Union Pacific Challenger 3985 made its first-ever venture east of the Mississippi River in 1992 when it traveled off line onto CSX rails. This historic event celebrated the 50th running of the Santa Claus Special, a tradition of the former Clinchfield Railroad that was being carried on by Clinchfield successor CSX. Each year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Santa and his helpers would ride the special train, tossing candy and gifts to the children of the coal mining towns that lined the route from Shelbiana, Kentucky to Kingsport, Tennessee.
At one time the Clinchfield Railroad owned six of the big Challenger engines and used them to haul Appalachian coal. It seemed appropriate then for UP and CSX to work jointly to bring a Challenger back onto Clinchfield rails again. Before that could happen, the 3985 would have to undergo a name and numbering change. Leaving UP rails in Memphis, Tennessee, the Challenger traveled to Huntington, West Virginia, where it was converted to “Clinchfield 676”. After leading the Santa Claus Special, “Clinchfield 676” ran an employee special out of Kingsport. The 4-6-6-4 is a sight to behold as it works up through the twisting, rugged Appalachian Mountains. The sound of the steam whistle echoing through the hollows will take you back in time, and the small coal mining towns that dot the route will remind you of another era in American railroading. All the excitement of big Clinchfield steam is here for you to savor and enjoy!