Return to the High Iron: The Operation and Interpretation of Mainline Steam Excursions in the United States

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Bryan, Joseph MacRae
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Middle Tennessee State University
The steam locomotive is one of the most recognizable artifacts from industrial history. After their demise in the mid-twentieth century, those that were not cut up for scrap found homes at new transportation museums and with railroad historical organizations. Beginning in the 1960s, more than a dozen American railroads offered special excursion trains powered by steam locomotives as a unique experience for people to ride behind a piece of history. Non-profit organizations continued this practice into the twenty-first century granting people the opportunity to ride on steam excursions.
This thesis examines the history of mainline steam excursions, why they started, and how present day partnerships between railroad companies and non-profit organizations provide an excellent opportunity to advance the interpretation of transportation history. Cultural products of the early twentieth century created nostalgic feelings towards American railroading. Companies used this nostalgia to improve public relations through steam-powered excursions. Current non-profits with active steam locomotives can use them as interpretive tools for both cultural and industrial history while simultaneously enhancing local heritage tourism.
History, Preservation, Railroads, Restoration, Steam