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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?