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Columbus's Steam Locomotive

The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning has a 2-ft gauge steam locomotive on outdoor display. The little engine, No. 1902, built by the Davenport Locomotive Works of Davenport, Iowa, was one of twenty such locomotives used by the Army Quartermasters Corps to move supplies, construction materials, and soldiers around Fort Benning between 1921 and 1944.

Originally built for World War I trench railway purposes, these 2-6-2T engines often ended up on large military bases such as Fort Dix, NJ, Fort Sill, OK, and Schofield Barracks, HI. Before coming to Fort Benning, No. 1902 may have been used on the 10-mile "Mid-Pacific Railroad" at Schofield Barracks, a 17,000-acre U.S. Army facility on Oahu. According to Next Stop Honolulu, The Story of the Oahu Railway & Land Company, by Jim Chiddix and MacKinnon Simpson (Sugar Cane Press, Honolulu, 2004), Schofield Barracks reported shipping four Davenport 2-6-2Ts, two Vulcan 2-6-2Ts, and two Baldwin 50HP gas mechanical units to Fort Benning in March 1933.

Different sources give various figures for the length of Fort Benning's narrow-gauge line, generally ranging from 15 miles to 27 miles. Considering that an old film made on the fort shows dozens of soldiers quickly laying a section of track, it is likely that the total length varied over time as the rails were extended or taken up depending on the particular need. The number of locomotives and rail cars in use also likely changed from time to time.

Sometime in the 1940s, the locomotives were given the nickname "Chattahoochee Choo-Choo" for the river that runs along the west side of the fort and for the popular song "Chattanooga Choo-Choo." Another reported nickname was "Old Fuss and Feathers."

The line was abandoned in 1944; the tracks were taken up in 1946.

Fort Benning is in western Georgia on the south side of Columbus.

Note: After being restored and repainted in olive drab, the locomotive was placed on display at the new museum in mid-2012. A canopy was added to provide protection from the weather. The photo above was taken when the museum was housed at the Old Station Hospital on Baltzell Avenue.

16mm film of Fort Benning locomotives in the early 1940s.

1943 map of the line.

U.S. Army Railway Units of the Past blog.

Thanks to Carlos Tibbetts of Mililani, Hawaii, for providing information on the Mid-Pacific Railroad locomotives. Georgia's Railroad History & Heritage. © Steve Storey

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