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Group hopes to start Lexington excursions with restored steam locomotive

Retired steam locomotive #2716 is parked at the Kentucky Railway Museum at New Haven is Nelson County. The Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation has announced a campaign to bring former C&O steam locomotive #2716 back to life. According to KSHCO, once refurbished, the engine will be one of the most powerful steam locomotives in the world and will be the only operating survivor of its kind. Some of the prep work is being done in New Haven before the planned move to Lexington for a full rebuild.
Retired steam locomotive #2716 is parked at the Kentucky Railway Museum at New Haven is Nelson County. The Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation has announced a campaign to bring former C&O steam locomotive #2716 back to life. According to KSHCO, once refurbished, the engine will be one of the most powerful steam locomotives in the world and will be the only operating survivor of its kind. Some of the prep work is being done in New Haven before the planned move to Lexington for a full rebuild. cbertram@herald-leader.com

A new nonprofit corporation wants to bring a steam locomotive from Nelson County to Lexington, restore it and then run passenger excursions in the area.

The Kentucky Steam Heritage Corp. is launching a campaign to raise money for restoration of the locomotive owned by the Kentucky Railway Museum in New Haven.

“We want to get this thing running and make it a Central Kentucky tourist attraction,” said Chris Campbell of Lexington, president of the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corp.

Working in cooperation with the railway museum, the nonprofit hopes to restore, maintain and operate the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway locomotive No. 2716. (That’s why the campaign is launching on Sunday, 2/7/16.)

The idea is to raise enough money so the engine could be moved to Lexington in 2017, and then rehabilitate it and operate it as a piece of living history beginning in 2020. The total fundraising goal is $1.3 million.

A similar restoration effort in Roanoke, Va., returned a 65-year-old engine to excursion service and resulted in more than $6 million in economic impact, said Chad Harpole of Georgetown, a member of the nonprofit.

Returning locomotives to tourist service has “been shown to be economically viable by groups that have their wits about them and have an idea how to market it as a tourist entity rather than just as a pet project,” Campbell said.

The possibility of a new excursion train comes after R.J. Corman Railroad Co.’s Lexington Dinner Train stopped running at the end of December.

The New Haven steam engine was built in 1943 for the C&O, now part of CSX. The engine and her 89 sister locomotives were a staple of the Ashland-to-Lexington line. When the engine was retired in the late 1950s, it was donated to the Kentucky Railway Museum, which has been in New Haven since 1990.

The museum leased it to several groups, including one in Indiana. The last time the engine ran on its own power was in 1996.

The engine has been kept under roof in New Haven but time and the elements have taken their toll. While a November inspection found the locomotive to be in excellent condition, some repair work needs to be done, Campbell said.

The Steam Heritage Corp. has enlisted the help of Jason Sobczynski, a Warren County resident who has overseen the restoration of other steam engines around the country.

Preparatory work to move the engine from New Haven to Lexington will begin in late spring . The Steam Heritage group wants to enlist volunteers who will sign up for work sessions in May.

“We want this to be an educational, public endeavor,” Campbell said. “We want people to come help out, because this is the kind of engine that built Lexington.”

“We want to build a program that’s sustainable,” said Joe Nugent, a Lexington firefighter and treasurer of the Steam Heritage Corp.

Nugent, 37, grew up in Loretto in Marion County, famous as the home of Maker’s Mark bourbon. He remembers seeing L&N trains run through town.

“Since I had that first train set under the Christmas tree going round and round, I’ve been a railroad fan,” Nugent said.

Harpole, 34, is a lobbyist. He collects railroad hardware such as lanterns, keys and signs.

“My wife is very patient,” Harpole said. “We just got married in October. My entire house is filled with train stuff. She knew coming into the relationship that I had a lifelong passion.”

At the end of day you can watch it on a screen, but there’s nothing like standing up next to it and feeling the heat coming off the boiler.

Joe Nugent, Lexington firefighter and treasurer of the Steam Heritage Corp.

Campbell, 38, is head coach of the Transylvania University baseball team. His interest in trains started when he was 4 years old and saw a steam engine come through Lexington.

“That was a living piece of history,” he said. “It was living, breathing, moving, shaking-the-ground, cover-your-ears history.”

Other members of the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corp. include Bret Melrose, president of Fayette Heating and Air Conditioning Inc.; and Jeff Lisowski, a railroad enthusiast in San Diego.

There are videos of No. 2716 on YouTube that show the locomotive in all its chugging, whistling glory. The Kentucky Steam Heritage Corp. launched its own “Project 2716: A New Lease on Steam” video at Youtube.com/watch?v=1eOufJ7hgHo

“At the end of day,” Nugent said, “you can watch it on a screen, but there’s nothing like standing up next to it and feeling the heat coming off the boiler.”

Quick facts about C&O 2716

  • Built in 1943 in Schenectady, N.Y.
  • Built by American Locomotive Co.
  • Engine weighs 235 tons; engine plus coal/water tender weighs 425 tons
  • Operated in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia
  • Currently owned by Kentucky Railway Museum; Kentucky Steam Heritage Corp. has a lease to operate it
  • Donations to the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corp. are tax deductible
  • For more information, go to facebook.com/co2716 or @co2716 on Twitter or Instagram
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