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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.

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).

1956

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, 745, 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.