Tornado Locomotive Exhibit Brings Richmond County’s Past to Life

November 11, 2010


Just over a year ago during the Annual Seaboard Festival in the city of Hamlet, North Carolina, local residents dedicated a new addition to the rich railway heritage of Richmond County, NC—a replica of the Tornado Locomotive. The Tornado was the first steam engine locomotive in North Carolina. Hamlet, North Carolina is already steeped in railroad history. Once a major hub for the Seaboard Airline Railroad (now CSX), the town is also home to the Hamlet Passenger Depot—one of the most photographed train stations in the Eastern United States.

Originally built in 1839 by D.J. Burr & Co. of Richmond, Virginia, the Tornado was classified as a 4-2-0 steam engine locomotive. The numbers stood for four leading wheels, two driving wheels and no trailing wheels and a total length of 50 feet including tender and box car. It was one of four locomotives delivered to the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad, the others being the Tempest, Volcano and Whirlwind. The Tornado’s engineer was Albert Johnson, with Reuben Cole handling fireman duties. Johnson, the original master mechanic of the Gaston Road line, actually oversaw the construction of the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad shops.

Weighing in at six and a half tons, the Tornado was on the light side by most locomotive standards; however she pulled thirty loaded cars and routinely hauled up to 160 tons of freight on 50-mile runs between the towns of Henderson and Gaston, North Carolina.

In 1840, the Tornado became the first steam locomotive to reach the state capital of North Carolina on the Raleigh & Gaston Railroad, where she arrived to gawking crowds of residents. In the spring of 1865, the Union Army captured the Tornado when they took the North Carolina Railroad between Goldsborough and Raleigh. After much use and a gradual phase out of this model in favor of the newer 4-4-0 models, this Tornado replica was originally rebuilt in 1892 for the Raleigh Centennial Exposition. It was featured in the Great Centennial Celebration parade in October of that same year. It arrived in the Town of Hamlet in 1950 and was again fully-restored with North Carolina DOT funds between the years of 2007-2009.

The building in which it is now housed was specially-created to accommodate the Tornado. The structure also houses a 1927 Model-T, a 1930 Model-A Ford and a 1949 fire engine. It is located directly across the street from the Hamlet Passenger Depot, the glorious looking train station with its award-winning, Queen Anne-style Victorian Architecture.

Jim Graham, Chairman of the Board for the Depot, reflected on the addition of the Tornado alongside Richmond County’s other railway treasures. “Hamlet always was a railroad town. Many residents here, me included, had fathers and grandfathers that worked for the Seaboard Airline Railroad and we just want to preserve that railway heritage for generations to come.”

Update: The Tornado Locomotive was the recent subject of a cover story article in the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society’s Quarterly Newsletter.  Read all about this fascinating piece of history located right here in Richmond County!

Contact Information: The Tornado Building/Exhibit is run by the City of Hamlet Government, 201 Main Street, Hamlet, NC 28345. Phone: (910) 582-2651.

Access: The Tornado Building/Exhibit is located at 7 Main Street, Hamlet, NC 28345. Hours of operation are Saturdays and Sundays from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. Other visitation can be set up via appointment only.

Map: View a map of this area.

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