Looking Back: “Journey to Steam’s Final Hour”

Looking back at my first couple of blog posts–August 2011!  Where did the time go?  Thank you loyal followers for joining me on this journey.  Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a very happy 2020…

“Steam’s Final Hour” by Tom Rock

My name is Tom Rock.  I am a self-taught train artist; I’ve been painting railroad scenes since 1972.  Here at Rock on Trains, I will share with you, the reader, the background information on each one of my paintings.  I began lithographing my work in 1988, but in today’s blog entry, you’ll learn about my 1994 painting, Steam’s Final Hour.

When I first started painting trains, it never occurred to me that I’d be penning such a historic scene.  The historical perspective associated with Steam’s Final Hour actually goes back to the fall of 1991.  While I was participating in an art show on the grounds of the Chattanooga Choo Choo, I met Mr. John Reese.  As we conversed, I learned that John was a retired Southern Railway conductor who worked the Royal Palm out of Terminal Station.

We kept in close contact over the next few years.  In the fall of 1993, he invited me to display my art at an upcoming World War II retired military railroader’s convention which was to be held in Chattanooga.  I did not know what to expect at the convention, but John reassured me that my work would certainly be welcomed. My confidence soared after reminiscing with many trainmen at the event.  John then introduced me to Mr. Ralph Clevenger, who served as the brakeman on the last Southern steam engine on June 17, 1953.

Listening to this historical icon speak provided the inspiration for my next painting; I would paint the scene that Ralph was a part of in June 1953. This piece would be released in 1994 — the Southern Railroad’s 100th anniversary, and also the final year of the Southern’s steam program.  This image could not be more fitting.  I informed Ralph of my plans for my new painting and asked if he would countersign my prints.  He agreed, but proceeded to tell me not to forget Clarence. Clarence McMahan served alongside Ralph as the flagman on the final Southern steam engine.

Clarence McMahan, Tom Rock, Ralph Clevenger

As time passes, so do precious souls; Mr. McMahan passed away a few years ago, and Mr. Clevenger passed away 3 months ago.  Steam’s Final Hour is a fitting tribute to hard working railroad men like Ralph and Clarence.  Their legacy will live on forever.

Click here to view/purchase this print at Rock on Trains.

Below are photos taken during the painting’s development.  In my next entry, I hope to share video clips from the print signing.  Enjoy!

Preliminary layout for “Steam’s Final Hour”

“Steam’s Final Hour” at 60 hrs development

“Steam’s Final Hour” at 110 hrs development

“Steam’s Final Hour” at 162 hrs development

“Steam’s Final Hour” at 206 hrs development

“Steam’s Final Hour” (complete)

Click here to view/purchase this print at Rock on Trains.

I hope you enjoyed your behind-the-scenes tour of Steam’s Final Hour.  There was something symbolic about that Wednesday afternoon in June — the best of steam power, represented by the 6330, giving way to the best of diesel power.  On Wednesday, June 17, 1953, at 3:00PM, an era — an age, an epoch — ended.  It is like we shall never see again.

To conclude this historical journey, I’m sharing several photos taken on that memorable day:

Ralph Clevenger taking water at Montlake, Tennessee.  (Credit: Chattanooga Times)

The 6330 Crew from L-R: J.E. Griffey, fireman; A.R. Clevenger, brakeman; C.D. McMahan, flagman, Harry H. Houghton, conductor, and C.F. Case, engineer. (Credit: Mr. Howard Olmstead, courtesy of the Southern Railway Historical Association)

The 6330 on 6.17.1953 in Citico Yards. (Credit: Mr. Herman Lamb)

The 6330 on 6.17.1953 in Citico Yards. (Credit: Mr. Herman Lamb)

The 6330 on 6.17.1953 in Citico Yards. (Credit: Mr. Herman Lamb)

The 6330 on 6.17.1953 in Citico Yards. (Credit: Mr. Herman Lamb)

Click here to view footage from the print signing on November 19, 1994.

Click here to view/purchase this print at Rock on Trains.


Rock on Trains © 2019, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions.  All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.

Joint Effort

This blog entry offers a behind-the-scenes look at “Joint Effort,” my 1988 painting of the Louisville & Nashville depot at Etowah, Tennessee.  It’s April 1944 — as the local fireman tops off her tank in preparation for the daily switching chores, First No. 53 South struggles to lift her tonnage, bound for Atlanta, past the L&N depot in Etowah.

L&N Railway Depot - Etowah, TN (Credit: Tom Rock)

L&N Railway Depot – Etowah, TN (Credit: Tom Rock)

JOINT EFFORT at 45 hours of development

“Joint Effort” at 45 hrs Development

JOINT EFFORT at 70 hours of development

“Joint Effort” at 70 hrs Development

JOINT EFFORT at 144 hours of development

“Joint Effort” at 144 hrs Development

JOINT EFFORT at 180 hours of development

“Joint Effort” at 180 hrs Development

JOINT EFFORT at 252 hours of development

“Joint Effort” at 252 hrs Development

JOINT EFFORT Complete at 400 hours of development

“Joint Effort” Complete at 400 hrs Development

Etowah Depot History

In 1906 the Louisville & Nashville Railroad opened a depot and shop facility in a sleepy little town in southeast Tennessee called Etowah (Cherokee for “Muddy Waters”). When the construction was complete, the complex included a turntable, roundhouse, engine and car repair shops; passenger and freight depots, power plant and fourteen freight and five repair tracks. This was going to make Etowah the L&N Railroad’s division point between Corbin, Kentucky, and Atlanta, Georgia, on the new route to connect Chicago with Cincinnati, Ohio; Lexington, Kentucky; and Knoxville, Tennessee.

The depot was the key building in the railroad complex, and became the center of the business district. It housed the administrative as well as the passenger station for the community, and because of its architectural excellence was proclaimed the finest station between Knoxville and Atlanta.

In 1974, after 68 years of operation, the L&N closed the station, but by 1981, with the help of local civic groups and grants, the building was restored to its original grandeur and reopened, this time to let the public view what a grand part of Americana she once was. It currently houses the Etowah Chamber of Commerce and Cultural Arts Commission as well as a museum.


Take this opportunity to own a Limited Edition proof or decorator print of Tom Rock’s classic railroad painting, “Joint Effort.”  Click here to view/purchase this print at Rock on Trains.


Rock on Trains © 2012, Tom Rock + T.D.R. Productions.  All rights reserved.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Tom Rock is strictly prohibited.