C&O Heritage Center 5-26-17

 C&O #614, the crown jewel of the Chesapeake & Ohio Heritage Center in Clifton Forge, VA.

C&O #614, the crown jewel of the Chesapeake & Ohio Heritage Center in Clifton Forge, VA.

On Friday, May 26th, 2017, I made a slight detour on my way south to Roanoke for the 611 Memorial Day weekend excursions. Just a half-hour west of I-81 lies Clifton Forge, Virginia; site of a CSX and Buckingham Branch freight yard, with the Chesapeake and Ohio Heritage Center at one end of the yard. My primary reason for visiting was to see the other "J" class engine living in Virginia: C&O #614. This J-3A class 4-8-4 was built in 1942, and served the C&O for a mere 10 years before being retired. The engine sat in a deadline for decades, eventually moving to the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1981, Ross Rowland exchanged Reading #2101 (aka American Freedom Train #1) which had been severely damaged in a roundhouse fire, for C&O #614. The engine was restored for use on the Chessie Steam Specials, then modified for the ACE 3000 coal-fuel experiments, and finally retired from excursion service in the late 1990's after a series of trips on New Jersey Transit lines. The engine sat at the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad for several years, before being moved to Virginia in the early 2000s. It is currently painted for the failed "Greenbrier Express" luxury passenger train venture, and sits exposed to the elements, awaiting its next call to action. Ross Rowland's group is working on plans to run the engine again, and will overhaul the locomotive once a proper mainline excursion service plan is finalized.


The rest of the C&O heritage center is comprised of four buildings, two sidings, and a loop of large-scale ride-on model train track.The main station contained offices and a gift shop, which I gladly patronized, acquiring a DVD copy of the Ross Rowland documentary. Adjacent to the station is JD tower, or "cabin" in C&O parlance. I believe this is a replica tower, but I'm not positive of that. It provides a great overhead view of 614, as shown above. In the large freight building is a series of model train displays and smaller artifacts, including an O scale display layout and some large-scale "live steam" models. Especially impressive was a model of an Allegheny; I've visited the real thing in Baltimore several times, but seeing it from 'above' in this way was enlightening. Even in 7.5" scale, it's still enormous. The O scale layout had many detailed models of historic C&O stations, hotels and towers. Activated by a push-button was a 2-10-4 pulling a coal train and a set of E units hauling a passenger train. The last building on the property was a moderately-sized shed, containing maintenance equipment and the large-scale ride-on train. 

The full-size rolling stock on the track nearest the museum grounds was very well-kept. It included a combine coach, dining car, and a pair of cabeese. The inside of the dining car was set with authentic C&O china, some of which depicted Chessie, the C&O mascot cat. The baggage section of the combine coach had period luggage and shopping boxes, and the seating section had VERY comfortable reclining chairs. Of the two cabooses, one was modern and one was older, and the difference in size (and the size of the people they were built for) were stark. Further back in the yard was unrestored equipment, including several passenger cars, troop sleepers, boxcars, and an auxiliary water tender for 614. Adjacent to the Clifton Forge station building was a fully restored GP7 and flatcar.

Overall, the museum made for a pleasant visit; a delightful rest stop not far off the road to Roanoke.