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Pre-US Sugar 148 Charter plus other trains 1/29/2022

by Chris Guenzler

US Sugar Background Information

U.S. Sugar Corporation is a privately-owned agricultural business based in Clewiston, Florida. The company farms over 230,000 acres of land in the counties of Hendry, Glades and Palm Beach. It is the largest producer of sugar cane in the United States by volume, producing over 700,000 tonnes per year. The company is also a large producer of refined sugar, sweet corn and oranges.

U.S. Sugar is considered in South Florida, along with Florida Crystals and the 54-member Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida, as Big Sugar. The company is one of the largest job providers in the Glades region, employing more than 2,500.

US Sugar History

In 1931, industrialist and philanthropist Charles Stewart Mott purchased assets near Clewiston, Florida from a 1920s bankrupt sugarcane company, Southern Sugar Company, to form the United States Sugar Corporation.

Mott later transferred shares to his Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. In 1969 with a law passed limiting private family foundations could hold a corporation, the foundation gave a large number of shares to the Mott Children's Health Center, a Flint charitable medical organization founded in 1939, to be below the 35% limit.

In 1962, the company opened the Bryant Sugar House, which at the time was the largest and most advanced sugarcane processing mill in the world. The mill had a capacity of 5,000 tons of sugarcane per day.

After C.S. Mott died in 1973, C.S. Harding Mott, his son, took over as chairman of the corporation. With sugar at 60 cents a pound in the 1970s and purchasers switching to corn syrup, the company expanded into other areas of farming including cattle, citrus and vegetables. In 1980, U.S. acquired South Bay Growers. South Bay Growers produced 13% of the US's leafy vegetables growing lettuce, celery and others. In late 1985, U.S. Sugar began planting orange trees. In 1983, the company formed an employee stock ownership plan in an attempt to go private.

The ESOP and Mott group of owners in October 1987 offered $80 per share for the other 110,000 voting shares held by 500 public shareholders. This took the company private and reduced its reporting costs.

Most of South Bay Growers was closed down on September 4, 1994 after four out of five prior years of losses including 10 million in 1994. South Bay's salad processing plant with customers like McDonald's and Burger King and 146 employees would continue to operate while seeking new ownership.

Big sugar moved in the early 1990s to mechanical cane harvesters. The displaced cane field workers filed a class action lawsuit in which the company paid $5 million plus in 1998. In 2004, U.S. Sugar closed a mill and laid off workers. Its Bryant mill was closed in 2007.


On 24 June 2008, Florida's Governor, Charlie Crist, announced the state was in negotiations to buy 187,000 acres of land and all of its manufacturing and production facilities for an estimated $1.7 billion from the company as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. Under the proposals, the company would continue to farm the land for the next six years and convert the land back to its original natural marshland state. In November 2008, the agreement was revised to offer $1.34 billion, allowing sugar mills in Clewiston to remain in production. Critics of the revised plan say that it ensures sugarcane will be grown in the Everglades for at least another decade.

In October 2010 the company sold 26,800 acres of land to the South Florida Water Management District for the "River of Grass" Restoration Project.


According to the Florida Sugarcane League, sugarcane farming has a $3.2 billion impact and supports more than 12,500 jobs. With more than 2,500 employees, U.S. Sugar is one of the "largest agribusiness employers in the Everglades region.

US Sugar 4-6-2 148 Information

Sugar Express steam locomotive No. 148, a 4-6-2 type steam engine, is our pride and joy. It is a 100-year-old icon of American ingenuity. No. 148 is now again back operating on the U.S. Sugar rail lines, after it has seen multiple owners, and many uses over its hundred year career.

Thanks to the vision of U.S. Sugar CEO Robert H. Buker, Jr., No. 148 was re-acquired by U.S. Sugar for restoration to operation in 2016. A team of outside railroad preservation experts and more than two dozen U.S. Sugar employees completed the project in April 2020.

Number 148 was manufactured in April 1920 by the American Locomotive Company of Richmond, Virginia, for use by the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC). By that time, FEC had taken receipt of dozens of nearly-identical locomotives to haul its many passenger and freight trains. Given the flat topography of their route, these light weight engines were well suited to hauling passenger as well as freight trains.

The FEC operated the famous "Overseas Railroad", a 128-mile extension that it built between 1905 and 1912 to connect Miami to Key West. This route was home to passenger and freight operations and No. 148 hauled trains across this line. The route was only in service until 1935, when the Labor Day Hurricane partially destroyed many of the long viaducts between the island chain. This, combined with the ongoing Great Depression, spelled the end of this unique line.

By the time of the Labor Day Hurricane, FEC had begun to dispose of its older 4-6-2 type locomotives, either scrapping the older versions or selling them to other railroads. In the 1930s, U.S. Sugar purchased sister FEC steam engines Nos. 98, 113, and 153 to haul the sugarcane from the harvest field to their processing plant. Engine No. 148 continued its service for FEC until 1952, when it too was sold to U.S. Sugar.

A thoroughly modern operation even at the time, U.S. Sugar relied upon the rail system to efficiently transport raw materials as well as to ship out finished product.

U.S. Sugar operated its fleet of steam locomotives into the early 1960s, at which point they were replaced by more efficient diesel-electric locomotives. While locomotive Nos. 113 and 153 were donated to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum, Engine No. 148 was sold by U.S. Sugar to Mr. Sam Freeman in 1969. Mr. Freeman transported the locomotive to New Jersey for operation on the Black River & Western Railroad (BR&W). It operated at the BR&W from 1971 until 1973, when it was moved to New Hope & Ivyland Railroad for boiler and mechanical work.

After this overhaul, No. 148 operated across multiple tourist railroad lines in New Jersey. Upon the death of Mr. Freeman in 1982, No. 148 was donated to the Connecticut Valley Railroad Museum, and it was sold to a private party in 1988. This resulted in the locomotive being transported to Michigan in the early 1990s after being sold to yet another owner. Engine No. 148 was shipped to Monte Vista, Colorado, in 2005.

After being purchased by U.S. Sugar for restoration to operation in 2016, it was returned to service in 2020.

Our Day in the Area.

The first stop was the US Sugar shops in Clewiston. Here we met Bart and Sarah Jennings plus Doug Scott and his wife Ellen.

US Sugar 4-6-2 148 at the US Sugar shops. We heard a train horn and knew we had a train coming.

One of the full cane trains pulled by US Sugar GP11 310 ex. rebuilt as a Illinois Central GP11 8764, exx. Illinois Central Gulf 9330, nee Illinois Central GP9 9214 built in 1957, on its way to the U.S. Sugar Mill just south of Clewiston. After that we followed Doug Scott to the big curve east of Clewiston. U.S. Sugar 148 had been chartered by a group of people for a trip toward the Okeelanta Mill.

U.S. Sugar 4-6-2 148 left Clewiston and gave us all a good show of steam and sound as it marched out of town. We followed Doug out east about ten miles to the Miami Canal and drove to the railroad crossing and parked. Here we found several members of our photo charter for the weekend. Socializing took place until I saw a distant headlight coming our way.

An empty U.S. Sugar pulled by USSC GP40 506 ex Rio Grande 3163, exx. Conrail 3163, nee Penn Central 3163 built in 1968, came to and by our photo location at Miami Canal.

The Miami Canal is the boundary of the end of the Keela Block and the beginning of the Lake Harbor Block.

One of our photographers launched a drone for his pleasure. I checked looking down the tracks east a few times and I saw another headlight coming our way.

A full U.S. Sugar cane train, led by USSC GP40-2 505, ex, CSX 6712, exx. Seabord Coast Lines 1557, nee Seaboard Airlines 642 built in 1967, was heading back to the U.S. Sugar Mill in Clewiston. After that we went to Rogers Road to wait forthe steam train, but Elizabeth was getting hungry so we went back to Clewiston and found a road to the top of the protection dike and I parked for a couple of pictures.

Lake Okeechobee just to the north of Clewiston. We went to Walmart as there was a Subway inside then checked into the Best Western Hotel in Clewiston, which ended up being the worst Best Western in which I have ever stayed. Afte 4:00 PM, we checked in Cate Kratville-Wrinn for the Trains Magazine charter at the Hampton Inn and received our lanyards. At 6:00, I drove back to the U.S. Sugar shops for part of the night photo session. Since I had forgotten to bring my cable release and tripod (they were at home), I had to hand-hold my camera for the photographs. Below are my results.

My results were not half bad.

Another full cane train entered the U.S. Sugar Mill. I then drove to the other end of the yard for a picture of the diesel.

US Sugar GP40-2 504 ex Helm 508, exx Boston and Maine 302 using my headlights for light. I returned to my loving wife at the Best Western and later we called it a night.