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October 22, 2020

Irvine KY - Thanks to a $120,000 contribution by the Commonwealth of Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, and an investment commitment by a local company, an exciting community economic development project in Estill County is poised to spur the revitalization of the Eastern Kentucky economy. “The Yard,” a 40-acre development taking shape on former railroad property between Irvine and Ravenna, will celebrate the region’s railroad heritage while championing regional arts, food and music.

On Wednesday, Michael Hardy, Vice President of Hardy Oil Company in Irvine, announced a sponsorship of the “Hardy Pavilion at The Yard,” a 4,500-person capacity multi-use venue for use in hosting community gatherings, farmers markets and concerts. The site is a specially-zoned development purchased and championed by the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation, a 501(c)(3) public charity.

“While it is our hope this project may act as a catalyst for future endeavors, its intent is to provide a place for people to come together,” said Hardy. “Whether it’s an outdoor classroom, a stage for community performances or a filled-to-capacity concert, if you leave with a smile on your face, it will have served its purpose well.”

The ambitious plan to revitalize the sprawling acreage on a decommissioned rail yard began to take shape in 2017 when members of the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation initiated talks with CSX Transportation about purchasing the property for a future rail-based tourism and historical development.

In late-2018, Kentucky Steam purchased the property, initially focusing on utilizing the retired CSX shop on-site, capable of restoring historic rail equipment. The building has already undergone renovations and now houses 75-year old steam locomotive C&O 2716 after an epic move across the state from the Kentucky Railway Museum last summer. The spectacle of a 450-ton locomotive being moved across the Commonwealth brought crowds of thousands trackside, and once restored, the locomotive will be one of the most powerful operating steam locomotives in the world. The engine is currently undergoing restoration at the revitalized facility in Irvine.

The shop will house a rail rehab facility and machine shop which will be open as an interactive museum, and Kentucky Steam plans to partner with area vocational schools to allow work to be done by tech students, intent on learning a skilled trade.

Jeff Saylor, Superintendent of the Estill County Schools district, says the partnership with Kentucky Steam will be an important one for their vocational program and is an exciting concept that could help spur both education and economic growth in the region.

“The Yard and the accompanying Heritage Center is an exciting development for our community,” Saylor said. “Our students will be able to participate in a soon-to-be established satellite program located in the (Kentucky Steam) machine shop. With opportunities in electrical, pipefitting and welding, our students will be able to receive hands-on practical experiences in a first-class facility with experts in their field, while helping tell the story of those who built our region.”

Since the project’s genesis, the property’s redevelopment has been aided strictly by private donations and volunteer labor, and Kentucky Steam president Chris Campbell says that the entire project couldn’t have gotten off the ground without tremendous community buy-in, and in-kind donations from companies like Sherman Carter Barnhart Architects of Lexington, who contributed site plans and designs for the campus in 2018, as well as renderings for the newly-announced Hardy Pavilion.

“When we pitched the idea to local community leaders, they were supportive but cautious, simply because of the large scope of our plans,” Campbell said. “Now, as we enter a new phase of the project, I think the entire county can see what impact a fully-funded initiative such as this could do for not just Estill, but many surrounding communities in the area.”

Last spring, The Anna B Milburn Charitable Lead Annuity Trust contributed a gift of $50,000 for architectural renderings for an on-site restaurant, brewery and community center. Work Architecture + Design of Louisville produced plans for a building that combines functionality with a nod to the railroad history of the site. Campbell says the plans have sparked significant interest from several area vendors who are evaluating sponsoring the construction and operation of a rail-themed brewpub and event space.

“This type of project has a lot of interconnected parts, and the attractive design of the brewpub coupled with the exciting commitment from The Hardy Family has injected a lot of interest into making the entire concept a reality,” Campbell said. “With proper funding, we are really on the cusp of something big here.”

The only original building on the site — a former storage house and yard office dating back to the 1910’s when the rail yard was originally built by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad — will host the Kentucky Rail Heritage Center, a rail museum focusing on the area’s rich railroad heritage, which will help tell the stories of railroaders and coal miners who made Appalachian Kentucky boom. The building will also host a gift shop, ticket office and meeting spaces, and will be the center of operations for the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation. It will also integrate a 1940s-era train platform adjacent to the tracks for loading and unloading passengers for potential rail excursion operations.

Kentucky Steam has received gifts from CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railway and the R.J. Corman Railroad Group of Nicholasville, Kentucky. Both CSX and Norfolk Southern contributed operating diesel locomotives, and in March, R.J. Corman announced the donation of their own steam locomotive as well as a large glass building that was built in the late 2000s to house the engine in Downtown Lexington. Plans call for the building to be a life-size display case for locomotives and will house a tribute to Rick Corman, founder of the R.J. Corman railroad empire.

In April, Kentucky Steam secured a $120,000 partially-forgivable loan from the Commonwealth of Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. The funds were allocated to fund site work for the concert venue lawn and community space, which got underway in July after Kentucky Steam retained Ridgwood Contracting, LLC, of Jackson, Kentucky, for grading and site preparation for the Hardy Pavilion.

“We cannot thank the state of Kentucky enough for their consideration for this project,” said Campbell. “Their contributions are already well-documented, and the monies allocated have gone to local contractors, some of whom have needed the work since the shuttering of coal mines in the area.”

That injection of funding for site work helped spur The Hardys to commit to funding the music pavilion. Michael Hardy said the contribution will be a legacy for the family-owned and founded Hardy Oil Company.

“Irvine is a simple town with a simple life. And that’s all (parents) Brenda and Butch Hardy and (grandparents) H.T. and Doris Hardy ever wanted,” he said. “Growing up here instilled a love for our hometown which still remains strong today. It is this love which inspired our investment.”

Kentucky Steam hopes to raise an additional $125,000 for supporting work for the venue, including utilities and parking spaces. For more information, sponsorship opportunities or to make a tax-deductible cash or in-kind contribution to the project, visit

October 13, 2020.

Irvine, Kentucky.

The Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation will hold a public meeting on Monday, October 19, 2020, at 10:00 am at 499 Kirkland Avenue, Irvine, Kentucky, as part of the application for Environmental Protection Agency Cleanup grant for the Kentucky Rail Heritage Center (KRHC). The reference number for this grant opportunity is EPA-OLEM-OBLR-20-07.

The purpose of the public hearing is to give the community an opportunity to learn more about this project, ask questions, learn how grant dollars are being used to revitalize KRHC, and to make comments about the grant application and the Analysis of Brownfield Cleanup Alternatives (ABCA) document. A copy of the grant draft proposal and a draft of the ABCA will be available for viewing. The public will have an opportunity to verbally comment on the drafts. Comments will be captured in meeting minutes by Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation staff. This meeting will be held in-person following applicable CDC guidelines and social distancing protocols.  The ABCA will also be available via email due to COVID potentially restricting participants from attending the meeting. . For those unable to attend the public hearing, you can submit written comments to

To learn more about the project, visit

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

June 18, 2020

Irvine Ky - On Thursday, Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation (KSHC) announced that they have acquired SD40-2 locomotive number 6162 from the Norfolk Southern Corporation. In its 42-year career, NS 6162 saw service in the Appalachian coalfields and hauled countless tons of freight through Central Kentucky.

Chris Campbell, president of the 501(c)(3) non-profit, says the addition to Kentucky Steam is a major milestone in the development of the rail-based economic development project taking shape in Irvine, Kentucky.

“This generous contribution by Norfolk Southern is a fantastic addition to our collection, which is being curated to tell the story of how railroads built our region and the Nation as a whole. We are flattered to have a locomotive as relevant and as valuable as NS 6162, and its inclusion in our roster in another exciting milestone for our organization.”

NS 6162, a 3,000-horsepower SD40-2 locomotive, was built in May of 1978 by General Motors, Electro-Motive Division (EMD) in LaGrange, Illinois, for the Norfolk and Western Railway. It performed duty all over the railroad, predominantly hauling coal out of Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky. In 1982, the Norfolk and Western Railway and Southern Railway merged to form today's Norfolk Southern Corporation, and NW 6162 became NS 6162. It remained on the active roster for NS until this Thursday, when it was officially donated to Kentucky Steam.

The locomotive will remain in operational condition and will be displayed at the KSHC headquarters in Irvine, Kentucky.

KSHC was founded in 2015, with the intent to boost tourism in Kentucky through rail-related operation and development. The organization’s efforts have centered around the restoration of historic steam locomotive C&O 2716, which was built in 1943 and is owned and leased by the Kentucky Railway Museum. The organization also is currently developing a large tract of former-CSX railyard in Irvine into a multi-use rail-based community center.

Campbell says that the 6162 is a valuable addition to KSHC and is a worthy comparison to the historic 2716 steam engine, as both locomotives were the workhorses of their eras on the railroad.

“6162 is one of the thousands of SD40-2’s that were built for American Railroads between the early 1970s and the late 1980s. Much like historic C&O 2716, the 6162 is an excellent example of what helped further our Nation’s rail empire. We are excited for members of the public to visit our developing Rail Heritage Center in Estill County, Kentucky, in the future, and to compare the technologies of different eras of 20th-century railroading.”

6162 in 1999. Photo by Casey Thomason

Norfolk Southern 6162 joins the KSHC roster alongside CSX 1100, a former-CSX and L&N SW-1500 switching locomotive, and R.J. Corman 2008, a Chinese-built steam engine, given the moniker “Old Smokey.” Both engines were donated to KSHC by their respective owners within the past year.

The organization also rosters Nickel Plate Road 2-8-2 steam locomotive number 587 which is on indefinite loan by the Indiana Transportation Museum.

Kentucky Steam aims to maintain and operate 6162 and its stablemates as their rail project takes shape in Appalachian Kentucky.

“We are honored to have this opportunity, to both showcase this fine example of American ingenuity, and to help tell the story of the fine men and women who have helped make this country what it is today through our national rail system,” Campbell said. “We cannot thank Norfolk Southern enough for this exciting donation."

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