Jonesboro Sun

Transcribed by : Tina Easley

Steam locomotive stops in Paragould

By Amanda Harris

PARAGOULD -- The Union Pacific Challenger No. 3985 steam locomotive made its way through Northeast Arkansas Friday morning, making a brief stop in Paragould and later in Hickory Ridge.

The world's largest operating locomotive is making a 9-state winter tour which began in Cheyenne, Wyo. At its half-way point, it will be on display in Houston, Texas, during Super Bowl activities.

The Union Pacific-owned locomotive weighs more than one million pounds and has drive wheels which measure six feet in diameter and allow it to reach speeds of more than 70 miles per hour.

It holds 25,000 gallons of water. Originally built as a coal burner, the engine has been converted to use oil.

Built for fast freight in 1943, and also used for passenger service, the locomotive was retired in 1959 and was displayed in Cheyenne until a group of Union Pacific employees restored it to operating condition, doing the work on their own time.

It has been used for special excursion services ever since.

On what turned out to be a cold Friday morning, the train left Bernie, Mo., about 10 minutes after 8, making its way through Malden, Mo., Piggott, Rector and Marmaduke before reaching Paragould about 9:30.

Many of the 100 or so people waited near the railroad tracks in the downtown Paragould area rushed toward the engine as it crept to a stop in the brisk air.

Children and adults alike posed for pictures near the engine, with those photos destined to become mementos that likely will be tucked away in albums and handed down for generations to come.

Paragould residents seemed especially excited to catch a glimpse of the Super Bowl-bound train, which made a brief stop in the Greene County town. The Sun learned the impromptu stop was a gesture meant to pay tribute to Paragould and its railroad heritage.

The Greene County city was established in 1882 when two railroads decided to build lines through the county that intersected at the spot that has become Paragould.

One of those lines -- the St. Louis and Missouri Pacific -- was headed by railroad baron Jay Gould, and the other by J.W. Paramore. The latter was called the Cottonbelt, previously known as the Texas and St. Louis Railroad.

Gould and Paramore agreed to construct the railroad lines to ship cotton from Texas to St. Louis.

When it came time to select a name for the town that sprang up around the junction of the two lines, officials agreed to take the first syllable from each of the railroad men's names, creating Paragould.

In the 122 years since, the people of Paragould have not forgotten their heritage.

Friday's short visit from the Challenger was a reminder for many of the city's beginnings.

Paragould resident Kimberly Warmath braved below-freezing temperatures so that her son, 4-year-old Noah, could see the locomotive.

"It was absolutely impressive," Warmath said, noting that she let little Noah "play hooky" from pre-school Friday morning to experience the "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Warmath and her family are train enthusiasts, she said, explaining her family has ridden trains at Branson, Nashville and the Grand Canyon, as well as visited the train exhibit at the St. Louis Museum of Transportation.

Christa Gamble, a Paragould resident and the executive director of the Greene County Community Fund, called the Challenger's visit "a historical moment."

The 122-foot-long steam locomotive, followed by eight cars, made its way through Brookland and Jonesboro at mid-morning Friday. It was scheduled for an 11 a.m. maintenance stop at Hickory Ridge, and an overnight stop in Pine Bluff.