Do the locomotion: Famous Civil War engine taking ride on highway

Legendary Civil War locomotive, the Texas, was an attraction at Atlanta's Cyclorama Civil War museum.

Story highlights

  • The Texas was one of two engines that were in the Civil War's Great Locomotive Chase in Georgia
  • For years, the locomotive rested on the lower floor of the Cyclorama in Atlanta
  • It's going to North Carolina for restoration before being shipped back to its new home at the Atlanta History Center

Atlanta (CNN)Chances are, many choo-choo trains will be making their way up Interstate 85 this holiday week. Most will be gift-wrapped and tucked away in the trunk. They may be named Thomas, Polar Express or Lionel.

But there's only one Texas. And it is sure to draw some double takes along its way.
The legendary Civil War locomotive, 51 feet long from cowcatcher to tender and more than 11 feet tall, won't be chugging north on a track from Atlanta to North Carolina.
    The engine and tender could be in the lane beside you, perched on trailers pulled by trucks.
    At the old Atlanta Cyclorama building, the Texas on Monday was lifted by crane for its 285-mile journey to Spencer, North Carolina. The engine and tender will begin their journey early Tuesday morning.
    In Spencer, the engine will undergo a $500,000 restoration before it is shipped back south to its new home, the Atlanta History Center.
    The Texas, made famous in a 1950s Disney movie, was one of the players in the war's Great Locomotive Chase in April 1862. Its crew, running the locomotive backward, caught up with Union raiders who tried to destroy track between Big Shanty (now Kennesaw) and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
    The raiders achieved little success, and eight of the nearly two dozen captured participants, disguised as civilians, were later hanged in Atlanta as spies.
    "We want to show it as the hard-working engine that it was, not just as one of the engines in the Great Locomotive Chase," Gordon Jones, the history center's senior military historian, said in a statement.
    The 1856 locomotive will symbolize the city's rich railroad past and welcome visitors to the Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama painting, which also is being moved to the Atlanta History Center and will be restored.
    Moving the Texas out of its home of nearly 90 years was quite a feat.
    The behemoth was inched more than 30 feet through the old auditorium. A deep trench was dug to protect structural supports, and a wall was opened. Movable sections of track were used in the process, said Howard Pousner, manager of media relations for the Atlanta History Center.
    The locomotive, long in the shadow of the General -- the engine it chased -- won't be relegated to the basement anymore. Freed of corrosion and rust and sporting a new paint job, the illuminated Texas will be visible from the road. It will be a far cry from the early 1900s, when it was rescued from a Western & Atlantic Railroad yard before it was sent to scrap.

    Restoring painting, engine to original glory

    Atlanta History Center officials are excited that the move will bring new interpretation opportunities for the Texas' companion -- the Cyclorama, a painting-in-the round that covered 15,030 square feet and is 42 feet tall and 358 feet in circumference. The history center will restore sections that were cut so that the mural could fit into the old Cyclorama building, which closed this past summer.
    Once that restoration is done, people will see the Cyclorama, painted in 1886, as its artists envisioned -- from an open platform with a 3-D effect. The painting captures a pivotal moment of the July 1864 Battle of Atlanta, one in a string of Confederate losses that eventually led to the loss of Atlanta to Union forces.
    The locomotive and painting were displayed for years in the city's Grant Park. Last year, Mayor Kasim Reed announced they would be moved to the Atlanta History Center campus in Buckhead. They will belong to the city but will be under the stewardship of the center and receive the long-awaited restoration.
    The Texas will receive its tender loving care at the Spencer Shops, part of the N.C. Transportation Museum. The public will be able to witness much of the work.
    "Like any locomotive of long service, it has been significantly altered over the years and features many replacement parts, including its wheels, tender and boiler. Along the way it was converted from a wood-burner to coal-fired," the Atlanta History Center said.
    Preservation issues include corrosion in the tender and under the boiler jacket, rot in the smoke box and broken springs.
    The Texas is expected to return to Atlanta in late 2016. It will be in a glass enclosure that will connect a museum to the new Cyclorama building that will house the painting. That building is expected to open in late 2017, with a dedication in 2018. As in Spencer, patrons at the history center will be able to witness much of the work.
    The old Cyclorama building in Grant Park will be taken over by next-door Zoo Atlanta as a community event space and extension of an African savanna exhibit.
    As for the locomotive General, the object of the Texas' pursuit? It's housed at the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History, northwest of Atlanta.