Freight Car Friday – Cars of Chessie System

15 06 2012

Today marks the 39th Anniversary of the creation of the Chessie System. Chessie was an interesting combination of three railroads – the Baltimore and Ohio, Chesapeake and Ohio and Western Maryland. The railroads adopted a common and colorful paint scheme for their equipment and generally operated as a single carrier, but the three roads remained independent on paper. One reason for this was a permanent tax exemption given to the B&O by the state of Maryland on its founding which remained in place for the life of the road.


From aging Alcos to SD50s, Chessie’s colorful diesels ran the gamut.

The B&O had actually been controlled by the C&O for several years before this reorganization. The C&O, with deep financial reserves from its reliable coal business, remained the controlling player in Chessie as well. Western Maryland’s inclusion paved the way for the abandonment of much of its mainline across Maryland and Pennsylvania, which paralleled the B&O closely. Beyond this, route consolidations were minimal.

covered hopper

Chessie rostered thousands of covered hoppers. Their enormous fleet of 2-Bay cars remain common sights today.

From the outsider’s perspective, the three roads merged into one. And that line, named for the mascot on the C&O’s passenger trains – a cat named Chessie, wore one of the most colorful images of the era. Chessie’s bright yellow, vermillion and blue paint scheme, with the large “Chess-C” logo, stood out boldly. From diesel locomotives to freight cars, even an equally colorful steam excursion, you could spot Chessie’s equipment from a mile a way.


If there was one car that typified Chessie it would have to be a coal hopper. From aging 55 ton offset side cars to new 100 tonners, hoppers made up the majority of the Chessie fleet.

The reporting marks of each company were retained and displayed on the sides of cars. This provided the added advantage of not having to renumber freight cars into a new cohesive system. New purchases were assigned to different railroads by need and revenue. Boxcars, some gondolas and hoppers were painted blue with yellow lettering and graphics. Covered hoppers were yellow with blue graphics. Most hoppers and gondolas were black with yellow lettering. Maintenance equipment was a little less standardized, but was normally painted green.


As if the bright yellow cabooses weren’t colorful enough already, Chessie painted several cars in special safety schemes. Done individually by different car shops, no two were exactly the same.

The colorful line was an instant hit with railfans and modelers and remains popular today, more than two decades after the Chessie lines became part of CSX Transportation. The logo had a unique look and a broad public appeal. How many of us named our cats Chessie?

CSX set

Lionel’s CSX merger set recreated the look of the railroad in its early years, with a patched locomotive and predecessor cars.

Although the company officially disappeared in 1987, many Chessie-painted freight cars still roam the rails. After the merger, many locomotives were simply patched and renumbered into the CSX recording system. Others were repainted into CSX livery while retaining original reporting marks. Some have survived – patched or in original paint – to this day.

Steam Special

The bright Chessie Steam Specials were about as gaudy as a steam excursion could get, but most railfans didn’t mind!

Lionel has made many Chessie cars over the years, including the recent fanciful Chessie heritage pieces. It remains one of the most colorful railroad prototypes of all time, and even little railfans love “the cat train!” Why not add a little color to your layout?



4 responses

15 06 2012
Andrew Falconer

I have many Lionel Chessie System freight cars, including the ArtTrain Chessie System bunk car.

What I have not seen Lionel do yet is a 3-Pack of O Scale Chessie System Three-bay, Open-Top Hopper with coal that have B&O, C&O, WM reporting marks. Both plastic and metal versions with distinct road numbers would be much appreciated.

A Chessie System green Maintenance of Way Box Car is another scheme that has not been done in O Gauge or O Scale.

Lionel might have never made a Chessie System 50′ Modern Box Car.

28 06 2012
google seo blogs

Good day! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok. I’m absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

29 06 2012

Yes, follow us @Lionel_LLC

6 06 2014

I am late in finding this post, but I am glad I did! The Chessie merger set is my favorite ready to run set. As always, thank you Lionel for this blog.

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