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Southern Steam & Memories return to Kentucky after 20 years

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  • Southern Steam & Memories return to Kentucky after 20 years

    I will never forget the day in September of 1994 when I stood on a bridge near Danville Ky in a cold, drizzly rain with my mother and watched N&W 611 head South on the CNO&TP. We had been treated to a lot of steam here in KY that year (and years before) and it was no big deal..just another trip with the J. It was a cloudy, wet day and after getting a few shots I went home. Little did I know as I watched the markers vanish into the mist that I would not see the 611 alive ever again, nor would I see another steam locomotive on my beloved CNO&TP again. In just a couple of months, NS made the decision to drop the fires, return the 611 & 1218 to the museum in Roanoke and that was that...done...over....never again, but NEVER say never.

    I had regretted my decision to go home that day in 94 for a long time...2o years to be exact. For a lot of us, the old steam program was a "set in stone" thing, always there, and always a good way to spend some time with the camera. My mom was about the biggest female fan I had ever known, and she shared my passion for the sights and sounds that only a living, breathing steam locomotive can produce. The Two of us spent a lot of time together in pursuit of steam, but she always held a special place for the CNO&TP, just as I did. When that day in December came and she heard the news, I know she shed a tear....

    In 2010 NS announced that in conjunction with TVRM they would bring steam back to the mainline once again, on a limited That was the best news I had heard in a long time, and almost immediately I started to wonder when..IF..the new steam program might make it back to Kentucky. Every year since, I have waited for those schedules to come out, and waited. Every year since then I have went to TN, NC, VA, Wva to shoot the 630 and 765, always hoping that it would be "our" turn soon.....and finally, 20 years later, "Our" time has come...time off work was quickly scheduled, plans made, and the excitement kept building.

    Fast forward a bit now and myself and Two friends headed South well before daylight on Wednesday May 14th to intercept the Northbound Ferry move that would bring Southern 630 to Kentucky to stage for a pair of trips out of Cincinnati to Danville, KY. Even though we knew ahead of time that diesels would lead the trip, we all felt it important enough to go document. I have to admit that I had NO plans on going as far South as we did for diesels leading steam, but somehow we found ourselves almost to Chattanooga by the time we intercepted the train, and then spent the rest of that day and the next following them North. I came away with the ONE shot I wanted, the 630 crossing the Tn / KY state line. Even with diesels leading, that was important to me...silly I know.

    Saturday morning May 17th found my wife Carmon and I standing by ourselves in the cold morning air at CP Rice (just South of Erlanger, KY) waiting. Soon we could hear the 630's deep whistle blowing for a crossing to the North, then the sound of her exhaust started to echo off the buildings with a steadily increasing beat as the train topped over Erlanger hill. Then, a smoke trail in the tree's, a glow on the rail and...I almost forgot to push the button on the camera as she came rushing by us at 40mph.. I cant tell you how many pictures I have taken of the 630 in the past few years...hundreds..thousands...what I can tell you is that for all of the times I have seen that little engine, this time was different. My mind filled with good memories of the old days, and at the same time I was happy to be able to enjoy the moment with my wife who appreciates such things as much as I do. Steam had returned to the CNO&TP, returned to Kentucky.....that One moment was worth the 20 year wait. The train quickly passed us, and we took off in hot pursuit with smiles on our faces and I swear I must have had a few cinders in my eyes to make them water like that..

    20 years...made up for by 4 days, 1500 miles of driving and 30 or so pictures to remember it by..and we get to do it all over again in a couple of weeks with the trips from Lexington to Oneida! Below are a few samples, and I invite you to check out the whole set at this link >>> Norfolk Southern Steam in 2014 Photo Gallery by E.M. & Carmon Bell at

    05/14/14 Ferry Move

    A shot I have been waiting a long time for....20 years to be exact. It had been that long since a Southern steam locomotive with a fire in her belly had graced the rails of the CNO&TP in Kentucky. In this view, Northbound NS 957 crosses the KY / TN state line near Strunk, KY with a pair of SD40-2's leading the Southern 630 at 1505 on 05/14/14. Diesels leading...who cares! If that is what it takes to finally get some mainline (weekend) steam back in the Bluegrass, then let them lead! 20 years is to long to wait to complain about the small stuff! I will probably go back and do this shot again with 630 leading in a couple of weeks, but this shot has been a long time coming.

    05/15/14 Ferry move

    "Nirvana" My favorite shot of day Two of the 630 Ferry move to Cincy...A brand spanking new SD70Ace (NS 1124) on the point of Northbound 196 passes the 957 ferry move at Mason, KY. Old EMD's, a new EMD and steam....a little piece of heaven on the 1st District that lasted about 45 seconds!

    Saturday 05/17/14

    Southern 630 was letting all of Northern Kentucky know that steam had returned to the CNO&TP as she put on a awesome show pounding by the endangered searchlight signals at CP Rice, about 12 miles South of Cincinnati. The stack talk was incredible as she accelerated out onto single track, and Carmon and myself were the only ones at this location to witness it.

    " Southern Steam - Southern Signals" The old GRS model SC searchlight signals that protect the crossovers at Deliplane, Kentucky feel the sting of cinders for the first time since September of 1994 as Southern 630 leads an excursion South down the CNO&TP. The signals here are the only set left that are "un-molested" by new Tri-lights, although the invaders are laying close by.

    "Down to the river" Southern 630 leads NS 957 North, seen here crossing Horse Branch creek high above Ludlow, Ky on Saturday afternoon. The image is level, and the grade is just that steep (even across the Three bridges on the hill) averaging about 1.18% at this location at MP 4.0 on the CNO&TP. The small yard at Ludlow, the Ohio river bridge and Cincinnati are all just ahead.

    Sunday 05/18/14

    "Southbound Morning Delight" SR 630 crosses the Ohio River bridge at Cincinnati, Ohio as a new day dawns

    Southbound at Blanchet, KY...a classic CNO&TP scene.

    IF you overlook that engine number and the fact there is no Green paint, brass eagles or Elesco feed water heater jutting out from the brow of the smokebox, you can almost let your minds eye see a Southern PS4 leading the Southbound Queen & Crescent Limited. I am pretty sure that is what I saw as the 630 leaned into the curve at Sadieville, KY Sunday morning....and not a diesel in sight!
    Last edited by EM Bell; 06-09-2014, 07:45 PM.
    E.M. Bell, KD4JSL
    Salvisa, KY

  • #2
    Really nice shots!


    • #3
      excellent work. it is so rare to see steam engines these days on class 1's.