After two years of planning, countless hours of volunteering and eight long days of moving, the Cliffside Railroad 110 steam locomotive is finally back in North Carolina.
New Hope Valley Railway unveiled its latest acquisition Saturday at its railroad yard in Bonsal.
The engine, known as “Old Puffer,” served the town of Cliffside, N.C., for many years before ending up at Stone Mountain Park in Georgia for the last six decades.
Looking for an engine larger and more powerful than its current steam locomotive, New Hope gladly accepted the bulky and historic gift from Stone Mountain.
There was, however, one slight catch.
“They donated the engine to us but there was one contingency,” said New Hope President Mike MacLean. “They said we had to come and get it. Well, we proved we could do it and we are very excited right now.”
Twelve volunteers and two contractors made the nearly 320-mile trip to Stone Mountain to receive their gift.
“It took us eight days to transport it here,” said MacLean. “We are all volunteers and we had to get our work release papers signed by our wives. We had a plan on how to move it and we ended up changing it five times before we got back here.”
What excites MacLean and the rest of the volunteers the most is the history attached to the steam locomotive.
The train was part of the three-mile Cliffside Railway that served Cliffside, a town located nearly 50 miles west of Charlotte.
Serving the South’s largest gingham textile plant, the train became an important fixture in the community and even gave children a ride home from school during its midday run into town.
The locomotive was retired in 1962 and replaced by a diesel engine.
“It ran for 30 years at Cliffside and has so much history,” said MacLean. “Kids would ride it home from school and a family of chickens lived on the tender. It’s just real Andy Griffith stuff.”
Its North Carolina origins also make it more endearing to the volunteers, unlike New Hope’s current steam locomotive No. 17 that hails from New Jersey.
“I know we are close to Cary and there are a lot of Jersey girls there,” laughed MacLean. “But it’s nice to have a locomotive from North Carolina.”
Although moving the locomotive to Bonsal was a difficult task, some equally daunting challenges remain.
The non-profit organization is facing a major restoration effort that will take at least five years and could cost as much as $600,000.
“We’ve never held a major fundraiser like this so we have some work to do,” said MacLean. “But this is a very exciting time for us. We’re really looking forward to getting started (on the restoration).”