The Clinchfield No. 1 traveled from Erwin to Kingsport on Nov. 30, 1968, to pull the Santa Train. For the previous two months, the historic steam engine had been restored at the Clinchfield Railroad headquarters by a team of workers and volunteers. It would go on to pull the Santa Train and other excursions throughout the South for the next decade. (Photo by David DeVault)

From Staff Reports

It was 50 years ago – Nov. 23, 1968, to be exact – that an antique steam engine rolled down the tracks from Erwin to Johnson City for its “shake-down” trip on the rails.

For two months, dozens of Clinchfield Railroad workers, some paid, some as volunteers, had taken a rusted and rotted 4-6-0 steamer and refashioned it into the shiny, “new” Clinchfield No. 1. With a successful first outing secure, the No. 1 set out the following week, on Nov. 30, 1968, to pull the Santa Train from Kingsport to Kentucky and Virginia and back. It was a sojourn the steamer would perform annually for the next decade.

Those two events – and more – are highlighted in a special anniversary edition of “The One & Only: A Pictorial History of the Clinchfield No. 1,” first published in 2013 but out of print since 2014. Now, the book, by former newspaper publisher Mark A. Stevens and retired CSX engineer A.J. “Alf” Peoples, is available in a limited edition new printing.

The new edition sports a new cover featuring the artwork of Utah-based painter Simon Winegar and more than 50 new images, bringing the total to more than 550 in the 148-page book.

“It’s exciting that the book will be available in a new, if very limited, new edition,” Stevens said. “Alf and I were pleasantly surprised at the intense interest in the first edition when it was released in 2013. We knew we had an interest in the Clinchfield No. 1, but until the book is out, you never know the reaction.

“We were very pleased. There’s a lot of love in this region for the Clinchfield Railroad and, in turn, for the No. 1”

In fact, interest in the historic steam engine was so great that Stevens and Peoples were contracted by The History Press to produce a written history of the No. 1. That book, titled “The Clinchfield No. 1: Tennessee’s Legendary Steam Engine,” was an Amazon top seller and is still in print, in both softcover and a special hardcover “Library Edition.”

“My first job working for the Clinchfield was as car marshal for the excursions pulled by the Clinchfield No. 1 between 1968 and 1979,” Peoples said. “I’m so proud that my railroad career started with the No. 1. And, I retired as an engineer in 2014, so as an author of two books about her released in 2013 and 2014, I guess you could say my career was bookended by the No. 1.”

The special anniversary edition is $34.95. Signed copies are available directly from Stevens by writing to him at Mark A. Stevens, 390 Lumbee Circle, Pawleys Island, SC 29585. Copies are also available at www.clinchfieldno1.com, where limited-edition prints of the cover artwork is available as a framed giclee print and notecards are also available. Proceeds benefit the Clinchfield Railroad Museum in Erwin, Tennessee.

The 41.5-ton steam engine that would one day become the Clinchfield No. 1 was built in Indiana in 1882 and had a storied history before it was famously rebuilt in Erwin after a long service including stints in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. It pulled the first rescue train to reach survivors of the Johnstown, Pennsylvania, flood in 1989.

But it was that restoration in 1968 that secured the real-life “little engine that could” into railroad history.

From 1968 until 1979, the No. 1 pulled popular excursion trains between Spartanburg, South Carolina, and the mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky – and beyond. The historic steam engine and the excursions that carried thousands over the years received massive media attention, including from the likes of The New York Times, Southern Living and the Chicago Tribune.

“There’s nothing like a great American success story,” Stevens said, “and the Clinchfield No. 1 is just that.”

For more information about the new edition of “The One & Only,” call Stevens at (423) 737-6139 or email him at MAScommunicationsLLC@gmail.com.