HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – For more than 40 years, a makeshift locomotive built from a school bus chassis thrilled

Huntsville’s children and played a role in proudly promoting the city as “The Space Capital of the Universe,”

and “Home to Redstone Arsenal.”

It was a favorite sight in dozens of downtown Christmas parades and was prominently featured during the city’s

sesquicentennial celebration in 1955. In the 1960s, children could take free rides in the parking lot of Haysland

Square shopping center in South Huntsville.

But throughout the 1990s, the engine known by most as simply “The Train,” sat neglected in the parking lot of

the building for the Tennessee Valley Voiture 1012 La Societe Des 40 Hommes Et 8 Chevaux, then found a

temporary home in 2000 behind the North Alabama Railroad Museum on Chase Road.

But even there, no one seemed to know what to do with the over-sized relic.

That’s why Lance and Vance George, brothers and local history enthusiasts, have been trying for years to buy

the train – they wanted to ensure this piece of Huntsville nostalgia didn’t end up in a scrap yard.


On Friday, the train was lovingly loaded onto a flatbed truck and hauled away to be preserved. The George

brothers, with the support of Vance’s wife, Sandy, finally bought the locomotive, with its faded silver and

black paint now embellished with rust stains and an engine that no longer runs.

“It’s kind of like a Huntsville heirloom,” Lance said. “I have memories of it as a kid.”

Vance recalled riding the train at a local shopping center parking lot when he was about 7 years old.

“I loved it,” he said. “The bell and sirens were so loud and dramatic that I thought it was a real train.”

Although Lance never rode the train, he recalls watching excitedly as it passed the crowd in many Christmas


“It’s definitely not going to the scrap yard,” he said. “It should be preserved,”

The train's long journey

The train’s chassis was purchased in 1948 from Hill Chevrolet in Huntsville by the newly formed La Societe

Des 40 Hommes Et 8 Chevaux, a service organization made up of veterans.

Huntsville train ad.jpgThis 1968 advertisement featured on announces

free rides on the train at Haysland Square in south Huntsville. (Contributed by

According to a brief history on Lance’s website,, the chassis was converted into a

parade locomotive in Birmingham in the summer of 1948 so it likely debuted at that year’s Christmas parade.

“Over the next 40 years the train was used in parades and special events all over the Huntsville area,” Lance

said. “The train was often seen at the Voiture buildings on Pulaski Pike, near today's Home Depot, and on

Jordan Lane.”

At one point, Voiture and the American Legion worked together and the local Legion also used the train for


Henry Turner of Huntsville, whose father was a former commander of the American Legion, recalled riding it

from the late 1950s through the mid-1960s.

“Children always liked seeing it and looked to see if any of their friends were on board. I suppose some were

envious,” Turner said. “In any case, it was an important and one of the most looked-for entries in the parades.”


All aboard? The next destination

The George brothers, who are also car enthusiasts and recently purchased a rare Huntsville Keller car to

restore, plan to refurbish the locomotive and at the very least display it so residents can recall happy memories.


However, getting the engine running will take time and resources.

“We found out the engine on it is not the 1947 engine it originally had,” he said. It now has a 1973 Chrysler

440 engine, Vance said.

Lance hopes the train will run again someday. “The ultimate goal would be to get it drivable so it could be in a

Christmas parade but there would be liability involved, especially with something that old,” he said. “Time will


In the meantime, the Georges are seeking photos and recollections of the train.

Anyone who has something to share can email Lance at