March 24, 2020

Irvine Ky - For the second year in a row, the Kentucky Railway Museum will receive a grant from the John H. Emery Rail Heritage Trust to be used for the restoration of Chesapeake & Ohio Railway steam engine #2716. The money is to be used by Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation, the lessors of the locomotive. Kentucky Steam has a long-term lease on the locomotive and is performing the restoration work.

The award comes on the heels of another generous grant made by the Emery Trust in 2019. The $43,000.00 will be used for continued boiler work on the locomotive, targeting the firebox sidesheet and staybolt repair.

“We cannot thank the Emery Trust enough for this extremely generous donation,” said Chris Campbell, President of Kentucky Steam.

“This significant gift will push us over an important fundraising benchmark that we needed to reach before fully committing to the boiler rehab. We are excited to ramp up the work on this locomotive.”

Last July, in a highly publicized three-day extravaganza, the Chesapeake and Ohio 2716 was moved from Kentucky Railway Museum in New Haven, Kentucky to the Kentucky Steam Heritage’s shop in Estill County, over 200 miles away. The odyssey was named “The Heritage Highball” and featured an excursion as well as stops in Frankfort, Midway, and Lexington.

The new home for Kentucky Steam is the CSX car repair facility near Ravenna which has been inactive for over 20 years. Since the locomotive’s arrival, volunteers with Kentucky Steam have focused their attention on bringing the steam shop back to life. Major utilities needed to be re-established before significant work on the engine could be performed.

“There was a lot of speculation that we were going to dive headlong into the restoration, but we had to act prudently with our eyes on the long term,” said Campbell.

“Now that we have put in the proper utilities, we have the foundation for a well-organized and thorough restoration of the locomotive.”

The 76-year-old locomotive received a comprehensive acid boiler wash in February, the first of its kind on a major steam locomotive. Conducted by chief mechanical officer Jason Sobczynski, the process took three days and essentially cleaned out the interior of the boiler of scale and rust to give a clean and unobstructed working canvas. More recently, large plates of steel have been delivered to the shop in preparation for the firebox sidesheet repairs.

Work on the boiler was scheduled to begin this spring until the Covid-19 pandemic gripped the nation. As of now, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has issued a statewide “safe at home” order, essentially limiting much of the volunteer work at the Kentucky Steam Shop for the immediate future.

“We are interested in the long-term viability of this project, and there’s no reason we should be forcing the issue and risking the health of our members and potentially the general public,” said Campbell. “We will be back at it soon, and cannot wait to put these generous gifts from the Emery Trust to work.”

Jim Fetchero, of the Emery Trust, comments “The Trust is proud to be a part of the restoration of the 2716 and is looking forward to working with Kentucky Steam and the operation of 2716 in Eastern Kentucky in the near future.”

The John H. Emery Rail Heritage Trust was created by John Emery, a native of Chicago, and a lover of the classic passenger trains of America. The Trust was founded as a way to support Mr. Emery’s interests in the passenger trains of the 1920’s through the 1950’s. The Trust operates as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) foundation.

For a full listing of the Emery Trust grants for 2020, please visit

As of now, you’ve heard from nearly everyone regarding how their company will be attempting to handle the coronavirus. At Kentucky Steam, we wanted to say a few words about what we are doing in wake of this unprecedented National Emergency.

As a 501(c)(3) public charity, we exist to benefit the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky by helping increase tourism through our rail-related projects. The developing Kentucky Rail Heritage Center and the restoration of steam locomotive 2716 have been well-publicized hallmarks of our initiative to help bring tourists to Eastern Kentucky. Though we have not opened our campus to the public for regular hours yet, our presence in Estill County has been increasing, with many promising developments in the works for 2020. Inevitably, the effects of the global pandemic will reach far and wide, and Appalachian Kentucky is not exempt.

We are well aware that our cause, while important to the development of our community, is secondary to the overall health and well-being of the citizens of our Region. Therefore, as we continue our mission, we will do so with the utmost sensitivity to the health of those whom our project effects. This means postponing our spring open houses and complying with both federal and state mandates that have been set in place to help protect the health of the general public. We will continue to work on developing the campus at the former CSX railyard in Irvine/Ravenna, as well as progressing with the restoration of C&O 2716.

It will be a difficult time in every business’s trajectory as the global economy is already reeling in its reaction to the coronavirus. We hope that you will still consider supporting your local small businesses that are being affected by the current events. We also hope you will continue to support Kentucky Steam’s initiative by a tax-deductible donation to help keep our momentum during these uncertain times. Every single dollar helps further our mission.

Thanks again for all your support over the past few years. May God bless you, your family and friends through this scary and world-changing event.


Chris Campbell

President, Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation.

11 March, 2020. Press Release Courtesy, R.J. Corman

Nicholasville, KY - The steam engine, charmingly called “Old Smokey,” is being donated to the non-profit, Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation. While it is bittersweet to see this locomotive go to a new home, R. J. Corman is excited to make this train accessible to as many people as possible for education and inspiration. Old Smokey will become part of the Kentucky Rail Heritage Center’s rail museum in Irvine, KY.

RJ Corman Press Release Link:

The RJ Corman "Old Smokey" under steam. Photo Terry Redeker

In 2007, the steam engine’s purchase was initiated by R. J. Corman Railroad Group founder, the late Rick Corman. It was purchased by R. J. Corman from the Railroad Development Corporation based in Pittsburgh which had acquired three Chinese QJ engines. The decision to purchase this steam engine was “nostalgic in nature,” according to Mr. Corman, “How do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been?” One of the leadership model principles that the R. J. Corman company operates on is embracing the future while building on the past.

Some have wondered why Mr. Corman chose a Chinese made locomotive over an American made engine when searching for a classic piece of equipment. It has been decades since American railroads used steam engines, but China relatively recently converted to diesel engines, so even though Old Smokey looks antique it is anything but that. Old Smokey was built in 1986 and was hauling coal and/or passengers until 2005, whereas American-made steam engines were either in museums or scrap yards during that timeframe. Additionally, although the steam engine was built in China it was based on a 1920’s American design. During the purchase, Mr. Corman commented, “Steam engines aren’t very efficient, but they have character and people love them!”

It took a little over seven months to make all the purchase and transportation arrangements for the 140-ton engine and 40-ton tender car’s journey from Jinzhou, China to the Bluegrass State of Kentucky. Upon its arrival at the R. J. Corman Central Kentucky Lines, the train was one of only three QJ class steam locomotives in the U.S. It was also one of two operating steam locomotives in Kentucky, and it had been 50 years since a steam engine operated in Central Kentucky.

After being inspected and spruced up, the 2000 horsepower engine made its inaugural run on May 24, 2008. Since then the locomotive has been used for group tours and for operation during special occasions. Old Smokey has brought joy to many over the years. Donating the locomotive to the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation will ensure that this priceless piece remains as a symbol of heritage, innovation, and progress. Old Smokey will be transferred to the non-profit in early April. R. J. Corman will also be donating a glass structure used to house the engine.

The RJ Corman "Glass House" being assembled in Lexington, KY. Photo Courtesy the Lexington Herald-Leader

“We are thrilled to continue the partnership that we have formed with R. J. Corman, and these recent donations are a welcomed addition to our project in Estill County. Both the steam locomotive and the glass building that once housed it will be key features in our developing community campus in Irvine. We are grateful to Ed Quinn and all the fantastic people in Nicholasville for the support of our endeavor, and we look forward to incorporating the legacy of Rick Corman and his company into the Kentucky Rail Heritage Center.” - Chris Campbell, President Kentucky Steam Heritage Corp.

R. J. Corman is happy to make this steam engine accessible to the public and thereby promote the mission of the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corp to educate, entertain and inspire past, current and future generations by operating historic rail equipment. “Donating Old Smokey is one way we can give back to the community and continue to share Rick Corman’s vision and legacy. We see this as a way to honor the giving spirit Rick instilled in this company from the beginning.” – Ed Quinn, R. J. Corman President and CEO

Kentucky Steam and R.J. Corman will further discuss the future plans for relocating the building and the steam engine later in 2020. Details will be made available when they are finalized.

Watch a fascinating documentary of how Rick Corman founded and built the R.J. Corman Railroad empire here: