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Drayton Blackgrove

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.

Lake State Railway Celebrates 25 Years of Excellence

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AboveLake State Railway’s attitude toward preserving heritage is most evident in Saginaw Yard, with the company still utilizing the Pere Marquette turntable and roundhouse for maintaining locomotives on the property.

This year, one of Michigan’s most important and most-loved shortlines has reached a milestone: 25 years of serving the great lakes region in transportation. That’s right – Lake State Railway turns 25 this year and is celebrating their anniversary in a big way. Rolling out earlier this year was Lake State Railway #4325, an EMD GP40-3 that now sports a commemorative paint scheme for the company’s anniversary.

Lake State Railway was founded in 1992, when the late railroad businessman Jim George purchased the former Detroit & Mackinac lines in northern Michigan. The former D&M was famous for their use of ALCO locomotives. Now a completely EMD railroad, the Lake State has grown from a small shortline to a regional player in the area. In 2005, LSRC acquired rail property from CSX in the Saginaw, Michigan area. These lines were operated under the name Saginaw Bay Southern Railway (SBS) until January 2012, when LSRC merged these two companies together under the name Lake State Railway Company. In April 2012, SBS interchanges and railroad accounting practices were converted to LSRC, completing the consolidation.

BelowLake State Railway #4325, an EMD GP40-3, now sports the company’s 25th Anniversary paint scheme. Photo by Kevin Burkholder.

Grain, fertilizer, coal, chemicals, aggregates, cement, steel, and scrap metal are just a few of the commodities that are transported along the Lake State’s lines. The railroad continues to be consistently profitable and shows a high priority to maintaining and improving the company’s rail infrastructure. Earlier this year, we had the honor of being part of the company’s celebration by producing a 25th Anniversary promotional video for the Lake State. In our video, we showcased an array of the company’s unique infrastructure, including their many bridges, dispatching tower, the roundhouse, and their new road-slugs in service at Bay City, Michigan.

Below Right: Lake State Railway Company was created by the vision of the late Jim George in 1992, when he acquired the railroad lines previously operated by Detroit & Mackinac Railway Company (D&M). His passion for expanding the railroad and providing exceptional freight transportation services is what brought these lines from being nearly abandoned, to being a successful railroad.

In the company’s March of 2017 newsletter, Lake State Railway President and CEO John Rickof states, “I want to talk about the importance of 2017. Lake State Railway Company began operating in 1992 making this our 25th anniversary. We are proud to have thrived for a quarter of a century and are looking at an even brighter future. Expect to hear and see from us throughout this year as we celebrate and grow towards new milestones. LSRC intends and expects to be ever striving to provide safe, reliable Excellence in Transportation!”

The newsletter continues, “In celebration of 25 years of service, LSRC would like to take this opportunity to give a special thank you to all our dedicated and hard-working employees who have helped make Lake State Railway the thriving company it is today. Also, a special thank you to all of our loyal customers who put their trust in us everyday. We are proud to have you all on our team and look forward to many more years together as LSRC continues to grow and prosper. ”

It’s obvious from the outside looking in, this company takes great pride in serving the many Michigan communities its rails run through. We were honored to take part in the company’s 25th Anniversary and we hope you enjoy our video, showcasing just a brief look into the company’s incredible operation. Stay tuned for upcoming project related to the Lake State Railway. You can watch our official promotional video below.

Restoring Kentucky’s Steam Locomotive

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AboveL&N 152 during a nighttime photo charter in the 1980s. Photo courtesy of Ron Flanary.

Designed to pull the L&N Railroad’s most important scheduled passenger trains, #152 was the epitome of high-speed steam. However, in 1912, the locomotive would pull one of the most important passenger trains in US history: Former President Theodore Roosevelt’s Whistlestop Tour between Louisville and Corbin, Kentucky. Though Teddy lost the election of 1912, 152 would be the vehicle he used to spread his progressive values to the deep south, creating a movement that still influences American politics today. Just over a year later, in 1913, the 152 was involved in an accident at Livingston, Kentucky, being turned on her side. The crew perished in the accident, but the 152 was given a second chance, being rebuilt in the railroad’s South Louisville Shops shortly thereafter.

Below Right: L&N 152 at a station stop during her revenue career with the L&N Railroad. Photo courtesy of the L&N Historical Society.


The 152 would continue passenger service on the L&N, serving all over the system until more powerful locomotives were purchased by the railroad in the 1920s. The Pacific Class locomotives were then assigned to the Gulf Coast, a geographically flatter area. In 1934, the K-2a Pacific would again be called to pull another famous passenger train. This time, 152 would be pulling the “Al Capone Special,” conveying the famous gangster and forty three other prisoners in modified passenger cars, retrofitted with steel bars, between Atlanta, Georgia and Mobile, Alabama for further transportation to Alcatraz. Capone, with an extensive criminal history during the prohibition era, was convicted of tax evasion just three years earlier.

The locomotive would spend its time serving the railroad along the Gulf Coast throughout the thirties and forties. By 1953, the locomotive was the last of its kind on the L&N roster. On February 17th, 1953, the 152 was retired, with its fate hanging in uncertainty. During this time it was stored at Mobile, Alabama. In 1954, thanks to efforts of local L&N railfans, the #152 was sent to the Kentucky Railway Museum, then in Louisville, Kentucky. It was one of the museum’s first pieces. For thirty years it remained inoperative until a small group of volunteers assembled for the first restoration.

After thirteen years of work, in 1985, the locomotive was again alive under her own steam power. Thanks to the dedicated steam team of the 1980s, #152 would operate extensively on excursion trips over TTI, CSX, and Norfolk Southern. Later, the engine was used on the museum’s Lebanon Branch out of New Haven, one of the original routes the locomotive was assigned for when delivered to the L&N in 1905. Locomotive #152 has the distinction of being the Official State Locomotive of Kentucky and is also part of the National Register of Historic Places and things. From 1985 to 2011, the locomotive was operated in regular excursion service, but has since been waiting a second restoration at the Kentucky Railway Museum. Watch the official restoration campaign video below.

Help bring 152 back to steam! Consider donating or volunteering at the Kentucky Railway Museum. For more information on this incredible locomotive, visit https://www.kyrail.org/

My YouTube Story: Building a Brand of Railroad Media

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AboveI had the honor of sharing “My YouTube Story” at the Center for Railroad Photography & Art’s annual “Conversations” Conference this April. Photo by Otto Vondrak, CRPA.

Since I was about 12 years old, I have been playing with cameras. From my parents Palm-Pre cell phone back in 2010, to my first experiences with TV-broadcast cameras on set during college, I have had a wide variety of experiences. For me, digital media is a passion I gradually learned to love. With my background and passion for railroading came this desire to capture what I was seeing on the mainline and then enjoy it for many decades thereafter. That simple desire led to forming my own production company, which has taken me to heights that I would have never imagined possible.

Below LeftSince its inception in 2011, the Delay In Block YouTube Channel has grown beyond all of my expectations.

In November of 2011, I formed Delay In Block Productions – a digital media company aimed at capturing the essence of railroad. At the time, I was in 9th grade and had no idea how to tell stories. The only thing I knew how to do (at the time) was capture what I saw and then would commence dropping the footage into my cheap, run of the mill video editor. My main focus was to share my hobby with the world and I did so with this amazing medium called YouTube. In fact, what inspired me most was YouTube slogan: “Broadcast Yourself.”

Beginning in 2012, I set out to create the most epic examples of capturing freight railroads in the midwest. My first goal was to have a channel that was interesting and had a general theme. That theme would be professionalism. In my hobby, there is a lot of crap posted to the internet every day – and I wanted to change that. Over that year, I took advantage of several great opportunities that allowed me to gain a large online following. These opportunities included filming the clean up of a large train accident in my hometown. That video received over 100,000 views on YouTube and brought a large following of subscribers to my channel.

By 2013, I had a small fan base. Continuing on with my goals, I was able to further gain in terms of my subscriber base by filming things my audience wanted to see. For instance, I would film special trains that I knew would receive more views than others. While doing so, I enhanced my skills by purchasing new equipment and learning new techniques. With the ability to produce better content, my audience kept growing to the point where I was able to make a substantial income, through advertisement revenue on my YouTube Channel.

In 2014, I met filmmaker Kelly Lynch. Lynch, a lifelong Fort Wayne resident inspired me. Since he was about five years old, he too had a similar interest in trains and his desire to capture what he saw led him to become a filmmaker. He branched out and not only filmed railroads, but dramas, TV commercials, and so on. His company, Lynchpin Creative, is one of Fort Wayne’s most wide known film production companies.

Below RightKelly poses for a portrait with the mighty 765.

His talents inspired and intrigued me, causing me to have a desire for film production and storytelling, rather than just the same old format I had been used to. Because of Kelly, I decided to take the next step and attend film school, where I learned how to better my story telling abilities. I had no idea where this venture would take me, but I knew I wanted to continue learning.

Over the last three to four years, many things have inspired me when it comes to the actual railroad. Whether it be the history, the locomotives, or the people who operate them. Indeed, railroads inspire us, as railfans, for many reasons. For a few, they are the very thing that makes life worth living. Enter Gavin Steel, the only child to be diagnosed with both Cystic Fibrosis and DiGeorge Syndrome. Connected through social media, Gavin’s father, Jason, reached out to me in 2014. In his message, Jason told me that Gavin loves watching my YouTube videos during his lengthy hospital stays and medical treatments. The long, sometimes painful breathing treatments that Gavin uses to clean his lungs can last for over thirty minutes, and my railroad videos help him pass the time. Being inspired by Gavin’s incredible story, an idea was born.

Through my relationship with the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, Gavin and Jason were able to ride behind Nickel Plate Road 765 from Buffalo to Corning, New York in the summer of 2015. This was Gavin’s first real train ride – and what better way to experience it than behind a steam locomotive?

After riding behind the 765, our story was told by several local news stations. Through a GoFund Me Campaign and promotional coverage by the news stations, my subscribers learned about Gavin and were inspired to help raised enough money for Gavin and his family to attend Operation North Pole – an event that would change my life forever.

BelowWHEC News of Rochester, New York broadcasted our story on the evening news.

Operation North Pole is a Chicagoland non-profit organization that gives children with life-threatening illnesses a special train ride to a winter wonderland. The event is put on by Metra and Union Pacific, along with hundreds of volunteers, that include local fire and police first responders. Since 2014, I have had the honor of producing the official event videos for the organization. It’s an incredible experience to partake in Operation North Pole and I would encourage anyone interested in helping to volunteer or donate. You won’t regret it.

If there’s anything that this hobby has taught me from my experiences, I have learned that it’s all about the people. From non-profits who volunteer to hours of personal time to operate steam locomotives on the mainline, to the encouraging comments I receive daily from the over 30,000 subscribers I have on the Delay In Block YouTube Channel, it’s the people that make being part of this hobby so great. I am so thankful for the opportunities that YouTube has afforded me.

One of the most exciting things to happen in the last few months for me was being invited to speak as a presenter during the Center for Railroad Photography and Art’s annual “Conversations” Conference this year, which was held at the beautiful campus of Lake Forest College. In my forty-plus minute presentation, which you can watch below, you’ll learn about how I grew Delay In Block to become the brand it is today. From humble beginnings to my large and ever growing subscriber-base, Delay In Block has become a modern day brand, much like Pentrex in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s.

Introducing: The CW Rails Series

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AboveA BNSF freight train rolls by the Downers Grove, Illinois Metra Station – as seen from the CW Rails Series first episode on our YouTube Channel.

Below RightPictured is Chris Wehman, my longtime friend and producer of the CW Rails Series.

Since 2013, I have had the pleasure of knowing Chris Wehman. An Ohio native, Wehman has been shooting trains on video for years. He has produced countless railroad videos from locations all over the country. Over the last two months, Wehman and I have been working on a little YouTube Series, narrated and produced by Wehman, showcasing some of his work. The series will be called “CW Rails” and will be marked as so, with the episode number in the title.

You can watch the first episode of the series below:

In the first episode of Chris Wehman’s Rails Series, you’ll spend time on BNSF Railway’s Racetrack in Chicagoland. With Metra commuter trains, manifests, and intermodal freight trains, this nearly hour long video showcases some of BNSF’s best action for train watching in the Chicagoland region. All scenes in this video were filmed in Downers Grove and Hinsdale, Illinois.