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U.S. Sugar Cane steam loco trip

A Great Train Journey

Part One

NRHS 2023 Annual Convention in Deerfield Beach, Florida


Robin Bowers

September 04, 2023


Chapter Six

Text and Photos by Author

The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent

Comments are appreciated

Sugar Express Steam Excursion

    Today started as days everlastingly have started with the sun rising up from the Atlantic Ocean here in the deep south. The weather was going to be a repeat of the past few days, hot and humid but with a downward trend developing today. But it was going to be a great day because we are going for a train ride and a special one at that. We will be riding behind steam locomotive # 148 through Florida countryside while stopping along the way for a few photo runbys. After my morning ablution, I went downstairs for breakfast at the Stag Bar where I was greeted by Howard at the bar where I took a seat. I had a yen for French toast so I ordered that and orange juice. The buses were boarding early today, so right after breakfast, I had to make a bee line to the loading portal. After the buses left the hotel we were on city streets and then on the highways to Lake Okeechobee. A couple of hours later we were in Clewiston were our train awaited. After we signed the legal forms we were presented with our Special Service Ticket and made our way through the carriages to pick our very own seat.

    With nearly 200 miles of track to operate over, the Sugar Express offers many route options for your riding pleasure. While their trains typically originate in Clewiston, throughout the year trains board in Sebring, Lake Placid and elsewhere along their scenic line for train trips ranging in ride length from one hour to all day excursions.

    This unique railroad, which is owned and operated by U.S. Sugar's South Central Florida Express, was built in the early 1900s by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and Florida East Coast Railway to access the farm communities that ring the south coast of Lake Okeechobee. Its primary purpose today is to support the efficient and sustainable transportation of freight, connecting the region with North America and the globe.


    Shortly after everyone had found a seat and settled in, our train commence movement, pulling from the branch line to the main. We did not go far, stopped and it was then time for the big surprise. When the conventioneers were making their seat choices, many chose to be in the direction of travel and since they saw the steam locomotive and assume it was on the point, going in that direction. What they missed was the diesel locomotive at the other end and it was going to be on the point on our way to Lake Placid. As the train stopped and reversed direction, there was a mad scramble to change seats but alas their seats were already occupied. We continued our journey through Florida's flat fields of sugar cane.


Our country's flag in the wind at the US 27 Highway as we start our journey.



Views of the Caloosahatchee River.






After about two hours we arrived in Lake Placid for lunch and our turn-around point.


    After leaving the train, the hungry travelers either went left for the one-block walk to uptown for a eating place or if  Bar-B-Que pork was on your menu, then you would bear to the right for your pulled pork sandwich. Now seemed like the perfect time for pulled pork, beans and coleslaw so I joined queue and in no time, was at the window placing my order. This was a mom and pop operation that travels to the customers. Mom takes the money and Pop cooks and hands out the finish product. After receiving my lunch plate, I found a table and sat in the shade. We had a rotation of people coming and going, feasting and leaving. There were several different conversations while I was there, but one the most intriguing was why teenage boys are reluctant to take showers. After my enjoyable lunch, wanted to wander a bit but, not too far as to miss the train leaving.


Mural next to station and one of several in the city.











    Built in 1920, steam locomotive No. 148 worked for the Florida East Coast Railway for decades, hauling both passengers and freight. In 1952, she was acquired by U.S. Sugar, where she hauled sugarcane until the late 1960s. After retirement, she briefly traveled the country as an operating attraction before languishing inoperable in storage for over 40 years.

    In 2016, U.S. Sugar C.E.O. Robert H. Buker, Jr. had a vision to re-acquire No. 148 for overhaul. Restoration work began in earnest in 2017 and after thousands of hour of work by U.S. Sugar employees and collaborating restoration experts, No. 148 was once again returned to service in April 2020, just in time for her 100th birthday.




Caloosahatchee River on our return trip.


Drawbridge in Moore Haven.


View from other side of train.


Trailers used to bring cane from the fields to the railroad.


    The Sugar Express operates on tracks of the South Central Florida Express, U.S. Sugar's freight railroad. This line is used primarily to transport raw sugarcane from in fields to the U.S. Sugar mill in Clewiston. This innovative rail network allows the hardworking crews to haul more than 1,000 railcars of sugarcane per day in the most fuel-efficient manner. They only have eight hours from when the cane is harvested until it must be delivered to the mill -  how's that for prompt service.


Train views from a photo runby at Milepost 942.




Train returning for another runby.



After this last runby, the train returned to Clewiston and the conventioneers boarded their buses for the return to Deerfield Beach. As I was leaving the train, a locomotive crewman said: "I speak your language," as I was wearing my Santa Fe 3751 tee shirt  proclaiming "got steam."

For dinner this evening, I went just downstairs to the Stag Bar and sat a high top as the dinning room was quite full with fellow conventioneers. I had the pasta dish which was good but pricey, but not in the stratosphere price they charged me for one-half pint of milk:  $5.00!   So if your coming to visit this state- Bring plenty of yen.

Thanks for reading.

Read next: Flagler Museum Tour

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Text and Photos by Author, Robin Bowers

The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent

Comments are appreciated