Oregon developer to purchase storied Kentucky short line

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Big South Fork Scenic Railroad SW9 No. 106 poses outside the Stearns engine house in March 2013. The locomotive will soon be painted black and lettered Kentucky & Tennessee.
Jim Wrinn
STEARNS, Ky. – An Oregon business developer, consultant, and author is buying one of the most famous southeastern short line railroads turned tourist hauler. Sam Carpenter of Bend, Ore., tells Trains News Wire that he is in the final steps to complete the purchase of the Big South Fork Scenic Railway tourist line and the famous Kentucky & Tennessee freight-hauling short line from the McCreary County Heritage Foundation Inc.

Following work to repair and upgrade the railroad’s primary diesel locomotive, tourist cars, and tracks, he plans to open the railroad for the spring season on April 1. “Everybody loves trains,” Carpenter says, describing how he came to purchase the railroad after meeting a local resident at a political leadership conference last year who suggested the railroad might be a worthwhile new venture. Five months of negotiations with the nonprofit foundation followed to buy the tracks and rolling stock and to lease the depot and shop. The railroad also handles a small amount of freight traffic.

Carpenter, author of “Work the System” about business development and who, is buying a home in Stearns. He plans to keep the Big South Fork Scenic name but in a move to recognize the railroad’s history, he will repaint SW9 No. 106 into a black scheme with K&T lettering. Three open-air cars will be restored and painted green by the spring opening, followed by four more for the height of the tourist season.

A former Union Railroad 0-6-0, which has been under restoration off and on for several years and is still owned by the nonprofit, could fit into the railroad’s plans, but the emphasis will be on diesel-hauled trains, Carpenter says. The 1944 Alco-built steam locomotive, No. 77, once operated on Morehead & North Fork and then the Tombstone Junction tourist railroad nearby. It would become K&T No. 14 on the roster — next in line, skipping No. 13, on a roster that included as many as a dozen steam locomotives during the railroad’s coal and lumber-hauling career, including a famous excursion locomotive.

The railroad dates to 1902 when Justus S. Stearns purcahsed 30,000 acres in several counties along the Kentucky and Tennessee border. The K&T was home to mainline excursion superstar Southern Railway No. 4501 between 1948 and 1964 as coal-hauling No. 12. After steam ended, the railroad used four Alco S2 diesel locomotives, and one of those, No. 102, is backup for SW900. The railroad stayed privately operated after coal mining ended in 1987, and it began offering 14-mile round trips to the Blue Heron Coal Mining Camp, a National Park Service outdoor interpretive site. It went to the nonprofit in 1996.

An infusion of energy and money into the railroad is important in rural McCreary County, where a high unemployment rate has made it among the nation’s poorest counties, observers say. Tourist dollars are critical to its survival, and now the K&T, the oldest short line in the state still in operation, will be reborn to play an even more important part of that effort.
A K&T train crosses the Cumberland River in this undated photo.
Doyle B. Inman

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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