OKRA – 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.