C&O 2716 to become centerpiece of Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation in eastern Kentucky
The Chesapeake and Ohio 2716 steam locomotive rolled across Kentucky last July, leaving its home in New Haven and making stops in Frankfort, Midway and Lexington before arriving at its new home in the Estill County railway town of Ravenna.
The 400-ton locomotive, built in 1943, pulled freight and passenger cars for 13 years, mostly in Appalachia. On long-term lease from the Kentucky Railway Museum, it will become the centerpiece of the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation, a nonprofit 501(c) (3) that launched in August 2015, says its President Chris Campbell.
Kentucky Steam Heritage’s “whole concept is to bring tourism and economic development through eastern Kentucky with something that is already there,” says Campbell. “The rail line is there, the facilities are there.”
There are the historic 100-year-old brick yard office, that was one of the original buildings in the railroad yard built 105 years ago, and the steam shop built in 1990 by CSX Transportation as a train rehab shop, which was decommissioned in 2000.
Kentucky Steam Heritage Corp. has been working to restore the building and put in utilities to make it usable for their mission. The renovated shop is where many of the 130 volunteers are restoring the locomotive for the public to ride.
Campbell says prior to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting, they were just beginning to tear down the engine. “It’s in the preliminary stages. It will probably take us about two years to get it operational again; some of it will depend upon funding.”
He says they are overhauling the historic locomotive so it’s operational and people can get up close and personal with the engine. “Seeing a large engine like this is sensory overload, a cool way to view history.”
Kentucky Steam Heritage hopes to haul passengers around with the locomotive and allow people the opportunity to “be an engineer for an hour,” as a few other railroad enthusiast groups around the nation do.
The locomotive is the biggest and most prominent piece of equipment that will be displayed there. “When running,” Campbell says, “it will be one of the largest steam locomotives in the country. We have several cars and when we have the opportunity to use the locomotive, we will be looking to acquire or lease more cars for people to ride in.”
Campbell says the 40-acre campus will be a multiuse facility where people can come for events, such as concerts and arts and crafts fairs, for camping or for dinner at a restaurant.
The concert venue, with picnic tables and a pavilion, is one of the first features set to open. Campbell says COVID-19 has slowed them down, but they are currently developing the concert venue and are hopeful that it will open in late 2020. “A lot of this development is from the state allocated EPA grant,” says Campbell. “We have a local business that is going to sponsor the music venue.”
In March of this year, R.J. Corman Railroad Group donated an engine—a 140-ton, Chinese 2-10-2 steam engine called Old Smokey—and the glass display building built by the late Rick Corman in downtown Lexington to house the engine.
Campbell says, “They donated that engine and the building, which will be a nice display building once it is put back up.” The historic rail equipment will be used to educate, entertain and inspire past, current and future generations.
Kentucky Steam Heritage Corp. is in talks with the Estill County School Board “about having those students going through their vocational program to come to our shop to do machine tools and welding,” says Campbell.
“Welding and machine tooling in high demand right now,” says Campbell. “We plan to do workforce development with our shop.”
The work on the historical pieces of rail equipment will be ongoing, he says, since the shop is now in good shape. “Throughout the course of the rest of the year and ongoing we’ll be able to work on our equipment as well as other pieces of historic rail equipment,” says Campbell. He explains that others can bring their rail equipment to the shop and have it done as contract work.
“We’re trying to reimagine the way that we bring tourists into that area,” Campbell says. “It’s not just for people who love trains. There will be something for everybody there to love what eastern Kentucky and Appalachia have to offer.”