A recently-announced collaborative effort between railroad companies and preservation groups is getting a historic twist, and the public will have an opportunity to participate in the uncommon event.
Clinchfield 800, a rare F-7 diesel locomotive built in 1948, has been assigned by CSX Transportation to be the lead engine on an Odyssey across the Bluegrass state, a move that will ultimately take steam locomotive Chesapeake and Ohio 2716 from its current home at the Kentucky Railway Museum to the care of the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation (KSHC) in
Ravenna, Kentucky. Kentucky Steam intends to restore 2716 to operation, and make the engine a focal point of their envisioned train-centered venue, the Kentucky Rail Heritage Center.
On Monday, Kentucky Steam announced that CSX Transportation and the RJ Corman Railroad Group have agreed to transport the 75-year old steam engine over the weekend of July 26-28. The move will kick off on Friday, July 26, when the public will be invited to ride a special "Heritage Highball" excursion at the Kentucky Railway Museum as Clinchfield 800 leads the historic move out of New Haven and onto the CSX mainline. Riders will be treated to a leisurely trip across Kentucky bourbon country, and will be able to bid farewell to 2716 as it and the 800 uncouple and continue on toward Ravenna, while the excursion returns back to Kentucky Railway Museum. Tickets range from coach class all the way up to caboose seats and cab rides in both 2716 and 800. Proceeds from the excursion will help offset the costs incurred by both Kentucky Steam and KRM associated with the move.
800's inclusion in the event will be a dramatic reuniting of the two vintage artifacts — a story 40 years in the making. The two engines last met in 1979 when the 800 was tasked with moving 2716 from the Kentucky Railway Museum — then located in Louisville — to North Carolina to be rebuilt and used by the Clinchfield Railroad. It was famously escorted through
Kentucky and Tennessee with a vintage caboose and Clinchfield business car No. 100 in tow, destined for restoration by the railroad and slated to be used on company-sponsored excursions. Only a few short months into refurbishment, however, the railroad company was rocked by a management shakeup, and the excursion program was canceled. The engine was quickly pieced back together and shipped back to Kentucky.
"This is a rare opportunity at a second chance," said Chris Campbell, Kentucky Steam president. "It's almost like redemption for the two engines. Both are historic and both share a mutual chapter in the history of American rail preservation. We cannot thank CSX and our friends at the Southern Appalachian Railroad Museum enough for allowing this story to have another chapter."
Clinchfield 800 is operated and maintained by the Southern Appalachian Railroad Museum (SARM), located in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The 70-year-old locomotive was the first diesel purchased by the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railroad, a predecessor company of CSX. The engine was built by the Electro-Motive Division and operated predominately in Appalachia. After the Clinchfield was absorbed into CSX Transportation, the engine was leased for commuter service in the early 1990s and was eventually donated to the C&O Railroad Historical Society and was painted in C&O Livery. In 2017, the Clinchfield 800 was faithfully restored to its as-delivered grey and yellow paint scheme by the dedicated members of the CSX Huntington Locomotive Paint Shop. CSX railroaders researched old drawings and consulted retired Clinchfield engineers to ensure that the exterior and interior were restored to the original specifications used when the locomotive first rolled off the line in LaGrange, Ill.
Most recently, the locomotive was given nationwide attention as it took the lead on the 2017 CSX Santa Train, an annual 110-mile trek from Shelby, Ky., to Kingsport, Tenn. Special guests and staff deliver toys, food and winter clothing each year to residents along the train's path in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee.
Charlie Poling, museum director of SARM, said the 800's inclusion in the move of 2716 is an amazing opportunity to honor the heritage of not only CSX, but also two important pieces of railroad history.
"SARM could not ask for a better partner in preservation than CSX Transportation," Poling said. "Their ongoing commitment to preserving their proud corporate heritage is to be commended. Clinchfield 800 is a shining example of this commitment. SARM was honored and humbled to be asked to participate in the 75th anniversary Santa Train and is again honored to be involved in C&O 2716's trip to a new home in Ravenna."
800 won't be the only carefully-refurbished showpiece on the excursion. C&O Caboose 3203, which was also recently restored at CSX's Huntington Shops over the winter, will also join the
consist. The stunning rehab was completed in February and the 50-year-old caboose was subsequently released with much fanfare as a donation to Kentucky Steam.
Campbell added that the excursion is not only a great collaboration between rail preservation groups but is also a chance to showcase the excellent work of the men and women whose craftsmanship was instrumental in restoring the two vintage pieces.
"The workers at the Huntington Shops are largely unsung heroes in the day-to-day operations of big railroads like CSX Transportation," he said. "This is a great opportunity to honor their dedicated work on a big stage ... and it's humbling to be able to do it with the partnership of SARM and KRM ... and the blessing of CSX."
Tickets for the July 26 excursion go on sale Thursday, April 18 at 9 a.m. Tickets start at $43 for coach up to $2,716 for a cab ride in the C&O 2716.
For more details and updates, information on membership, donations and for ordering tickets, visit www.kentuckysteam.org
For more info about the Kentucky Railway Museum, visit www.kyrail.org
For information about the Southern Appalachia Railroad Museum, visit www.secretcityrailroad.com
* Article and Photos Courtesy KSHC*