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This site contains information about the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, past and present, as well as its main benefactor and co-founder Robert M. Soule, Jr. TVRM is today what it is, in large part due to his efforts over the past 45+ years. For him it was truly a labor of love. One which he gave his all for, right to the very end.
|At last, the TVRM story in his own words!|
This program, originally produced for the 2007 National Railway Historical Society Convention held in Chattanooga, Tennessee, is about the 45+ year commitment of Robert M. Soule, Jr., to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and the subsequent development thereof.
Via digital video recordings made just a few months before his passing, he himself describes much of the development of TVRM from its very inception to the present. In addition to video of R. M. Soule, a considerable number of old photographs and film have been included to further illustrate his comments. He possessed a drive and determination like few I have ever known, and through his life-long commitment and considerable efforts, we can all experience the Golden Age Of Railroading today. I hope you enjoy the program.
|Double click the play button on the player below to view this interesting program. If the video player below does not appear on your screen, please click here to view it directly from YouTube Video.|
This program, and others, will be available on DVD if you so desire. The quality is far better than this internet version.
|Titles that are currently or will soon be available on DVD for your viewing pleasure:||Cost:||Shipping:|
|ONCE I BUILT A RAILROAD The Legacy Of Robert M. Soule, Jr.||$5.00||$1.50|
|A NORFOLK & WESTERN STEAM SAMPLER Filmed 1957||$29.95||$1.50|
|STEAM ON THE GAINESVILLE MIDLAND Filmed 1956 - 1959||$29.95||$1.50|
|FROM K&T 12 TO SOUTHERN RAILWAY 4501 Filmed 1962 - 1968||$19.95||$1.50|
2007 Excursion - Chattanooga, TN To Summerville, GA
(This title contains footage and stills photos with excellent sound shot August 25, 2007.)
All of the above titles contain original 16mm film footage and 35mm stills originally shot by Robert M. Soule, Jr. from the mid 1950s through the 1960s. The N&W and the Gainesville Midland were all filmed in vivid 16mm color film and are still vibrant today. Many of the film clips contain high-quality sound recordings! Yes, sound, digitized from reel to reel tape and synced with the original film footage. This is extremely rare to hear sound with original footage from the 1950s anywhere. Now you too can enjoy the fruits of his labor.
Reserve your copy now! Just send an email to: email@example.com and you will be added to the early-release reservation list today. You will be notified within hours of the completion of each new DVD.
It's almost like being there!
First, let me state that I do not by any means intend to imply that the many wonderful accomplishments listed here could have come to pass without the assistance of many of TVRM's dedicated volunteers and staff. However, he was an individual with a burning desire, drive, and determination like no other I have ever known, and I don't believe these many accomplishments would have come to pass without his leading the way.
I would really be interested in hearing your comments, and I would dearly love to locate additional pictures of Robert M. Soule, Jr. For that reason, I have also created a Yahoo Group so you can post comments and hopefully some pictures. Please read and enjoy the site, and when you are finished, follow the link at the bottom of this page to the Yahoo Group.
Sincerely, Robert M. Soule, III
The plaque below was presented to the family at the Museum's 2006 annual meeting. Click the image to see and read the text.
Click the mast head below to read TVRM's issue of Smoke & Cinders dedicated to Robert M. Soule, Jr.
At TVRM's 2006 Annual Meeting, the Board of Directors elected to name the East Chattanooga Shops in honor of the late Robert M. Soule, Jr. This is in keeping with long-standing railroad tradition, as many railroad shops were named for railroad presidents. As many of you may know, the shops were very near and dear to his heart and were central to his overall plan for the Museum's future. There is no higher honor that could have been bestowed upon him than the naming of the shops in his memory.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum Board of Directors
The Soule Family
Request the pleasure of your company
at 2202 North Chamberlain Ave. for the posthumous naming of the
East Chattanooga Shops, Saturday, October 21, 2006 at 2:00 pm
In Honor of
Robert M. Soule, Jr.
ďI want to see this thing a success before I ticket out. I would like to see this thing a success, and I know Iíve stepped on some toes and made people mad from time to time and probably will in the future, but if I have, I apologize. My sole motivation is that TVRM will become a fully self-supporting, stand alone, beholden to none, not controlled by anybody but the Board of Directors and the membership, ever."
Robert M. Soule, Jr.
As a tribute to the late Robert M. Soule, Jr., Co-Founder and 28 year President of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, the Board of Directors has elected to name the Museumís restoration and repair facilities in his honor. His Family has planned a dedication ceremony for Saturday, October 21, 2006, at 2:00 pm. This is in keeping with a long-standing railroad tradition to name shop facilities after railroad presidents. Under the leadership of Mr. Soule, the Railroad Museum grew to become the largest operating Railroad Museum in the South. His life-long commitment to TVRM was truly a labor of love, as all of his considerable efforts were on a strictly volunteer basis.
During his 28 years of leadership, the Museum underwent a myriad of changes. The Tunnel Boulevard Bridge was completed in 1977, which opened up new opportunities and led TVRM to acquiring additional right-of-way and property, doubling the length of the railroad. Under his guidance the 14 acre site located off of Cromwell Road was acquired in the early 1980s. Though the Museum then had a railroad over which to operate, TVRM lacked the necessary revenue and facilities to restore or even properly maintain their equipment. At this point the majority of their funds were derived from the day-long Spring and Fall excursions operated over Southern Railway System tracks with Southern Railway equipment. This was a big concern to Mr. Soule, as he knew that source of revenue would someday go away, as indeed it did in 1994.
This concern led to the Museum developing a plan to produce its own source of revenue, independent of the Southern Railway excursion trains. This plan required big changes for the Museum and necessitated the acquisition of a $1,000,000 industrial development bond in the mid-1980s. Under Mr. Souleís supervision, an office building, a wye to turn the trains around, and an impressive 1880s style depot were all constructed at the Cromwell Road location. Additional construction in East Chattanooga consisting of a small turn-of-the-century style depot, the construction and installation of the turntable, and most importantly, the locomotive and equipment restoration shops, were all completed during this same time period. The main components necessary for the Museumís plan to produce its own revenue and repair its own equipment were now in place.
The construction period was not without its problems though, and due to initial under funding, construction delays, and overly optimistic revenue projections, the Museum was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the late 1980s. However, with a considerable amount of personal effort on the part of both Mr. & Mrs. Soule the Museumís new Depot at Cromwell Road was opened in 1984. With the construction mess finally over and the Depot opened, the revenue doubled over the previous year! The next few years were difficult but it became clear that it was indeed going to work as revenue continued to increase year after year. In 1998 the Industrial Development Bond debt was retired about a year and a half early! In 2000 the Members and employees recognized the Soules as being principally responsible for the debt retirement via their careful fiscal management over the preceding years, and they further declared this to be ďThe most significant achievement in the history of the organization!Ē
During Mr. Souleís 46+ years of service to TVRM, he was responsible for the acquisition of a considerable amount of the rolling stock and locomotives that the Museum owns today, many of which have been restored or are slated for restoration, and several choice pieces of equipment are currently undergoing restoration in the shops now named for Mr. Soule.
Since the original construction of the shops in the mid 1980s, there have been a couple of expansions, one enlarging the machine shop and another included the addition of a car and locomotive wheel shop. Today TVRMís shops rank among the finest restoration and repair facilities in the United States, even performing restoration work for other museums and railroads from all over the country. The shops were never considered a luxury to Mr. Soule. They were always seen as an absolute necessity and a key part of the overall plan for TVRMís future. To him, it was imperative that the Museum have the ability to maintain and restore its own equipment. The shop as it exists today, as well as the Museumís fleet of restored locomotives, passenger cars, and other equipment, are all a testament to this core belief. If not for the shops, very little of the Museumís equipment would have ever been restored.
It is indeed fitting that the shops have been named for him, not only because he was the Museumís President but because the shops were so near and dear to him. There is nothing he enjoyed more than seeing the restoration progress being made with the locomotives and equipment owned by the Museum in the Museumís own facilities. It was, to him, the fulfillment of a life-long dream.
Thanks to his contributions and the efforts many Museum volunteers, it is possible to board an authentic 1930s era train at a 1930s era depot and for a little while anyway relive the Golden Age of Steam Railroading. Chattanooga has been given a real gift in the form of TVRM as it is a true not for profit organization and it ties in perfectly with the image Chattanooga is known the world over for TRAINS!
Dedication Ceremony Program
Saturday, October 21, 2006
Video Presentation featuring comments from Robert M. Soule, Jr.
Introduction: TVRM President Tim Andrews
TVRM Member and Hamilton County Commissioner Curtis D. Adams
Early TVRM Member and Former State Representative Arnold A. Stulce
Charter Member and Past Vice President TVRM James Lockhart, Comments via video
Shop Tours: Grady A. Ragan
The videos below constitute the entire dedication ceremony held October 21, 2006.
If the video does not appear on your screen, please click here for part one, here for part two, and here for part three. This will all you to view the videos directly from Google videos.
Program introduction with a few comments by Robert M. Soule, Jr.
Speakers: TVRM President Tim Andrews, TVRM Member and Hamilton County Commissioner Curtis Adams, TVRM Member and Former State Representative Arnold Stulce.
Comments by TVRM Charter Member T. James Lockhart
The text below is from the plaque that will soon be attached to the recently named Soule Shops in East Chattanooga.
From the inception of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in 1960, Robert M. Soule Jr.ís most fervent desire was to develop an operating museum, one where future generations would not only see restored locomotives and rolling stock from The Golden Age Of Railroading but experience them in all their glory. He believed, above all else, that in order for TVRM to be a self-sustaining, operating museum it MUST have its own repair and maintenance facility. To him, a proper shop facility was not a luxury but an absolute necessity. To that end, he did all in his power to see that TVRM had one of the finest steam locomotive and car repair facilities in the United States.
He spent years locating and acquiring equipment, researching, designing, redesigning, and finally supervising the construction of the shops and the installation of the machinery in the facility that presently stands before you.
In typical railroad fashion, this facility contains the following shops: steam and diesel locomotive repair facilities, car repair facility, locomotive and car wheel shops, brake shop, upholstery shop, and general machine shop.
Thanks to his efforts and the efforts of some dedicated TVRM volunteers to repair the machinery to a fully functional condition, TVRM is now able to handle virtually any restoration or repair that is needed or desired.
Naming this facility in his honor is in keeping with longstanding railroad tradition to name shop facilities after railroad presidents, and it is most appropriate inasmuch as this facility was the fulfillment of his lifelong dream. Robert M. Soule, Jr., Co-Founder of the Museum, served as TVRMís second President and Chairman of the Board from 1978 until his death on February 21, 2006.
March 17, 2006
Board of Directors
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, Inc.
Link to Obituary for Robert M. Soule, Jr.
First, a little about the unique individual that was
Robert M. Soule, Jr.
Born Athens, Georgia, October, 1928, to parents Robert M. Soule and Katherine Park Soule, he was the oldest of three children. His sister Katherine (Sister) was born July, 1932 and a brother Andrew (Sunny) M. Soule. He came from a long line of college professors. His father was a chemistry professor at the University of Georgia. Both of his grandfathers were also professors: Dr. Robert Emory Park, Head of the English Department at the University of Georgia, and Dr. Andrew M. Soule, President of the Georgia State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts at the University of Georgia. During Dr. Soule's tenure at the University of Georgia, he designed and built a number of buildings. To this day, both a Soule Hall and a Park Hall can be found on the campus of the University. His great-grandfather Edward D. Porter and great, great-grandfather Zachariah Porter were also professors. As I don't want to turn this into a genealogy of the Soule family, I will end it here.
The above drawing he did at age 7.
The drawings below he did when he was only 11. These drawing were a sign of things to come, as he made thousands of detailed, beautifully executed drawings and sketches during his lifetime. After looking at the drawings below is it any wonder that he went to work for General Railway Signal Company after college?
In 1945 he entered the United States Army at the age of 17 for an 18- month tour of duty. During training he became an expert marksman with the standard army issue M1 Garand rifle. After training he was transported to Japan as part of the American occupation immediately following WWII. He was assigned there for the remainder of his service. Soon after arriving in Japan, he met and became life-long friends with Charles Preston Fishbaugh. While in Japan, he was promoted to corporal and placed in charge of a pool of typists responsible for transcribing the Japanese War Crimes Trials. Some of the war crimes he became aware of during this time are as bad as anything that the Germans did during the war.
Following his tour of duty in the Army, he entered the University of Georgia where, after only 3 years, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics (1951). He graduated with Honors in the top 10 percent of his class.
Upon graduation he had over 20 job offers.
His first job was at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
Next, he worked for General Railway Signal Corporation in Rochester, New York. Beginning as early as 1953, he was frequently sent to Chattanooga where the Southern was building a new classification yard. While in Chattanooga, he met and became friends with Paul H. Merriman in late 1953. He was awarded several patents for work he did during this time period.
In 1959 he began his career with Southern Railway in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He spent the remainder of his career with the Southern, which later became Norfolk Southern. He was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Yards, a position he held until retirement from Norfolk Southern in 1987.
His most noted contribution (and there were many) to his employer was the design and development of the hydraulic retarder system installed in most of the classification yards on the Southern Railway. His retarder system was considerably more dependable than the aged GRS mechanical system that the Southern used prior to the development of his hydraulic system. His systems are still in use today in numerous classification yards on the Norfolk Southern and elsewhere. He was also instrumental in the development of the earliest hot box detector systems used on the Southern.
In the late 1970s he came under considerable pressure from his superiors to accept a higher position with Southern Railway. However, this would have required a move to Atlanta and away from TVRM. He resisted this pressure and finally told his superiors that he would not move under any circumstances, even if that meant losing his job. He was not bluffing either. He prepared his resume and began making contacts. Fortunately, his superiors finally relented, and rather than move him to Atlanta, he was given a higher position with the company in Chattanooga.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum was co-founded by Paul H. Merriman and Robert M. Soule in 1960 and incorporated in 1961. Paul Merriman served as the Museum's first President and beginning in 1962 Robert M. Soule, Jr. served as TVRM's Mechanical Vice President.
Married 1961 to Joyce Hulsey. The couple gave birth to a son, Robert M. Soule, III, 1962, and later to a second child, Mary Penelope Soule, 1968.
In 1978 he was elected President of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, a position he held until his death on February 21, 2006.
This link will take you to the non railroad side of his life. Yes, there were other interest and other things he did, thought finding the time was very difficult most of his life. There never was enough time!
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and some of the many accomplishments of Robert M. Soule, Jr.
He clearly had an artistic flair for aesthetics and proportion that can only best be described as a God-given talent. When you visit the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum today, virtually everything you see is bursting with his influence. This is true from the ground up, as much of the right-of-way and both yards were surveyed by him, the tracks were placed by him or under his direction, and elevated to his specifications. He has always insisted on and put a lot of time and effort into making sure that ALL the weeds were dead along the Museum's right-of-way. He was equally insistent that the line be level and properly tamped. I dare say that there is no other Museum in the United States that has as high a quality rail line as ours, and that is principally due to his efforts. Anyone that has ever worked with or for him, performing maintenance on TVRMís rail line, will tell you how particular he was about both the condition of the track as well as its appearance.
All of the structures at TVRM, the shop, both depots, the office, the turntable, even the restrooms in East Chattanooga, look the way they do either in part or completely due to his influence. From the light fixtures to the floors, even the floor plan for the restrooms were designed to his specifications.
I don't remember ever going to a restaurant in the last 30 years or so that there was not a considerable amount of discussion about the design of the tables, the type of napkins used, the quality of the flatware and china, the flooring, and there was always some discussion about the design of the restrooms! Countless times I saw him take a pen from his pocket and grab a napkin and start drawing a sketch complete with measurements and notations about something he had just seen that impressed him. This was one of the ways he did his research and development, and many of the ideas he collected were ultimately incorporated into the Museum's structures. He certainly had a keen eye for detail, and it sure made a difference with the final product.
His flair for design and aesthetics goes back to the very earliest days of TVRM as even the conversion of the 4501 from K&T 12 back to a 4500 class Southern Railway locomotive was done by him or under his direction. What a difference it made too! The locomotive was transformed from a dirty, rather dumpy looking coal hauling 2-8-2 to the beautifully handsome Southern 4501 that we see today. He even made the wooden pattern from which the 4501 number board was cast. He cut and filed each of the numbers on a very early jigsaw that originally belonged to his father.
Many of the Museumís locomotives carry number boards for which he built the patterns.
In addition to improving the appearance of the 4501, he oversaw the restoration and rebuilding of the locomotive while at Lucey Boiler Company in Chattanooga. He even redesigned the cylinders and pistons to improve the performance. According to what he told me, the original pistons were somewhat larger, and at higher speeds the larger pistons could remove steam at a faster rate than the firebox and boiler could produce it. He designed a smaller sleeve insert for the cylinder and had a local machine company fabricate his retro-fit design. He also redesigned the piston, as the old pistons were now too large for the new smaller cylinder. His new piston design was a one-piece design machined from a solid chunk of steel, as opposed to the old piston which was bolted together and had the potential to be problematic. The new pistons were also lighter and therefore more efficient than the old pistons. The new pistons worked without fail for all the years of service the 4501 served in the Southern Steam program, as well as later service at TVRM. There is a lot more to this story and only a book could do it justice!
His talents were not just limited to locomotives, as his touch is also evident with a number of passenger coaches, office car 98 ( the Eden Isle), the commissary car (Emporium), and the dinner 3158 (Travelers Fare) ... All of these cars and many more have received a lot of his handy work over the years. The list of equipment is virtually endless!
The Shop Is A Necessity, Not A Luxury
From the very beginning his most fervent desire was that TVRM have its own shop facility. As soon as the first tracks had been laid in East Chattanooga in the late 1960s, he was hard at work planning to build a repair shop. He believed, above all else, that in order for TVRM be an operating museum it MUST have its own repair and maintenance facility. How else could you keep the locomotives and rolling stock going? To him, a proper shop facility was not a luxury but an absolute necessity! It was to that end that he did all in his power to see that TVRM had one of the finest steam locomotive and car repair facilities in the country.
He spent countless hours researching, designing, redesigning, and finally supervising the construction of the shop that presently stands in East Chattanooga. He did not stop with the building either. He then set out to locate the finest machine equipment he could find. He had acquired a fair amount of equipment in the years before the shop was built, and at long last it now had a new home.
I learned not to ask too many questions about some of his acquisitions, as sometimes it was just better not to know. When asked, "Where did this come from?" he would often reply, "What? Oh that ... well, that is on long-term loan from the Railroad." Sometimes he would reply, "I don't have any idea where that came from but isn't it nice?" Yeah, right! Now, let me clarify things here -- he did not take things without telling anyone, but if he found something that the Museum needed really badly, then he might just take it and then tell someone where it was and who had it. He learned early on that fighting the Railroad bureaucracy was like trying to get an Act of Congress passed. So sometimes he would operate under the rule that "it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission."
One of the first pieces of equipment acquired was a hydraulic wheel pit ram, complete with removable rails. It was donated by U. S. Pipe and Foundry Company in 1966 for what was then, a future shop. He also acquired the hydraulic wheel pit ram from the old Southern Railway Terminal Station repair facility that once stood behind what is now the Chattanooga Choo Choo. This choice item was the first major find that would, years later, end up in the East Chattanooga shop. Another major piece of equipment was located in the 1980s, a 90-inch driving wheel lathe built by the Niles Machine Company in 1945. Located by Tim Andrews in 1983, the lathe was purchased in June of 1983 by both Tim Andrews and Robert M. Soule and donated to the Museum in 1988. In the 1990s additional Niles machinery was located through a contact Mr. Soule had in England. The equipment had been shipped to Poland just after WWII to help rebuild the railroads of war-torn Europe. However, Poland and this equipment were locked behind the Iron Curtain until the 1990s. Once the curtain came down, Mr. Soule mounted a major effort to get this equipment out of Poland and into TVRM's shop. It took a lot of negotiating, letter writing, phone calls, and planning, but he finally got the job done, and the equipment was at long last back in the United States, sitting in the shop in East Chattanooga.
Thanks to his efforts and the efforts of some dedicated volunteers to get the machinery repaired and functional again, TVRM is now able to handle virtually any repair that they desire to make on their own locomotives and rolling stock. As you might expect, very few museums around the country had a Robert M. Soule at the helm during their formative years, and, therefore, they don't have shop facilities in which to repair equipment, so a number of museums send their equipment for repair to TVRM's world-class shop for machining.
If there is any one accomplishment of which he was most proud, it was without question the shop facility in East Chattanooga. To him, the shop was an integral and necessary part of the overall picture to make TVRM a completely self-sustaining entity.
He was entirely responsible for acquiring or he at least played a major role in the acquisition of most of TVRM's rolling stock. As he explained and you might expect, most of the equipment came from the Southern. The Southern has clearly been TVRM's most generous donor over the years. He realized early on that Paul Merriman had little interest in acquiring coaches, diners, and the like, but he knew that it was important to collect more than just locomotives because locomotives alone could not haul paying passengers. In his files, there are literally hundreds of letters that he wrote asking for an impressive array of coaches, diners, office cars, RPO cars, freight cars, cabooses, both steam and diesel locomotives ... the list is endless. Clearly, he met with some impressive success in the area of acquisitions on behalf of TVRM.
However, he did not just ask for anything. He was rather choosey about what he accepted and what he asked for. He saw not point in amassing a huge collection of junk which is typically what happens if you just collect everything you can get your hands on. This has been the main downfall of a lot of other museums around the country. He only wanted things that TVRM could realistically restore and/or use in their operations. After all, the bottom line has to be about the what the visitor is willing to pay for. He knew visitors would not part with their money to come see a collection of unrestored rusting junk.
The Paying Public
He understood that it was mandatory to develop TVRM into an attraction that would entice the public to part with their hard-earned money to see and experience what TVRM had to offer. As he saw it, the best way to do this was by recreating, as accurately as possible, the Golden Age of Steam Passenger Service. He knew that would only happen if the equipment, buildings, and grounds were all in proper working order, dependable, clean, and, most importantly, visually appealing to the public. That has happened, and in no small part principally due to his tireless efforts and attention to details.
Today TVRM is, indeed, a time machine. From the moment you approach the Grand Junction Depot, the clock is turned back to the 1930s. The look, the music, the smell of coal smoke, the clank of locomotive rods, the clickety clack of jointed rails, and more -- all conspire to transport the visitor back in time to the Golden Age of Steam. He so loved this that he, on occasion, would sit on one of the benches around Grand Junction Depot or the baggage wagon and close his eyes and just listen to the '30s-era music in the background as the train pulled into the station.
I can assure everyone that, above all else, he loved working with his hands on the locomotives and equipment, though he rarely got to do it. He often remarked, after long hours of phone calls, letter writing, and dealing with the day-in/day-out business affairs required to keep TVRM running, how he "just wanted to do something with his hands."
He never got to do nearly as much of the hands-on work as he wanted, but that was sure where his heart was. He wanted more than anything to get away from the phone and the seemingly endless pile of paperwork and turn wrenches in the shop. His desire was to be up under the diner or some other car fixing the plumbing, reworking the air brakes, or installing a generator ... but, alas, rarely did he get the time or opportunity to do this, as other Museum responsibilities almost always required his time and talents, denying him that which he enjoyed most, working with his hands.
He loathed games of any kind. He considered games a total and complete waste of time. As he would say, "All you do when you play a game is pass the time. After hours of playing some mindless game, what do you have to show for your efforts? Nothing! If I am going to spend that kind of time doing something, I want to have something to show for my efforts and the time I expended. I want to have a three-dimensional object that I can see at the end of the day." He always had something to show for his time.
To that end, he just did not waste time. He was always working, moving, doing something, and 98 percent of these efforts were for TVRM. The phone calls started early each day and went well into the evening each night. He was always doing something, writing letters, dealing with insurance companies (which he loathed!), negotiating agreements, ordering parts, designing or drawing something... The list is endless. I dare say it would take 3 people to do the volume of work he did in the average day.
He rarely took vacations and did not travel much. He never had any interest in travel unless it was to look at something that TVRM was interested in acquiring or to do research for the Museum. One of the few vacations I remember from the mid 1970s was what I have always termed the "train vacation." On this vacation we (the family) visited 10 to 12 railroad museums and/or tourist operations in the mid-Atlantic and East Coast region. It was largely a research trip, and it helped him determine what direction the development at TVRM needed to go in order for the Museum to become a self-sustaining and viable operation for the future.
I remember a lot about this vacation as it was a dream come true for me. After all, every day we arrived at a new location and got to ride a different train! Some operations were getting it right, others demonstrated how not to do things. The Strasburg Railroad was on his list of operations doing things the right way, though he thought trying to maintain a fleet of wooded coaches was near insanity. However, he was impressed with the overall operation and their shop facility.
He also made mental notes of what he did not want TVRM to become. We visited a fair number of operations that were rather dirty. Some of these museums had little more than a collection of rusting junk. This is where and when the importance of paint and overall cleanliness were discovered. Freshly painted locomotives, coaches, and depots made a very good impression. From that point on, he declared war on rust and peeling paint with regard to TVRM's equipment and buildings.
His Influence Is Everywhere
Just the other day I told an acquaintance of ours, who happened to be a first-time visitor to TVRM, that when they looked at the Museum, buildings, locomotives, rolling stock, and so on, they were looking at him. His touch is evident everywhere you look, even in the things you donít see. You donít see the generators and power plants under the coaches and other equipment, the rebuilt plumbing, and the rebuilt sub-floor in the dining car, but they are there doing their job producing power, keeping the passengers cool, the lights on, and the water running.
He always paid close attention to the details. One of the many (and there are many) examples is the lettering on all of the locomotives, cars, and buildings. For that matter, this is true of all the signage around the Museum, including even the Burma-Shave signs at Grand Junction.
He had such an eye for just this type of thing. He drew each letter in "TENNESSEE VALLEY" by hand at full scale, then he made templates from his drawings. His hand-drawn, hand-crafted letters now adorn all of TVRM's restored equipment. The same is true for the names on the various cars and even the letters for the Ticket window at Grand Junction. He was extremely particular that each letter be just exactly right and have just the right look. The next time you visit the Museum, take a look at each individual letter on one of the passenger cars. Each one is a work of art in itself. What an eye he had for aesthetics and proportion.
He designed, and I fabricated in my shop, most of the metal signage that can be found around the Museum. As expected, he was always very particular about the lettering, border, text, and of course the durability of the signs. Come to think of it, he was very particular about everything! Details were extremely important to him. I have long felt that it was the summation of all the details that he was so concerned about that separated TVRM from and put it above 98 percent of the other museum and tourist railroad operations around the country.
How do I know we rank so high when compared to other operations? All you have to do is read the comments in the guest registry at Grand Junction. They tell the story. Page after page you find many comments like these: Great, Outstanding, Fantastic, Impressive, but his favorite comment to read was always, Cleanest Railroad Museum I have ever seen! It is my hope, and I know it would be his that this same high standard for attention to detail and cleanliness continue. After all, the difference is in the details.
At the memorial service, TVRM member Glen Kitts said to me how everything looked like it did because of him -- as Glen said, "Even down to where and how the gravel was placed in the parking lot." It is true -- it would be hard to find much of anything associated with the Museum that he did not direct or at least have a major part in.
This even extends to the very design of the Museumís logo itself. He designed it himself on his drafting table in his home office in Hixson. The present design came about after many hours of research, drafting, and numerous rejected designs. In the end, I think he got that look just right, as he always did. I know that I need not tell anyone that really knew him this, but he was, above all else, a true perfectionist!
He was, indeed, a man of many hats, very unassuming, and willing to do whatever was required of him to make the place go. He met with Railroad Presidents and negotiated on behalf of TVRM, and he also cleaned and unclogged toilets at Grand Junction if required. I never heard him complain about this. He just did it because it had to be done! We can all learn something from this attitude.
Among the many duties that I saw him perform over the years at TVRM, here is a sampling of what I mean: janitor, landscaper, civil engineer, painter, carpenter, machinist, pattern maker, tool and die maker, master mechanic of both steam and diesel locomotives, hydraulic engineer, electrician, air conditioning and heating technician, player piano technician, inventor, contractor, design engineer, locomotive engineer, conductor, ticket agent, dining car cook, writer, editor, proofreader, photographer, salesman, marketing director, architect, business manager, computer technician, negotiator, philanthropist, director, curator, Chairman of the Board, Executive Director, Vice President, and President. All of the above he did to the fullest of his ability, and often he did it better than someone that had worked in any one of those professions for their entire life. All of this for no compensation whatsoever, just for the overall good of the organization.
In The Beginning
So where did it all start? Well, the first discussion between Robert M. Soule and Paul H. Merriman about doing something to try and save some of the rapidly disappearing steam locomotives from the cutting torch, took place during a road trip around 1955 or 1956. While chasing a N&W Y6B locomotive somewhere in Virginia between Bristol and Bradford, they had the first conversation about trying to save something before it was too late.
From there the idea grew, and not long after that trip, both Robert M. Soule and Paul H. Merriman joined the newly formed Atlanta Chapter of the NRHS. Shortly thereafter, they both began writing letters to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad for the purpose of saving some of the steam locomotives from the old Gainesville Midland line. They met with some success in this endeavor, as five locomotives were ultimately saved, in large part due to their efforts.
Both Merriman and Soule had spent a lot of time chasing the steam locomotives of the Gainesville Midland before the fires were dropped for the last time in 1959. As some of you may know, Robert M. Soule shot a fair amount of 16mm film movies in the late 1950s of both the Gainesville Midland and the N&W.
Incorporated in 1961 to preserve something from America's Golden Age of steam passenger service, a group of Chattanoogans, along with Paul H. Merriman and Robert M. Soule, formed the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. The Museum immediately set out to acquire some equipment and find a more suitable location to build an operating Museum. In the early 1960s, what equipment they had was temporarily stored at Western Union off Holtzclaw Avenue.
Both Merriman and Soule looked at a number of properties in and around Chattanooga. Most of them were just not large enough and offered no possibility of ever building a line of any length over which they could operate. Finally, after a number of properties had been rejected, they located the abandoned property line through Missionary Ridge in East Chattanooga. Some additional investigation revealed that the abandoned line that ran through the Missionary Ridge tunnel belonged to the Southern, and the property in East Chattanooga that is now the yard belonged to a subsidiary of the Southern Railway, the Georgia Industrial Realty Company.
After a considerable amount of letter writing and pleading by both Merriman and Soule requesting that the Southern give TVRM the property in East Chattanooga, Bill Moore, Graham Claytor, Robert M. Soule, and Paul H. Merriman met in East Chattanooga and looked at the property and some maps on the hood of Soule's Dodge wagon. The maps detailed the abandoned line and acreage in East Chattanooga. Mr. Claytor asked Bill Moore, "Well, Bill, what do you think? It is not going to be used for anything we have need for. I think we should give this to them." Bill agreed, and in 1968 TVRM was given the property and line as far as Tunnel Blvd. Mr. Claytor then stated that if TVRM would build a bridge across Tunnel Blvd, then he would see that TVRM got the rest of the line, all the way to the end at Jersey.
Today an impressive collection of classic pieces from railroading history have been brought together to form the largest operating historic railroad in the South. The collection is any train lover's dream. Steam locomotive 4501, which was built in 1911, is the pride of the Museum. The Eden Isle, a 1917 office car, is complete with three bedrooms and four bathrooms. Dining car 3158 was built in 1924 and is still capable of serving full meals. The Clover Colony is a classic 1924 heavy-weight Pullman. There is a 1927 wooden caboose which saw service on the Florida East Coast Railroad, as well as the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railroad. All are treasures of the Museum.
The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (TVRM) owns forty acres that include four railroad bridges and a historic tunnel through Missionary Ridge. The tunnel was an important location during the Civil War Battle for Chattanooga. The railroads were what made Chattanooga a strategic location during the War Between the States. The Museum follows some of the first rail lines in Chattanooga.
Mr. Robert M. Soule, Chief Executive Officer of TVRM, advised that TVRM is a non-profit corporation founded in 1961 and has operated an historic railroad in Chattanooga, Tennessee since 1970. TVRM has ten full-time employees, fifteen part-time employees, and many volunteers. TVRM operates three miles of rail line daily from the middle of March through October and on weekends from the middle of March through the third weekend in December.
STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
THE TENNESSEE VALLEY RAILROAD MUSEUM, INC.
Passed by the Board of Directors, March 22, 1979
Locomotive 5288 Pacific Type 4-6-2
The family requests that in lieu of flowers contributions be made to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum 5288 Restoration Fund. It was Mr. Soule's dream that someday this wonderful locomotive would be restored to fully operational condition as a Southern Railway locomotive. He said, "When it is restored, it will outshine all the rest. It will be more beautiful than all the rest." The fund that was established in his honor will remain in place and contributions may be forwarded at any time to:
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum c/o 5288 Locomotive Restoration Fund 4119 Cromwell Road
|Chattanooga, Tennessee 37421|
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Nice photograph and article about Robert M. Soule, Jr.