Railroad company donates ‘Old Smokey’ to museum

Courtesy Corman Railroad Group

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. (WTVQ) – The Kentucky Rail Heritage Center in Irvine, Ky. in Estill County is getting a new attraction.

Nicholasville-based R.J. Corman Railroad Group has donated its steam engine, charmingly called “Old Smokey,” to the non-profit, Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation.

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The steam engine will become part of the Center’s rail museum in Irvine, KY.

In 2007, R. J. Corman Railroad Group founder, Rick Corman, the late Rick Corman, bought the engine from the Railroad Development Corporation in Pittsburgh which had acquired three Chinese QJ engines.

The decision to purchase this steam engine was “nostalgic in nature,” according to Corman. “How do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been?”

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. American-made steam engines were either in museums or scrap yards during that time.

Additionally, although the steam engine was built in China it was based on a 1920s American design.

It took a little more than 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 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.

Donating the locomotive 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.

“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,” said Chris Campbell, president of the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corp.