Clinchfield 100 coming home to stay after 30 years away

Brad Hicks • Jul 21, 2013 at 9:20 PM

Many railroad enthusiasts in the area are likely familiar with the Clinchfield 100, and after 30 years away, the railcar will soon make its final stop in the region that was once its home.

Last month, 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 100-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.

WVRHS&M member Ken Marsh said 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 Clnichfield 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 late 1960s 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,” Tilley said. “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.”

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.

“Car 100 was used for many years on the L&C Railway on the annual Santa Train that operated out of Lancaster, S.C.,” Tilley said. “Mr. Bedell did some major restoration of the car while on the L&C property.”

Tilley said when Marsh, who is familiar with Bedell, learned that Bedell was interested in selling the car, The WVRHS&M moved in to purchase it. This purchase was completed June 10. Other than a boxcar, Tilley said the WVRHS&M lacks equipment from the Clinchfield Railroad, making its acquisition of Car 100 all the more significant.

“When I seen the car, it just brought back memories and I fell in love with it again,” Tilley said.

Car 100 was taken July 15 to the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, N.C. Tilley said the car will remain there for the time being while it undergoes restoration and maintenance. Tilley said his organization plans to have the car’s interior cleaned and get it painted back to the original Clinchfield color scheme and restored as closely as possible to its Clinchfield state. Although the car will retain its Clinchfield 100 name, it operates under the recording mark of WATX 100.

“It needs some tender, loving care,” Tilley said.

The WVRHS&M intends to extend the track at its Jonesborough coach yard to make room for Car 100. It will remain on display at the museum until this is complete. Tilley said the WVRHS&M hopes to have the car back in the area sometime this year, and that it will serve as a display car. Tilley said he would also like to see the car taken to Erwin, at least one time, for a “homecoming.”

“We just felt that it was our obligation to get the car and bring it home and let people see a car from the Clinchfield Railroad,” he said. “It’s been 30 years since it’s been here, and the majority of people in Erwin have lost contact with it.”

Tilley said those interested in helping to restore Car 100 may call the WVRHS&M at 753-5797 or email wataugavalley@embarqmail.com.

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