By Stephanie Hornback
Landmark News Service
Phase 1 of a plan to put to use about six vacant acres at the Kentucky Railway Museum got a major boost recently with a $417,750 grant from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The money will allow KRM to complete site and drainage work and installation of a preserved historic railroad turntable, according to a KYTC press release.
The turntable was first installed in 1911 at the site of the present-day River Bats complex for the “Big Four Railroads” coming into Louisville from Indiana and Ohio, KRM Executive Director Greg Mathews said. It is in good condition because it was built by a Pittsburgh, Pa., steel company that usually built bridges, according to the press release. Most turntables were built by railroad companies.
Turntables are motorized devices that turn engines and cars toward a different direction. They were necessary in the days of steam-powered engines, Mathews said.
“Steam engines ran in one direction. That’s why they had to have turntables, because you didn’t have the capacity to run them in either direction as you did later on with diesel locomotives,” he said.
KRM acquired the 85-foot turntable in 1979 when the museum was still in Louisville. It was slated to be used for scrap, but was given a reprieve as long as the museum could remove it within a two-week period, according to the press release. The grant will allow the turntable to be reassembled in New Haven and used to move engines, coaches, cabooses and more into the restoration and maintenance facility — which is Phase 2 of KRM’s 5- to 6-year plan for approximately six acres currently not being used — and the roundhouse display building, which is Phase 3.
Roundhouses were used to store equipment, Mathews said.
“A turntable is round, and tracks would come off of that turntable like the spokes on a bicycle, and the building that the engines and equipment were stored in was round for that reason,” he said. “It conformed to the circle of the turntable, and equipment would then come off of that turntable and go into various tracks that went into the roundhouse building.”
KRM’s building will be a roundhouse in that fashion, but its exact look hasn’t yet been determined, Mathews said. It will provide a number of stalls or tracks for equipment and other artifacts to be displayed to the public and will be open year-round, Mathews said.
Once the entire project is complete, KRM will be in the top tier of railroad museums nationwide, Mathews said.
“It will greatly enhance the museum and surrounding properties and draw probably 10 to 15 to 20 percent more visitors annually, because it will be a working turntable and there aren’t many of those at museums,” Mathews said. The closest working turntable to Nelson County is in Chattanooga, Tenn., he said.
“It will really be a plus for the community, for the county and for the state,” Mathews added.
State Transportation Secretary Joe Prather said the project will bring an important piece of Kentucky history back to life.
“It will be a fascinating display of bygone technology that will show future generations how that part of surface transportation functioned in the early 20th century,” he said.
KYTC administered the grant as part of the federal Transportation Enhancement program, which offers funding for the pursuit of creative approaches to the integration of transportation into communities in an environmentally friendly way, according to the press release.
Kentucky Railway Museum was chartered in 1954. Last weekend marked the 50th anniversary when it opened its doors to visitors. The museum celebrated with discounted rates, cake and ice cream.
First located in Louisville, KRM moved to 136 S. Main St., New Haven, in 1990-91. It is the official railway museum of the state.