C&O Historical Society begins effort to restore business car Chessie 29

Streamlined office car at back of passenger train
C&O business car Chessie 29 at Logan, W.Va., on Oct. 2, 1969. The Chesapeak & Ohio Historical Society is mounting an effort to restore the car to operating condition., (Robert C. Withers, courtesy C&O Historical Society)

CLIFTON FORGE, Va. — The Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society has begun fundraising for what it calls one of the most ambitious projects in its 53-year history, the restoration of business car Chessie 29 used by C&O President Walter Tuohy.

Initial fundraising efforts will be boosted by a matching gift from an anonymous donor.

Built in 1950 as passenger car New River Club, the car was rebuilt into a business car at the C&O’s Huntington Locomotive Shop in October 1951. Al Barbour donated the car to the society’s C&O Railway Heritage Center in Clifton Forge and paid for its move there in 2019. The non-profit organization now seeks to restore it to operating condition.

Two men standing in rear doorway of passenger car
Preesident Dwight D. Eisenhower and his brother Milton offer greetings from the rear door of Chessie 29 at Clifton Forge, Va., in March 1956 (C&O Historical Society)

The car’s history includes use by President Dwight Eisenhower on a 1956 trip from Washington to White Sulphur Springs, W.Va, for a summit meeting with Mexican and Canadian heads of state that also included a secret meeting that led to the construction of the bunker built under the Greenbrier Hotel intended to house members of the U.S. Congress in the event of a nuclear attack. It was also used by the royal family of Monaco, and for a dinner for Queen Juliana of the Netherlands.

“Following our growth and stabilization in the last three years, not only is the C&O Historical Society ready to launch this fundraising with full speed, but in the decades to come, our future business model (and survival) may rely on diversified departments that include operation and showcasing of private varnish,” Mark Totten, the historical society’s president, said in a press release.

Passenger car with blue paint and multicolor striping over stainless steel lower body
Chessie 29 at the C&O Railway Heritage Center in July 2020. (Mark Totten, C&O Historical Society)

C&O Historical Society Founder & Chief Historian, Thomas W. Dixon, Jr., said he had long been interested in acquiring and restoring the car, “not just for its importance to the C&O in particular, but because of its history as an ‘artifact’ of the Cold War. It serves to tell how important the railways have been to all aspects of American life and civilization.“

The project has an estimated budget of $900,000. Donations can be made by calling (540) 862-2210 or at this page on the society website by choosing “Chessie 29” on the “Donate For” drop-down menu.

More information on the society is available at its Facebook page. Its archive database is available here.

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