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U.S. Sugar 148 Steam Charter Clewiston to Okeelanta Route 1/20/2023

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I awoke at the Holiday Inn in Clewiston and following our Internet duties, we enjoyed the breakast at the hotel and purchased a Subway sandwich for me before I drove us down to the train and parked. We checked in then waited to board.

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. 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, 148 operated across multiple tourist railroad lines in New Jersey. Upon the death of Mr. Freeman in 1982, 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 trip

U.S. Sugar GP40 501, ex. EMDX 196, exx. Soo Line 2004, exxx. Milwaukee Road 2004, nee Milwaukee Road 184 built by Electro-Motive Division in 1966.

Clewiston scene.

Our train crew safety meeting.

The car we rode in on this trip Southern Railway 664 "Fort Oglethorpe" nee Central of Georgia 664 "Fort Oglethorpe" built by Budd in 1947. This car was brought down especially for this excursion from the Southern Appalachia Railway Museum.

An empty U.S. Sugar cane train heading out to a loader to get more sugar cane.

One last view of U.S. Sugar 501.

U.S. Sugar 148 reverses to be on the front of the train.

Our engineer for the trip was Scott Ogle, the Manager of Operations for U.S. Sugar.

The engine's builder's plate.

Coupling up to our train. We boarded the train taking a foursome seat in "Fort Oglethorpe" so Doug Scott could sit with us.

Interior of "Fort Oglethorpe". The train departed Clewiston and we stopped to put the engine on the rear of our train before heading out for the day.

The train took the first big curve just on the eastern edge of Clewiston.

Cane fields showing different growth.

A tractor plowing the field.

A field which had been burnt. We stopped for a photo runby at Rogers Road, Milepost 2.8.

U.S. Sugar 501 was on the west end of our train.

Sugar Express coach 1002 "Lake Okeechobee", ex. United Railroad Historical Society of New Jersey, exx. New Jersey Transit 5333, exxx. Central Railroad of New Jersey 123, exxxx. Great Northern 1002, nee Union Pacific 5471 built by American Car and Foundry in 1953.

Sugar Express baggage car 3674 "Miami Locks", ex. Nashville Steam 3674, exx. Amtrak 1251, exxx. Amtrak 1162, nee Santa Fe 3674 built by American Car and Foundry in 1955.

Sugar Express coach 664 "Fort Oglethorpe".

Sugar Express 7137 table car "Palmdale", ex. Amtrak lounge car 3332 "Anthony Wayne", exx. Amtrak 3637, exxx. Penn Central 7137 "Anthony Wayne", nee Pennsylvania Railroad parlour-drawing room 7137 "William Penn" built by Budd in 1951.

U.S. Sugar 4-6-2 Pacific 148.

The train set reversing for the photo runby.

There is a cane train off in the distance.

Photo runby 1 as the cane train came across our route. Next were posed pictures over the canal.

Posed pictures over the canal.

That cane was making good time headed out to the reload.

Two more views of our steam train.

Our fireman for this trip.

Boarding the train at Rogers Road before we continued on our way, stopping at the Bolles Canal, Milepost 5.8.

Reverse move two at the Bolles Canal bridge.

Photo runby 2 at the bridge.

Our train reversed across the bridge.

Posed picture.

One of the cane trucks that does not belong to U.S. Sugar.

Posed picture.

This operation is not part of U.S. Sugar; there are other companies in the area. We next stopped at Miami Canal, Milepost 10.3.

The train started reverse three as other things were happening.

Another non-U.S. Sugar cane truck.

The train finished reverse move three.

Two non-U.S.Sugar cane trucks operating this early afternoon.

Photo runby three at the canal.

Reverse move four.

Posed pictures. The train pulled forward so we could board then headed to the Okeelanta wye and a surprise for all riders.

The train took the northwest leg of the Okeelanta wye.

The train took the northeast leg, which meant we were the first trin ever to ride over the Okeelanta wye. We returned to Miami Canal for the final photo runby at milepost 10.3.

Reverse move five.

Photo runby four. We then started back to Clewiston.

On the return trip our train went by the Fort Pierce turn.

U.S. Sugar GP11 304, ex. Illinois Central 8752, exx. Illinois Central Gulf 8752, exxx. Illinois Central Gulf 9198, nee Illinois Central 9198 built by Electro-Motive Division in 1957.

One last sugar cane field. We returned to Clewiston and detrained then went back to the hotel for a while before going for dinner at Beef O'Bradys with good friend Randy Jackson. We returned to the hotel and went to sleep much later.