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THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE RACE
by John B. Gordon
Contributed by Barbara Walker Winge.
SOURCE: FLORIDA LIVING/ October, 1994, pp. 36-37.
The Plant System of railroad, predecessor of the old Atlantic Coast Line Railroad set a lot of speed records in the 20th century. On March 01, 1901 the Savannah, Florida & Western, set an unofficial steam locomotive speed record with a 10 wheel locomotive that averaged 120mph over a stretch of track for five miles.
The United States Postal Service was trying to improve the mail delivery to Florida, Cuba, and the West Indies. In an attempt to secure the mail contract, the Florida Central & Peninsula Railroad changed its schedule between Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida.
The Plant System and the Florida Central & Peninsula Railroads were given four cars of mail at Savannah and told to deliver them to Jacksonville. The first train to arrive at Jacksonville would receive the contract.
The Plant Systemís route went 31.8 miles out of the way by going through Waycross, Georgia. In an effort to overcome that differential, they assigned one of its newest engines to the test. In fact, No. 107 had just arrived from the factory.
All of the trains had orders to clear the tracks. The engineers were ordered to examine all switches to check that they were set and locked securely to the main tract.
With engineer Ned Leake at the throttle of number 107, both trains left Savannah on the prearranged schedule. But before the Plant System train had gone the twenty miles to Burroughs, Georgia, [located in Chatham County, Georgia] the engine overheated. One hour later it arrived in Fleming, Georgia, [Liberty County, Georgia] twenty-four miles south of Savannah. However the Florida Central & Peninsula had passed the Plant special at Burroughs. A northbound freight train, pulled by a 10-wheeler burning bituminous coal, No. 111, a companion engine to No. 107. It had been built by the Rhode Island Locomotive Works in the summer of 1900. It weighed 146,000 pounds.
Ordering the freight train left at the siding, with No. 111 turned and watered, an official placed the engine at the front of the special train, but by then the special was well over an hour late. The Engineer, Albert H. Lodge, one of the best engineers was told to open the throttle all the way. The crew was Conductor Lindsey Kirkland, Fireman Charlie Johnson and Flagman Knight. Also along in the engine were engineers Jimmie Ambrose and Sam McClellan.
The train arrived at Jesup, Georgia, [Wayne County, Georgia] about daylight, stopping only for water and oil. Engineer Albert Lodge then headed for Screven, Georgia, [Wayne County, Georgia]. They were moving at an incredible speed. Ahead was a little hill just south of Screven and then the Satilla River. Then a little curve just after passing the river. The crew was worried if the train would take the curve or if it would go into the woods. The engine took the curve.
Engineer Albert Lodge had driven the train from Milepost 69 at Screven to Milepost 74, now named Satilla, a distance of five miles in only two minutes and thirty seconds, a rate of 120 mph.
He made a 40 mile run from Jessup to Waycross in 27 minutes in spite of fog on the nine miles between Blackshear, Georgia, [Pierce County, Georgia] and Waycross, Georgia, [Ware County, Georgia] At Waycross the special pulled into the terminal where a waiting crew serviced the engine in three minutes. The train had covered the 34 miles from Waycross to Folkston, Georgia, [Charlton County, Georgia] in about 25 minutes.
Near Callahan, Florida, Engineer Lodge increased the speed back up to 120 mph. The train was on schedule again. The special had covered the trip from Waycross to Jacksonville, Florida, in only 59 minutes.
The crew was eating breakfast in the station restaurant when the rival train arrived. The Engineer Sam McClellan overheard the Florida, Cuba and Peninsula conductor ask the operator when the Plant System special was expected. McClellan answered that the mail they had handled was over halfway to Cuba.
Locomotive No. 111 had established a world record for speed as an ordinary road engine without special preparation. It had covered a distance of 149 miles in 130 minutes, slowing down for only three railroad crossings. It later became Atlantic Coast Line No. 210 and it remained in service until it was scrapped in 1942.
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