Clinchfield F7 No. 800, I've been waiting a long time for this ...

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Today’s debut of Clinchfield No. 800 in Huntington, W.Va., returned to its original gray and yellow paint scheme of 1948 thanks to CSX, is a welcomed sight. When it comes to locomotives, my pecking order is steam, cab unit, and Alcos, in that order. I have nothing against other locomotives. I like them all, but to me a streamlined cab unit is a special machine, a locomotive wrapped in a distinctive dress, a celebrity who is going some place special.

I’m especially happy to see this F-unit brought back to life in its original garb. I’ve known this particular F7 for almost 40 years. My introduction came in September 1978 when my mother took me to Marion, N.C., to ride a Clinchfield excursion up the loops, across the Appalachian Mountains, and down the Nolichucky Gorge into the CRR headquarters and shop town, Erwin, Tenn. It was advertised as a steam excursion with Clinchfield’s 1882 4-6-0 No. 1, so I was a surprised 17-year-old fan who showed up at the station that day to find No. 800 and FP7 No. 200 back to back on the point of the train. George and Ed Hatcher, the brothers who operated the locomotives on the Clinchfield’s excursions, were affable and explained that No. 1 would pilot the track back to Marion. I could accept that, and I also accepted their invitation before the trip left to visit No. 800’s cab, where I took a couple of snapshots out of the front window – my first time in the cab of an F-unit. I rode the first open window car behind the power, so I soaked up the sounds of the two cab units on the trip to Erwin.

By the time No. 800 and I crossed paths again, the Clinchfield was in the midst of a power shortage caused by a booming demand for Appalachian coal. In the summer of 1980, I found the engine repainted as a gray Family Lines unit on an ABBA pusher set for southbound trains out of Erwin to the eastern continental divide at Altapass, N.C. The railroad had abruptly stopped its steam excursions the year before, and was using its last four F-units in the best way it knew how: for their sheer muscle. No. 200 was still black, and the two B-units, which used to backup No. 1, were still Pullman green. No. 800 stood out in its new suit. A couple of years later, I returned to find the A-units both repainted and stored behind the shops as new power had begun to arrive, and the F-units were held for specials.

In 1984, they were back out again, this time as Seaboard System units, representing the short-lived interim railroad that encompassed all of the former Family Lines railroads as the “S” part of CSX. Seaboard renumbered No. 800 to No. 116, and No. 200 to No. 118. For the next few years, I’d see them often on office car special and excursions in and around the Carolinas.

My last mainline encounter with No. 800 was in May 1987 when it pulled an Operation Lifesaver special out of Columbia, S.C. By this time, it had taken on the CSX paint scheme as Chessie System and Seaboard System faded into history.

In 2014 for the Streamliners at Spencer event my good friend David Corbitt from the Potomac Eagle tourist railroad in West Virginia arranged for No. 800, by this time wearing Chesapeake & Ohio lettering and disguised as No. 8016, to visit. I got reacquainted with No. 800, but the C&O masquerade just didn’t cut it for me. I knew who this engine really was. So, over almost 40 years, I’ve come to know this engine in all of its multiple personalities. But I’ve never seen it as it was delivered. I am as eager as any of you to get that chance. I cannot wait to see Clinchfield No. 800 as it appeared 69 years ago as the railroad’s first diesel locomotive, when steam was dying, coal flowed freely from Appalachian mines, and these sleek machines barged into it all in a most colorful and dazzling way.

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