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Historic steam engine rides again in Clewiston

Talk about a makeover! A 100-year-old steam engine has been given new life with an eco-friendly twist in Southwest Florida.

From the bell to the whistle, engine number 148 attracts attention.

“People across the country, rail fans, followed the progress. They posted pictures, video, she has her own Facebook page,” said Judy Sanchez, senior director of corporate communications and public affairs at U.S. Sugar.

The Clewiston-based company repurchased and restored the 100-year-old steam locomotive in 2016, calling it the “Sugar Express.”

“These became too inefficient to operate when you can have a diesel locomotive do it for a lower cost,” said David Washington, an assistant chief mechanical officer at U.S. Sugar.

“When we were switching to diesel locomotives in the ’60s, she was the last engine that we sold,” Sanchez said.

Back in action, the locomotive has a third “R” to add to the list: Repurchased, restored and recycled.

“We start up the locomotive with diesel and then we switch it over to recycled vegetable oil as soon as it comes up to temperature,” said Bob Lawson, general manager of harvesting and railroad operations at U.S. Sugar and South Central Florida Express.

The recycled vegetable oil comes from a supplier in South Florida.

The hope is to use the engine to haul passengers in an effort to teach them about agriculture and the history of the industry.

“Despite COVID-19 and concerns, one day, things will open back up and people will be able to come out and visit our community.”

History of #148:

Locomotive No. 148 was built in 1920 by the American Locomotive Company for use on the Florida East Coast Railway. In 1952, the locomotive was sold to U.S. Sugar to haul sugarcane trains from field-to-mill for processing raw sugar. As diesel locomotives became popular, Engine No. 148 was sold by U.S. Sugar into private ownership in the 1960s. The steam engine spent a few years hauling passenger excursions, then it was moved across the country, finally landing in Monte Vista, Colorado. Thanks to the vision of U.S. Sugar CEO Robert H. Buker, Jr., the locomotive was re-purchased by U.S. Sugar in 2016, kick starting this restoration. Railroad mechanical contractor FMW Solutions LLC, working alongside more than two dozen U.S. Sugar employees, completed the restoration of No. 148 in late April. – U.S. Sugar

Reporter:Stephanie Byrne
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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