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.”
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.
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.
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 System.
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 railroad please visit the Chessie System Historical Society's website. 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! If you're interested in perhaps purchasing this book please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.
Check out the website's digital book (E-book), An Atlas To Classic Short Lines, which features system maps and a brief background of 46 different historic railroads.