

"The big driving wheels and rods are actually frozen up; they won't turn," he said. "We'll disassemble all of that very carefully and deal with all of it."

The work crew will repair or fabricate replacement parts as needed, he said.

Meador said the current plan is to do 80% of the restoration at Lucey and the remainder on-site in Florida.

"Our use of the Lucey Boiler facility will also serve as a jumping-off point for our continued growth in alternative fuels research and development; which is another growth sector for our business and signals yet another investment in Chattanooga," he said.

Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.