Frequently Asked Questions

Steam locomotives are amazing, complex machines! Here are some of the common questions we're asked about the Sugar Express!

  • Q: Is it a real steam train?
  • A: Yes! In fact, sometimes you can even see puffs of white steam (water vapor) emerging from different parts of the locomotive.
  • Q: How old is it?
  • A: Locomotive 148 is over 100 years old having been built in May of 1920. However, the locomotive just finished a complete overhaul with every part having been disassembled, inspected, and refurbished or upgraded as needed – it is basically in better-than-new condition!
  • Q: How fast can it go?
  • A: The large main driving wheels show that Number 148 was designed as a fast passenger engine. It is capable of reaching 70 MPH, although the speed limit on our railroad is 40 MPH.
  • Q: What fuel does it use?
  • A: In keeping with US Sugar’s commitment to the environment and the agricultural industry, No. 148 burns waste vegetable oil. This sustainable fuel combined with an improved combustion system make locomotive 148 one of the cleanest steam locomotives in the world!
  • Q: So how do you “upgrade” a historic steam train?
  • A: While there are limits to what can be done, locomotive 148 received a number of modifications aimed at improving safety, efficiency, reliability, and emissions. The axles received one of two types of improved bearings which makes it easier for the locomotive to roll down the tracks. The important main driving axle bearings even include wireless temperature sensors to alert the engineer if there is a problem. The burner system, while similar to other proven burner designs, features carefully placed air openings mimicking those found in modern jet engines to help minimize smoke. The heart of any steam locomotive is its exhaust nozzle and smokestack where the steam and fire meet. These critical components were redesigned using jet engine technology to help improve efficiency. Lastly, a modern radio and speaker system were installed in the cab allowing both fireman and engineer to hear instructions from the dispatcher.

No. 148 was manufactured in April 1920 by the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) of Richmond, Virginia, for use by the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC). Already by that time, FEC had taken receipt of dozens of nearly-identical locomotives to haul its many passenger and freight trains. Given the very 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 certainly 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.

An unidentified locomotive, perhaps even No. 148, is shown here hauling a freight train across the Long Key Viaduct of the Overseas Railroad in 1926. Image Courtesy: Library of Congress

Engine No. 148 hauls the Hastings-Binnell local train across the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida, on August 1, 1932. The Denver Public Library, Western History Collection: OP-11628.

Already by the time of the Labor Day Hurricane hit, 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 1930’s, U.S. Sugar purchased sister FEC steam engines Nos. 98, 113, and 153 to haul the raw sugar cane from the harvest field to their processing plant. Engine No. 148 continued its service on behalf of the 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, after which time he 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, but due to the extensive cost required to return the locomotive to operation, it was sold to a private party in 1988. This resulted in the locomotive being transported to Michigan in the early 1990s, and after being sold to another owner, it was shipped to Monte Vista, Colorado, in 2005.

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

U.S. Sugar No. 98, sister to No. 148, is shown here servicing the mill at Bryant, Florida, in this 1942 photograph by Marion Post. Image courtesy: Library of Congress

Engine No. 148 returned to operation in April, just in time for the 100th anniversary of its construction.