The Chessie System, as an independent railroad would last but a mere
eight years. However, its legacy, continues to live on to this day.
The railroad itself was comprised of three principle railroads, the
Chesapeake & Ohio, Baltimore & Ohio, and Western Maryland (which
by the early 1970s was a B&O subsidiary). From a corporate
standpoint the railroad was quite a moneymaker and earned handsome
profits during a time (the 1970s) when the industry as a whole was
spiraling downward. What the railroad, however, is most famous for was
its striking paint scheme which
featured a dazzling blend of blue, yellow, and vermilion with the
kitten’s silhouette overlaid in the Chessie “C.”
A westbound C&O manifest freight enters the siding at Eagle Rock, Virginia led by B30-7 #8281 during October of 1983.
The Chessie System has its beginnings that date back to the early 1960s.
During this time the New York Central and Chesapeake & Ohio began
showing serious interest in the Baltimore & Ohio. The B&O was
one of the three major trunk lines (the other two being the Pennsylvania
Railroad and NYC) extending from the ports of the east coast to Chicago
and St. Louis. However, it was by far always the weakest and by the
late 1950s it was showing signs of once again plunging into
receivership. Interested in the potential that the B&O could give
the NYC in terms of both a more southerly reach as well as the rich coal
fields the railroad served, Alfred Perlman, president of the NYC, began
courting the B&O board.
However, the B&O was well aware of the NYC’s precarious financial position also and was naturally hesitant of a merger with the larger road. The B&O had also been in talks with the C&O for a few years and by the early 1960s, after the NYC was again rebuffed (this time by a proposal which included the B&O, C&O, and NYC), the B&O board voted in 1963 to award the stock offer to the C&O thereby giving it overriding control of the B&O. In the end, it was for the best as the NYC would go on to merge with the PRR, a disastrous decision that brought down the entire Northeastern rail market when the ill-fated Penn Central Corporation went bankrupt in the early 1970s.
However, rather than merge the B&O out of existence, the
C&O chose to gradually combine the two railroads (by slowly merging
departments and other management areas over the years) working more as allies. This was done for several reasons but two of the most important was to not upset the extremely loyal B&O employees to its company, which would not accept an outright take over and dissolution easily, and to retain the tax exemption status the B&O held in the State of Maryland.
Two GP40-2s with C&O and B&O markings lead freight NI42 into Niagara Falls, New York on August 14, 1984.
This setup would last until 1972 when a new holding company was created
to oversee the railroads, which would also include the Western Maryland,
a much smaller railroad that served parts of Maryland and West Virginia
and had come under the control of the B&O. This new company was
known as the Chessie System and it remained little more than simply a
name, which united all three railroads. All three continued to remain
as separate entities the only significant difference, aside from some
consolidated departments, was the vibrant new paint scheme they shared
of blue, yellow, and vermilion (although their names continued to be
stenciled on locomotives; “B&O,” “C&O,” and “WM”). This would
change slightly in 1976 when the Chessie began to operate more as
one, unified, railroad although the individual company names continued
to be included on locomotives.
One of the former Western Maryland chop-nose GP9s, #6415, is leading a freight westbound as it exits the Sand Patch Tunnel in Pennsylvania on September 21, 1980.
The biggest change for the company began in 1980 when Chessie was merged with southeastern conglomerate, Seaboard Coast Line
Industries (which consisted of a number of railroads, such as the
Seaboard Coast Line, Louisville & Nashville, Clinchfield, and
others), to create a holding company known as CSX Corporation (and the
division which would operate the railroads was CSX Transportation).
After the formation of CSX, the railroads under its banner began to
quickly disappear. Seaboard Coast Line Industries became simply the
Seaboard System and was merged into CSX in 1982 and the Chessie roads would follow five years later. The WM was formally merged out of
existence when it was folded into the B&O, which itself disappeared
on April 30th, 1987 (just weeks after its 160th birthday). The C&O
soon followed a month later in May and with that so ended the Chessie
An eastbound freight led by B&O GP40-2 #4226 climbs the grade at Cotton Hill, West Virginia during August of 1982.
It is rather interesting that a railroad, which lived essentially only 8
years, continues to hold such a mystic about it and not only has had
several books written in its honor but also numerous layouts modeled
after it. Perhaps this is due to both its alluring paint scheme as well
as the legendary railroads that made up the Chessie. Whatever
the reason there is no denying the impact it continues to hold over
railfans and historians today and will undoubtedly continue to so into
the future. For more information about the Chessie System please click here.
Deep within coal country in southern West Virginia several units head toward their coal train at Avis Yard in Hinton during October of 1981.
Finally, for additional reading about the company, especially a pictorial history of the railroad in West Virginia covering all three affiliated roads (the C&O, B&O, and WM) consider the book Chessie System
by Dave Ori. The book is stuffed full of colored pictures and anyone
interested in the railroad will very much enjoy it! Another book on the subject of Chessie is The Chessie Era by author Thomas Dixon. This particular book is part of my collection and while most photos are in black and white it is still an interesting title. If you're
interested in perhaps purchasing either book (or both) please visit the link(s) below
which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com.