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November 2017

Ron Flanary Reacts to Clinchfield #800

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Above: The restoration team poses with recently Clinchfield Railroad F3A #800 at the CSX Shops in Huntington, West Virginia. Photos and story provided by Ron Flanary.

As a life-long resident of southwestern Virginia, the annual Santa Train has been a part of my life for nearly 50 years. Through the years, I’ve been honored to ride along as a guest of the railroad, or a media representative on several occasions. My first ride was in 1982, the last year the Santa Train was a Clinchfield Railroad operation. Of all the experiences with the train, nothing eclipsed the 50th Anniversary running, when Union Pacific sent Challenger #3985 all the way from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Kingsport, Tennessee. It was in the works for four years, while many people secretly tried to put the proposal together. When it actually happened, it was an overwhelming experience.

Below: A roster shot of Clinchfield #800 after being revealed by CSX on November 6th, 2017.

With the 75th running of the train coming this year, there was already much speculation on what might be on the head end. I was contacted about a year ago by CSX and Jim Wrinn, editor of Trains Magazine. I was enlisted to find, if possible, an original 1948 EMD paint diagram for the unit. With help from some contacts, that was accomplished. What followed for the next several months were discussions about color specs and so many small details. Calls were made to retired Clinchfield engineers in come cases, leaving them wondering what was up.

My personal role was minor compared to the folks with Southern Appalachian Railway Museum in Oak Ridge, TN, and Charlie Poling of East Tennessee Rail Car Services. They were doing the same type of work on an ex-SCL SD45 to renumber and letter it as Clinchfield #3632. A project of this nature can hit obstacles one would never dream of. Some 30 volunteers, plus many CSX employees at Huntington worked away in a stealth-like manner to ready these locomotives and make certain they could lead the train. And, everyone remained quiet, because there was no reason to raise false expectations with so many issues to overcome.

Right: A smiling Ron Flanary poses with the #800 inside Huntington Shops.

Ultimately, it happened. As stood beside the unit in the Huntington paint shop a few weeks ago and talked to some of the paint shop employees, you could hear the pride in their voices. The charts and photos I had sent were taped to the wall, and notes were written on details I had provided. But, compared the long man hours of work performed by the volunteers at Oak Ridge and CSX workers, my contribution was minor.

I saw these units when they ran like this in everyday service. I stood on the overhead walkway at Kingsport, TN as five F-units rolled beneath me. You could feel the heat from the exhaust and watch the cooling fans as the turned. Now, see the #800 in its original guise. For me, Christmas 2017 has already been a winner. I just can’t wait to see her rolling along the former Clinchfield main again—a great sight for my sore eyes!

Ron Flanary of Big Stone Gap, Virginia has been a fan of the Clinchfield as long as he can remember. A noted railroad photographer, painter, musician, and railroad historian, Flanary grew up watching trains on the famous coal-hauling route.

See our video from 2016’s Santa Train trip over the Clinchfield below.

CSX Goes All Out for the 75th Santa Train

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Above: Clinchfield Railroad F3A #800 at Huntington, WV after being unveiled by CSX Transportation on November 6, 2017. Photos submitted by Mark Ragan.

Beginning in 1942, the Clinchfield Railroad once hosted the annual Santa Train as part of its local passenger train, No. 38. The train was originally conceived by several Kingsport businessmen who wanted to give back to their communities. Over time, the train grew and grew to become a regional spectacle – with children and families looking forward to the yearly visit of Santa Claus along the Clinchfield Railroad’s mainline.

Every year, Saint Nick himself rides the on the rear of the train – tossing out candy and presents to the children below. For many kids, this is the highlight of their entire year. Thanks to the many sponsors of the train, the gifts were provided through monetary donations – giving these families joy and hope. For some families, these are the only presents they receive during the holiday season.

The train is not just exciting, it also makes one appreciate the spirit of giving. Operated the weekend before Thanksgiving, it reminds us of what it truly means to be thankful for what we have been given in this great country. During the journey, the Clinchfield Santa Train rolls travels over bridges, through tunnels, and up the steep grades of mighty mainline.

2017 marks the 75th Anniversary of this November tradition and CSX is celebrating it in a big way. On November 6th, CSX unveiled the Clinchfield #800, an EMD F3A locomotive built in 1948, which will pull the Santa Train consist on Saturday, November the 18th. In partnership with the North Carolina Transportation Museum, CSX returned the locomotive to its proper Clinchfield appearance. In addition to the #800, the Southern Appalachia Railway Museum of Oak Ridge, TN is disguising Seaboard SD45 #2024 as Clinchfield #3632 to run with the F unit on the Santa Train this year.

Below: SARM’s contribution to the 75th Anniversary Santa Train will be “Clinchfield” SD45 #3632, a Seaboard Coastline locomotive disguised for the Clinchfield’s classic black and yellow freight livery.

Last year, we were on location for what was thought to be one of the very last Santa Trains on CSX. Pulled by a CSX SD40-3 and an F40, the train was rumored to be ending after 2017. However, with CSX’s new administration under the Hunter Harrison era, the Santa Train will most-likely be a tradition for many years to come. To see our video from the 74th Anniversary trip, watch below.