By Ryan P. Duffy
United States Sugar Corporation
CLEWISTON — For the first time in more than 50 years, a steam locomotive hauled a train of harvested sugarcane from the field to U.S. Sugar’s mill. To mark the end of U.S. Sugar’s annual harvest and the completion of a multi-year restoration of its 100-year-old steam locomotive known as Engine No. 148, the company called upon the vintage locomotive to haul cane on the last day of the season. The 2019-20 harvest lasted 239 days, and despite drier than normal spring conditions and the global COVID-19 pandemic, was completed safely as scheduled.
“Seeing No. 148 under steam and back on her home track is a heartwarming sight to see,’’ said Judy Sanchez, senior director of corporate communications and public affairs for U.S. Sugar.
Locomotive No. 148 was built in 1920 by the American Locomotive Company for use on the Florida East Coast Railway. In 1952, the locomotive was sold to U.S. Sugar to haul sugarcane trains from field-to-mill for processing raw sugar. As diesel locomotives became popular, Engine No. 148 was sold by U.S. Sugar into private ownership in the 1960s. The steam engine spent a few years hauling passenger excursions, then it was moved across the country, finally landing in Monte Vista, Colo. Thanks to the vision of U.S. Sugar CEO Robert H. Buker Jr., the locomotive was re-purchased by U.S. Sugar in 2016, kick-starting this restoration. Railroad mechanical contractor FMW Solutions LLC, working alongside more than two dozen U.S. Sugar employees, completed the restoration of No. 148 in late April.
“U.S. Sugar’s restoration of Engine No. 148 has been a tremendous source of pride for our employees, who have worked tirelessly over the past four years to bring this steam engine back to life,” said Bob Lawson, general manager for U.S. Sugar Railroad Operations. “We look forward to the day when we can host members of the public on excursions to share our rich history with railroad enthusiasts, Florida residents and children alike.”
“The pride that U.S. Sugar has in its heritage, and this historic symbol in particular, is something truly exceptional in this day-and-age,” said Shane Meador, FMW Solutions vice president. “We are honored to have worked with U.S. Sugar to complete the restoration of No. 148 and have been pleased with its performance during recent test runs and yesterday’s historic run.”
To coincide with this momentous occasion, and in support of the expanded mission of operating No. 148, U.S. Sugar is also pleased to announce that it will be operating the steam locomotive under the brand it has dubbed the “Sugar Express.” This new name is in reference both to the locomotive’s heritage at U.S. Sugar and its future role hauling “Express” trains across some of the hundreds of miles of mainline railroad maintained and operated by U.S. Sugar.
To learn more about the steam engine, and to stay up to date, visit SugarExpress.com and follow U.S. Sugar No. 148 on its updated Facebook Page: facebook.com/SugarExpressFL.
About U.S. Sugar
U.S. Sugar is a farming company that grows sugarcane, citrus, sweet corn and other winter and spring vegetables in South Florida. The company was founded in 1931. Since the beginning, the company’s success has been rooted in traditional farming values and respect for the land. Today, U.S. Sugar is the only sugarcane farming company in the continental United States that transports all its cane to a sugar factory by railroad, which saves on fuel and reduces truck traffic and fossil fuel emissions. Its dozen modern locomotives and 850 specially modified railcars serve more than 300 miles of track, including the South Central Florida Express, which transports sugar, citrus products, fertilizer, farm equipment and other agricultural freight year-round, the Sugarcane Train, which hauls sugarcane from the fields to the mills during the October-May harvest season, and now the Sugar Express. For more information, please visit ussugar.com.
About Sugar Express
The mission of the Sugar Express is to provide a safe and educational means to learn about transportation history, agriculture, and U.S. Sugar. It will use historic steam locomotive No. 148 to take visitors on trips through the lush crop lands cultivated by the nearly 2,500 hard-working employees of U.S. Sugar. For more information, visit sugarexpress.com.