Restoration efforts of Old Hickory Railroad, a live steam locomotive that once pulled two open coaches on a 6.2-mile track through historic Jackson, have been underway for the past few years.
For nearly a decade, Old Hickory ran on Saturdays and Sundays from March until November, carrying passengers on scenic rides through Jackson.
The route included a stop at Old Centenary College that today is a State Historic Site.
Unlike most park train rides that last about 15 to 20 minutes, Old Hickory rides lasted about an hour, said former engineer Andrew Martin, now of the Greater Baton Rouge Model Railroaders.
The Republic of West Florida Historic Association, which owns the 12-acre site where the Republic of West Florida Museum and Old Hickory Railroad depot are located, is situated behind the GBR Model Railroaders’ clubhouse.
Mike Salmon, who has been leading the charge of the restoration efforts, and Scotty Dawson, who has been overseeing track work, are part of the Old Hickory Restoration Committee’s plans.
Steps toward making the train operational again have included lifting the locomotive’s boiler off its frame and placing it on a flatbed trailer for transport to a boiler repair shop in Gonzales, where its condition was evaluated.
Other work has included refurbishing passenger cars and clearing, inspecting and restoring tracks.
More volunteers are needed, especially since efforts have taken on a new urgency — to have Old Hickory operational hopefully in time for the all-day Jackson bicentennial celebration slated for Sept. 26.
Indoor and outdoor activities will include Old Hickory train rides, trolley car tours, antique shopping, an art show and wine tasting.
Salmon said the historical association doesn’t have funds to hire a paid staff, so the project depends solely on the generosity and work of volunteers.
“We still need volunteers in the form of engineers, narrators, mechanics, ticket sellers, track workers and anyone else who is excited about the train and willing to pitch in,” Salmon said. “We can even use people to mow the grass at the depot on weekends. The idea is to have enough volunteers so that people only need to pitch in once a month.”
Dawson said engineers will have to take lessons on operating the train, which is a steam engine, and conductors will need to learn a script in order to narrate the train rides.
“These types of projects are really important because they help boost historic interest, tourism and the economy, not just in Jackson but throughout the entire Felicianas,” Salmon said.
Built in 1964 for a theme park in North Carolina, the present-day train was brought to Jackson in 1998 by Jackson businessman Leroy Harvey.
Old Hickory eventually became a favorite destination for children, adults, families and tourists.
“Children could blow the steam whistle, ring the steam-driven bell and even sit in the engineer’s seat after a ride,” Salmon said.
To volunteer, call Beth Dawson at (225) 719-1743. To learn more about Old Hickory, visit louisianasteamtrain.com.