The Tennessean was the Southern's third train to serve the Washington, D.C. to Memphis market. From its inauguration the train was a streamlined affair that worked in conjunction with the Norfolk & Western and replaced the former, heavyweight Memphis Special
in the early 1940s. Interestingly, the Southern was not, initially, a
proponent of streamliners. Always conservative it did not see the need
to spend vast amounts of capital on purchasing flashy new cars
and locomotives to grab attention and headlines. Ultimately, however,
as the industry realized the staying power of the fad lines like the
Southern finally capitulated and began upgrading their trains to
streamliner status. The train remained a fixture on Southern's timetable until the late 1960s when it was discontinued.
The first two trains the Southern decided to initially streamline included the Southerner (which debuted on March 31, 1941) and Tennessean
(which hit the rails a few months later on May 17, 1941). The ultimate
success of these two trains convinced the railroad to also streamline
its flagship, the Crescent. While the former was a through train serving D.C. and New Orleans
the latter only operated as far south as Memphis. However, both worked
in conjunction with the Pennsylvania to reach New York City. For the Tennessean is also worked with the Norfolk & Western in a sort of cutup route. At Lynchburg, Virginia the train was handed off to the N&W which carried it to Bristol where it finished the journey to Memphis on home rails.
While the streamliner was a fine operation providing top-notch
service (the Southern demanded nothing less) it also had another
important task, hauling mail. It retained this status until the U.S.
Postal Service stopped having the mail shipped by rail in the late
1960s. In any event, the train featured new equipment from
Pullman-Standard which was part of 44 new cars the Southern ordered in
October, 1940. While the cars had the shiny, stainless steel
appearance of the Budd Company's patented design they were actually
built of Cor-Ten steel alloy and covered in a stainless-steel sheathing.
This gave the appearance that the equipment was entirely built of
stainless-steel although with Budd having the actual patent of the
design no other builder could do so.
For power the Tennessean featured either one of the
Electro-Motive Corporation's new E6A streamlined diesel locomotives or
an elegantly streamlined Class Ps-4 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotive
(which operated only between Washington and Bristol) thanks to the
styling efforts of famed industrial designer Otto Kuhler. Both
locomotives featured the Southern's classic Virginia Green and white
livery with gold trim. Coupled with the stainless-steel the cars the train was quite a sight to behold at speed no matter which locomotive was being used for power. When the train first hit the rails the Southern took the train
on a publicity tour along its route to let folks see the new
streamliner, and for many it was something they had never seen before.
A typical consist for the Tennessean included tavern-lounge
coaches (which offered reclining/swivel chairs,
cocktail tables, and a chrome-trimmed stand-up bar), a diner (between
Knoxville and Washington), and parlors, and a tavern-lounge observation.
Additionally, the train carried older, heavyweight Pullman sleepers
that connected to Chattanooga (via Memphis), New York to Memphis, and
Bristol to Nashville. These cars were all clad in an aluminum paint so
as to match the rest of the consist. The interior of the train featured
bright blues and greens as well as indirect lighting and
air-conditioning (two features that became a fixture on most
streamliners). The Southern made sure that the train offered plenty of
room for passengers to stretch out, even while sitting in the coaches. For more reading about the train please click here.
in rail travel declined through the 1950s the Southern slowly cutback
the services it offered across its entire fleet of trains. By the early
1960s the train had lost all of its added services save for
coaches and one Pullman sleeper. Later that decade during 1967 the postal service
canceled all mail contracts with the railroads. This move virtually sealed the
fate of the train and numerous others, which had long depended on this lucrative traffic as a means of offsetting the growing cost to retain such service. The Tennessean's final run
occurred on March 30, 1968. Consequently, the Southern was the last
railroad still using Memphis Union Station at the time of its closure. Sadly, less than a year after the railroad pulled out the building was demolished.