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Clinchfield 100: General manager’s car returns

The Clinchfield 100. (Photo contributed)


Many railroad enthusiasts in the area are likely familiar with the Clinchfield 100, and after 30 years away, the railcar will soon make its historic trip on the Santa Train to Kingsport.

In June 2013, the Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society & Museum purchased the Clinchfield 100 from its owner in Florida. Since its construction, the car has changed names and hands a number of times.

In its approximately 108-year history, Car 100’s passengers have included railroad officials, business leaders and even Santa Claus. Car 100 began its run in 1911, when the all-steel coach car was built by the Pullman Co. for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Originally, the car was known as the ACL 985.

Around 20 years after its construction, what would come to be known as Car 100 was rebuilt by the ACL’s main passenger shop in Rocky Mountain, N.C., into a full-operating dining car by the ACL, which dubbed the car the “Orlando.” Until 1951, the Orlando operated as a full diner car on the ACL’s main line between Washington, D.C., and Miami.

The car, which is around 82 feet long and 10 feet wide, could comfortably haul around 20 people and that many meals were served and much poker was played in the Orlando’s heyday. Aside from its dining area and kitchen, the car also had room for three bedrooms.

It was early in 1951 that officials with the Erwin-headquartered Clinchfield Railroad decided that the railroad’s original office car was getting just a tad too old to keep in service, and officials began their search for a replacement.

In May of that year, the Clinchfield purchased the unserviceable Orlando diner car from the ACL and brought it to Erwin to undergo renovations needed for its conversion to an office car. After almost two years of restoration work, completed under the direction of Clinchfield Chief Mechanical Officer P.O. Likens, the Clinchfield Railroad had its new office car, which was dubbed Car 100.

Car 100 had its first test run in August 1953 and first official run three months later when it began service as the official car on the Clinchfield Santa Train, which it would do until 1983.

According to WVRHS&M President Mike Tilley, Car 100 was also used for business beginning in the early 1950s while under Clinchfield Railroad ownership.

“In 1968, Mr. T.D. Moore took over the general manager’s job of the Clinchfield Railroad and put new life into Car 100. Mr. Moore brought back to life the Clinchfield 1 steam locomotive and put together the 14-car excursion fleet. The special excursion train operated from November 1968 to May 1979 hauling passengers over the Clinchfield. Car 100 served as the trail car on many of the trips. Mr. Moore used the car to entertain customers during the excursions and at the CC&O stations in Johnson City and Kingsport.”

On top of its numerous trips to important Clinchfield Railroad locations such as Elkhorn City, Ky., and Spartanburg, S.C., Car 100 was used to transport folks to the Barter Theater in Abingdon, Va., along the Southern Railway and Norfolk & Western. It also made trips to Memphis and Jacksonville, Fla.

“It was seen all over the Family Lines System in operation during the ’70s and ’80s,” Tilley said.

When the Family Lines System absorbed the Clinchfield Railroad in the 1970s, Car 100 was painted to reflect the Family Lines grey, red and yellow color scheme. Car 100 was later retired and transported to the CSX office in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1983 to be evaluated for use as a CSX fleet car.

It was stored at the CSX West Jacksonville Office Car track for the next year, when it was sold to a private party. Car 100 was again sold to Florida resident Bill Beddell around 1985. Ten years after this, Car 100 was moved to the Aberdeen Carolina & Western Railway in North Carolina and was subsequently moved again to the Lancaster & Chester Railroad in Lancaster, S.C.

In July 20, 2013, Car 100 was purchased by the Watauga Valley Railroad Museum in Jonesborough, TN and moved from Lancaster SC to the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, NC for restoration. It rolled out of the paint shop on January 14, 2014. CRR 100 has been under a 3 year restoration project and is now ready to do what it did for almost 30 years, hauling Santa Claus down the Clinchfield. It will again serve as the Santa Car on the CSX Santa Train 2019 on November 23.