By Railfan & Railroad Staff
CLIFTON FORGE, Va. — The Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society is raising money to restore “Chessie 29,” a business car used by the railroad’s executives and many dignitaries during the mid-20th Century.
The business car currently resides at the C&O Railway Heritage Center in Clifton Forge, Va., and was donated to the group by Al Barbour in 2019. The non-profit plans on doing a full operational restoration and wants to use the car as a rolling ambassador for its mission: preserving and interpreting the history of the C&O.
“This wondrous new asset could be a cornerstone of our future marketing, revenue, and membership recruitment,” said Society President Mark Totten. “Following our growth and stabilization in the last three years, not only is the C&O Historical Society ready to launch this fundraising with full speed but in the decades to come, our future business model (and survival) may rely on diversified departments that include operation and showcasing of private varnish.”
Chessie 29 as it appears today in Clifton Forge, Va. Photo Courtesy of C&O Historical Society.
The car was built in 1950 and was originally called “New River Club.” In 1951, it was sent to the C&O’s Huntington Locomotive Shop and turned into a business car, getting a new name, “Chessie,” after the railroad’s iconic cat mascot. The car was used extensively by C&O President Walter Tuohy. The car also hosted other dignitaries, including President Dwight Eisenhower, who used it to travel from Washington D.C. to White Sulphur Springs, W.V., in 1956 for secret meetings about the construction of a top-secret bunker under the Greenbrier Hotel to house members of Congress in the event of a Cold War attack.
“As the founder of the C&OHS I was long interested in our trying to acquire and restore Chessie 29 not just for its importance to the C&O in particular, but because of its history as an ‘artifact’ of the Cold War. It serves to tell how important the railways have been to all aspects of American life and civilization. I am hoping that the present campaign to restore the car, now that we have it, can reach its goal,” said C&O Historical Society Founder & Chief Historian Thomas W. Dixon, Jr. “Most other railway cars that are in restoration in America today pales in significance in the larger context of American history when compared with Chessie 29.”
The group estimates it will need about $900,000 to restore the car and fundraising is being bolstered by an anonymous donner who is matching all gifts. Donations can be made by calling (540) 862-2210 or by visiting ChessieShop.com.