In 1971, Hays T. Watkins, Jr. was tapped as president of the Chesapeake & Ohio. An excellent railroader with strong leadership skills, Watkins believed all three railroads needed a unique corporate moniker in which to describe their affiliation. It was similar to a concept the Louisville & Nashville, Seaboard Coast Line, West Point Route, and Clinchfield conceived at around the same time when they began painting "Family Lines System" on each railroad's equipment (the difference being that "Family Lines" was a marketing affiliation only). Watkins' team came up with the term "Chessie System," a name not new to the C&O. During the depths of the Great Depression the railroad was looking for ways to boost its sagging passenger business; folks were continuing to struggle during this economic downturn and automobiles were further hurting the industry's rail travel sector. Lionel Probert, the company's publication relations officer at the time, noticed in a newspaper ad a cuddly sleeping kitten and tracked down the artist, Guido Grenewald, who lived in Vienna, Austria.
His piece was tailored towards animal kindness but Probert saw it as a chance to promote the railroad's new air-conditioned sleeping cars and revitalize sagging patronage. According to Thomas Dixon, Jr.'s, "Chesapeake & Ohio Railway: A Concise History And Fact Book," he purchased Grenewald's work for $5 and added the slogan, "Sleep Like A Kitten And Wake Up Fresh As A Daisy In Air-Conditioned Comfort." They named the kitten, Chessie, after the railroad and the first advertisement appeared in Fortune Magazine's September, 1933 issue. It was an immediate public sensation, which not only propelled ticket sales but also merchandising. Chessie has been argued as the greatest marketing idea ever conceived by a railroad and is most commonly remembered in scenes with the simple slogan, "Sleep Like A Kitten." As rail travel waned in the postwar period, Chessie gradually disappeared from C&O's advertising and by the late 1960s had largely been forgotten by the public.
Watikins delegated the search for a new corporate logo and paint scheme to Howard Skidmore, then-C&O's public relations officer. He tapped a subordinate, Franklyn Carr, who led the creative department, to come up with a design. There were several factors to consider; the new company needed a bright paint scheme to attract attention for safety reasons while bold lettering would show strength and also catch the eye. In addition, since the new Chessie System would not only act as a holding company but also slowly integrate operations over time the concept of separate identities was no longer of primary concern. Carr, using the C&O's famous kitten as a template, overlaid the design within a large letter, "C" as a silhouette. His boss, and the C&O board, loved the concept and quickly approved it. When applied to a locomotive, "Chessie System" was centered on the carbody against a large backdrop of C&O's "Federal Yellow."
The rest of the paint scheme featured C&O's "Enchantment Blue" (a dark hue, similar to the B&O's "Royal Blue") along the skirting and roof-line while thin bands of "Vermillion" (a reddish/orange color) completed the look. The entire livery encompassed everything top management had requested. The first locomotive painted was Baltimore & Ohio GP40-2 #1977, unveiled in Cleveland, Ohio following its completion by General Motors in August of 1972. The year also coincided with the B&O's 150th anniversary and is why it was given this particular number. Of note, much of the public was first shown the new Chessie System scheme during GM's Executive Conference held at the C&O's Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia in November of 1972. In this case, a new unit, #4163, was renumbered 1977 and presented at the conference (the original had been renumbered 4100 and placed into active service). It is most often the locomotive photographed as #1977.
Operationally, the Chessie System maintained most of its subsidiary's original networks early on, except for the Western Maryland. In 1975 it abandoned the WM's Connellsville Extension and slowly removed or sold other segments until the creation of CSX Transportation in 1986 (today, little remains of the WM's network). The 1980s also witnessed segments of the C&O and B&O removed with the latter's St. Louis main line severed after 1985. By this time the Chessie roads were integrating with those of Seaboard System. On July 1, 1986 CSX Transportation was born to operate CSX Corporation's (formed on November 1, 1980) railroad division. While the southern roads were merged into their holding company on December 29, 1982 (Seaboard System, whose name disappeared with CSXT's creation) the Chessie System roads survived for a few more years. According to Trains Magazine, the Western Maryland was the first to disappear, merged into the B&O on May 1, 1983. The B&O and C&O survived as "paper" companies for nearly a year into the CSXT era: B&O vanished into the C&O on April 30, 1987 (ironically it had just celebrated its 160th birthday on April 24th). Finally, the C&O was formally dissolved as a corporate entity on August 31, 1987.
The last new locomotives to carry Chessie System paint were a batch of SD50's Electro-Motive delivered during the summer of 1984. Ironically, in contrast to the Chessie's brilliant livery the new CSX scheme was dull and bland, originally featuring only grey and deep blue with simple "CSX" markings. Even today, more than 30 years since it was created, the CSX livery is rather straightforward and the most unimaginative of all the Class I's. It is rather interesting that for a railroad which survived independently for only eight years, and fifteen altogether, the Chessie System continues to hold true a mystic about it; not only has there been several books honoring its history but also hobbyists and modeling manufacturers continue to produce its equipment. Perhaps this is due to both its alluring paint scheme as well as the legendary railroads that made up the road. 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.
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