History of the
Chattanooga Society of Model Engineers, Inc. (CSME)
Formally the "Chattanooga Live Steamers"
By Andy Morrison, Founding President
Andy Morrison, a veteran live steam enthusiast, sent letters to "Live Steam" and "MODELTEC" magazines announcing plans to form a live steam club for modelers in the Chattanooga area. He also contacted some names collected from various other sources and tips. He had already had the luck to meet his near neighbor, David Porter, but it was down in Duluth, GA, at the old NGLS track! David was immediately enthusiastic about getting a club started. There was a good turn out for the first meeting at Andy's house and another bit of luck hit with the appearance of Dwayne Biggs, a major contributor to the future success of CSME.
Andy and Dwayne made intensive efforts to find a location for the railroad on public property in order to avoid having to buy property. Sites were extensively studied at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, and in Collegedale, Audubon Acres (Chattanooga TN), Chickamauga, Hixson Greenway, and Jack Mattox Park (Catoosa County GA), among others. We also looked at private property in Wildwood, GA, that was offered to us for free use, but without our ownership.
Andy had developed a Master Plan spelling out all the optimum requirements and specifications for a fully developed railroad to carry the public and each site was evaluated against this plan. Every one of these sites had to be mapped and a completely developed track plan prepared to make sure that what we wanted to build over the long haul would fit. There was also a great deal of administrative planning work done with the goal to set up CSME as a not-for-profit educational corporation in order to deal with the eventual public entity landlord and to assist in raising construction money from the public.
In the end, none of the sites considered turned out to be sufficiently acceptable to proceed. The biggest disappointment was that there just wasn't enough land available at TVRM, a site that in most respects would have been ideal. Another site where they were enthusiastic about our plans was at the Collegedale Greenway but flooding discouraged us there, as it did at Audubon Acres. We liked the greenway in Hixson but they wouldn't have us. We got very serious about Jack Mattox Park where they were very enthusiastic but didn't care to be right next to the I-75 noise. The private property in Wildwood was nice but the negotiations with the owning family seemed to have the potential to be messy.
While the search for a track site was proceeding, CSME held regular monthly meetings at member's homes, which were both social and educational. Information packets were assembled and distributed to members interested in building various kinds of rolling stock. A club project to build cars did not materialize due to wide variations in the equipment desired by members. However, with leadership by Dwayne Biggs looking on the "web", a variety of locomotives and cars were acquired by various club members, which could be operated at regional live steam "meets" until our track could be built. Notable examples were Dwayne going through three steam locomotives in a year looking for one that was "just right" and a December '99 trip to Oklahoma that he arranged that brought back about a dozen good used freight cars that were distributed among interested members. Meanwhile, David Porter was also acquiring an interesting collection of nice equipment ensuring that there would be trains to run when a track was built.
In the absence of a track in Chattanooga, and with the unfortunate removal of the North Georgia Live Steamers track in north Georgia, CSME members enjoyed the hospitality of other tracks where they could run their equipment as visitors at meets. Most frequently visited was the Mid-South Live Steamers track in Columbia, TN. Other tracks often visited were in Apex, NC, and Phoenix City, AL. These visits are full of good fellowship and enjoyable running and enabled us to see how other modelers built and operated their equipment and railroads.
By the fall of 1999, a great deal of preliminary design and proposal work had been done for all of the proposed public sites but CSME President, Andy Morrison, was growing weary of the political implications and complications, the expected train service commitments, and the liability responsibilities associated with being on public property. Therefore he changed course and started looking for a way to build the railroad on private property in spite of the risk of losing it if the property was sold as has happened to many club tracks in the past.
Back in February 1999, CSME had participated in a mall show at Northgate mall and had made the connection with Larry Taylor and his entourage that would ultimately solve the track site problem. Larry was planning on retiring and had purchased 80 acres of beautiful woodlands, North of Chattanooga, where he intended to build a railroad with the help of family members and his friend, Chuck Priputin. After visiting Larry's "Eagle Point Railroad" site, the CSME officers decided to join forces with Larry and help him build his railroad in exchange for access to it as a club railroad. This has developed into a very symbiotic relationship producing what is developing into a very nice railroad, complete with club member access to a shop / kitchen / restroom facility. Due to poor road conditions near the track site, the CSME work sessions during the winter of '99-'00 were spent building about 1,200 feet of pre-fabricated track panels in David Porter's shop in Ooltewah.
This first year at the railroad site was spent grading a lot of slow going cuts, fills, and roadbed, but by our 2nd anniversary in the fall we had 480 feet of track laid, the completion of the first portion of the Eagle Point shop loop, the shop track, 2 turnouts [switches] and three crossings. October 15 was the second anniversary of the founding meeting of the Chattanooga Live Steamers, later re-named the Chattanooga Society of Model Engineers. In lieu of a third mall show (the 2nd was at Eastgate Mall in June '99) we held a "show and tell" at the TVRM in September to help recruit new members. Unfortunately, although we had demonstration locomotives running on 320 feet of panel track, we were rained out and were less successful than we had hoped in view of the set-up work involved. Recently we have had better luck from motivated hobbyists finding us through their own efforts.
Additional History by Rick Henderson
The club was incorporated as a Tennessee non-profit corporation in December, 2002. In March, 2003, CSME was recognized as a non-profit 501c(3) educational organization by the Internal Revenue Service.
Many civic groups have visited the facilities, some even annually as part of their own programs.
An educational visit includes a tour of the shop facilities where people learn how railroads are actually constructed and maintained. They see examples of various motive power, freight and passenger railroad cars. Scale model industries around the railroad help explain the purpose of railroads and the part they play in the early and current economy of the U.S. and the movement of materials.
Membership in the club has grown steadily during the first ten years from the 11 forming members in November of 1998 to 100 members in 2007. Four of the original members are still with the organization.
By 2007, the club expanded its car-barn to include 780' of storage, with plans to expand further, started a 12-bay working roundhouse and is planning a clubhouse.