U S Sugar in Clewiston Florida recently restored a historic steam locomotive to full operating condition. When the Florida East Coast Railway Society offered a charter excursion train pulled by No. 148 we jumped at the opportunity.
FEC locomotive 148 is a 4-6-2 Light Pacific built in 1920 by the American Locomotive Works in Richmond Virginia. She pulled passenger and freight trains all the way to Key West on the Overseas railroad bridges. In 1952 the locomotive was acquired by U S Sugar where she hauled sugar cane until the late 1960s. After retirement the locomotive traveled around the country as an operating attraction before languishing inoperable in storage for 40 years.
In 2016 U S Sugar re-acquired 148 and restoration began in 2017. After thousands of hours of work by sugar employees and restoration experts No. 148 was returned to service in April 2020 just in time for her 100th birthday. Built as an oil burner (FEC founder Henry Flagler was a partner of John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil) 148 now runs on used vegetable oil. The locomotive operates on the tracks of U S Sugar’s freight railroad, the South Central Florida Express. Sugar’s railroad hauls more than 1000 cars of sugar cane per day during the harvest season from October to April and also interchanges 15,000 cars per year with CSX and Florida East Coast Railway. The passenger cars are beautifully restored and more are on the way. U S Sugar is in the process of restoring a second steam locomotive which had been on static display in front of the Prime Osborn Convention Center is Jacksonville.
Our weekend included a night photo shoot and engine shop tour on Friday. Saturday’s all day excursion included 3 photo run-bys and lunch catered on the train. Then Sunday we had a “Raisin’ Cane” tour of the sugar fields and structures. We thank the Florida East Coast Railway Society for organizing this event. We look forward to more rail events in our home state.
This is a popular addition to the tourist experience in Clewiston Florida. U S Sugar is using the railroad to reach the public with its message of commitment to returning clean water to the Everglades. The pollution we see today in the Caloosahatchee River comes not from sugar but from cattle ranchers along the Kissimmee River dumping ag waste into Lake Okeechobee. We learned a lot. Good for Big Sugar.