JACKSONVILLE – A steam locomotive that traveled the Florida rails 100 years ago will soon have a new home in the “Worlds Sweetest Town.”
The Jacksonville City Council recently approved the transfer of Atlantic Coast Line No. 1504 to the National Railway Historical Society’s local chapter, which will sell the train to Sugar Express LLC, a division of U.S. Sugar. It will be moved to Clewiston to become part of U.S. Sugar Corp’s Sugar Express.
While some Jacksonville historians fought the move of 80-foot-long train, the North Florida chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (NFC-NRHS) promoted to the plan to move it to Clewiston in order to get the locomotive restored and back on the tracks.
In a letter to the City of Jacksonville, the NFC-NRHS board opined the transfer is the best way to ensure the train is restored and the locomotive’s best chance to get back on the rails. They noted U.S. Sugar has proven its dedication to railroad history with the restoration of steam locomotive No. 148.
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, Colorado. Under the direction of U.S. Sugar CEO Robert H. Buker, Jr., the locomotive was re-purchased by U.S. Sugar in 2016, kick starting the 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, 2020. In May 2020, the restored No. 148 was back in operation on its home track in Clewiston.
“Both parties agree that there is no better way to preserve a steam locomotive and make it accessible and understandable for the general public than to restore it, maintain it, and operate it. U.S. sugar seeks to acquire ACL 1504 and return it to operation over the South Central Florida Express (SCFE), a short line railroad that extends between Sebring, Clewiston and Fort Pierce,” the letter explained.
“On the SCFE system, the more than 80 mile-long mainline between Sebring and Lake Harbor was originally the ACL and its predecessor railroads, constructed in various stages between 1916 and 1929. Returning the ACL 1504 to operation on this route will be returning the locomotive to its ‘home’ railroad.”
The American Locomotive Co. in Richmond, Va., built the ACL 1504 in 1919.
The train has been out of service for decades. In 1960, it was put on display in front of the Atlantic Coast Line in Jacksonville. In 1989, it was moved to the back of the Jacksonville convention center. Over the years, the engine has suffered the effects of the Florida weather.
U.S. Sugar plans to restore the train to operational condition and operate it for public tours. Ticket sales from the first year of operations will be donated to rail preservation projects and scholarship endowments.
“Our CEO Bob Buker is a history buff and has long had an interest in bringing visitors to our rural farming community to experience historical steam locomotives in action as a way of learning about both our company’s history and our current agricultural operations’ part in helping feed American families. Restoring the No. 1504 will allow us to further these public education efforts centering around our own No. 148, as part of The Sugar Express, which will provide both excursion trips and occasionally assist in harvest operations,” Judy Sanchez, Senior Director for Corporate Communications and Public Affairs.