Heritage units five years after the big party

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Where were you five years ago this coming Monday and Tuesday?

For 4,000 of you, you were with me, sweltering in the heat at the Norfolk Southern heritage unit event at Spencer, N.C., on July 3 and 4, 2012, and delighted with the amazing never-to-be-repeated show of new diesel power in retro colors. We were watching an ES44 / SD70 ACe kaleidoscope, desperate for shade, and giddy with our good fortune. We measured walks to the viewing area known as Heritage Hill in how many bottles of water the trek would require. Can it really be five years later? I know. I cannot, either.

I was thinking about the anniversary earlier this week. I’ve already seen a few people start commenting online about the impending five-year anniversary since this landmark event at the N.C. Transportation Museum, a state historic site in the Southern Railway shop complex and a place where I’ve volunteered since 1986.

I was trying to think of a suitable blog post to mark the event. Five years later, I am still amazed at the gathering of 20 new (or relatively new) diesels in NS predecessor schemes. Still impressed with the hard work and care that went into the event on the part of NS and the museum and its non-profit. And still surprised at how 4,000 people came from across the continent and around the world for the show and braved stifling and unrelenting heat.

NS painted more heritage units than any other railroad, thanks to a complicated family tree. The 20 it chose became an immediate and colorful show of predecessor spirit, from the iconic Tuscan giant Pennsylvania Railroad to the tiny and regionally known Interstate, a southwest Virginia coal hauler.

The beautiful thing about that event was that right after, the units were released to haul freight wherever they need to go: They’ve been on the road for five years, roving ambassadors of good will and a source of delight to all who chance upon them. I had the good fortune to see the Conrail heritage unit, No. 8089, the first one to roll out of the paint shop in March 2012, on Tuesday. That afternoon at work, Assistant Editor Brian Schmidt sent a note to the staff that the unit was leading a northbound Canadian National empty frac sand covered hopper train out of Chicago on the former Soo Line main to Fon du Lac, Wis. I ran home, mowed (most of) the lawn, and then headed to nearby Duplainville, where a local with a CN-painted Grand Trunk Geep was switching cars. Shortly after 6:30 p.m., Big Blue came into view, rolling along at a respectable clip.

The unit was far from the tracks of Conrail, and far from those of Norfolk Southern, and definitely far from Spencer. Five years have weathered the locomotive only slightly. The heritage on display still shines bright. And now you know what you were doing five years ago next week.

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