New Novel Involving Early Charleston Railroads

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Dec 182014

In the Shadow of the SongbirdBen Pogue, member of the Charleston chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and former IBMer, has written a novel that takes place in the early days of railroads in Charleston, South Carolina. In the Shadow of the Songbird is especially significant for rail fans because it takes place during the time of the creation of the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company and the Best Friend of Charleston figures prominently.
In the Shadow of the Songbird Cover

Quoting from the press copy of In the Shadow of the Songbird:

In 1828, many merchants in Charleston believed the economic doldrums could likely be improved by a new technology on the horizon. Horace Pickens, a wealthy slave-holding merchant, heavily invests in a railroad being built to the West. An “abominable” tariff passed by the U.S. Congress, designed to protect industry and foster internal improvements, provokes the South Carolina delegation. They work against the Federal Government providing funds to the railroad, fearing that states accepting money will become subject to the will of Congress, and therefore vulnerable to other initiatives, namely the abolition of the “Peculiar Institution”. There is a movement to nullify the actions of Congress. As the railroad becomes his obsession, Horace sees “nullification”, and its underlying cause, as it’s biggest threat.

Unbeknown to him, his daughter Dora, gets a glimpse of torture, and the human agony in a fleeing slave mother and child. She resolves to undermine slavery by assisting slaves in their escape to freedom, enlisting her reluctant maid’s and her new love’s support. Horace does not approve of her beau or her emancipation ideas. A fierce conflict between them emerges. Faced with the loss of his daughter’s respect, business profits threatened by politics, and the destruction of his personal property by those that disagree with him, Horace Pickens fears the issue of nullification will ultimately destroy his railroad investment, and tear apart his most prized relationship with his daughter, Dora, as the railroad builds it’s way toward Georgia.

Ben Pogue lives on Daniel Island, South Carolina. He retired from IBM as a marketing executive, but has been a storyteller and a “Story writer” all of his life. Ben graduated from Bucknell University with a major in psychology, and with the wisdom of hindsight, realized he should have majored in history and writing. Service as a lieutenant in the US Army, with a year in Korea during the Vietnam War shifted his focus, but he never stopped writing. Ben’s second book, another historical novel is well underway.

In the Shadow of the Songbird can be ordered now from


Best Friend of Charleston Returns Home

 History and Preservation  Comments Off on Best Friend of Charleston Returns Home
Oct 292013

The Best Friend pulled up by the tracks in Summerville on Monday, to the carnival atmosphere of a big crowd, a steel band and vendors selling popcorn and peanuts. People oohed and cheered, their phones snapping photos and shooting videos. Unfortunately the train pulled up on trucks instead of via the rails themselves, but still.  The replica has been in Atlanta for the past few years as an exhibit in the office of Norfolk Southern, but now it is returning home. See the full story at the Post & Courier.

Best Friend of Charleston Arrives in Summerville

Best Friend of Charleston Returns Via Summerville

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Oct 042013

A piece of locomotive history is returning to Charleston after it makes a stop in Summerville. The train is named ‘The Best Friend of Charleston,’ and it is currently in Atlanta outside the headquarters for Norfolk Southern.

The announcement of the train’s return came on Thursday, which was proclaimed Best Friend Day in Summerville.

Best Friend of Charleston on Wall Street

Chris Ohm, the executive director of the Summerville-Dorchester Museum, said the railroad has always been important to Summerville and the Best Friend helped to develop the area around the train stop. He said it took people and materials back and forth from Charleston.

The Best Friend of Charleston was not only the first locomotive built in entirely in America to be put in regular service, its route was the first regularly scheduled route within the US. Additionally, although unfortunately, the explosion that destroyed the original Best Friend is probably the first major, and fatal, train accident within the US.

The replica, built in the 1920s, is owned by the city of Charleston. It’s being returned to the city after six years on loan to Norfolk Southern headquarters in Atlanta. It will be housed in a new, glass-enclosed display museum near Ann and John streets downtown, in an area known as the East Shed.

The locomotive, tender and two coaches, all built in 1928 to specifications of the original equipment, are on loan from the city of Charleston, S.C., for five years. The original Best Friend made its inaugural run Christmas Day 1830. The replica was built to celebrate the centennial of the South Carolina Canal & Rail Road, one of Norfolk Southern’s earliest predecessor companies, which operated the original Best Friend. Railroaders at Norfolk Southern’s Chattanooga Diesel Shop refurbished the replica prior to its Atlanta arrival.

The return — ironically by truck — has been scheduled for Oct. 28, said Chris Ohm, Summerville-Dorchester Museum director. The locomotive, wrapped in plastic for transport, will be unwrapped in the town after arriving about noon.

It will be displayed at a museum in Charleston that is currently under construction.

Best Friend Locomotive to Return to Charleston

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Mar 282013

The Best Friend of Charleston, a scale replica of an 1830s locomotive that briefly served the city, will return at long last in September after six years on loan to Norfolk Southern headquarters in Atlanta.

Best Friend of Charleston PostcardWhen it does come back, the engine which is nearly 100 years old itself will head for a new glass-enclosed display museum near Ann and John streets downtown, in an area known as the East Shed.

The site will feature more than 3,500-square-feet of museum space. The engine also will be lit up at night for after-hours viewing.

“It may be that the building may not be able to be completed until the train comes in,” said Charleston Mayor Joe Riley in reference to the physical effort required to move the machinery into place.

The city’s $1 million investment will go for the museum, bathrooms and renovation of some of the East Shed area.

The original Best Friend became the first locomotive line to offer regularly scheduled commercial passenger service by traveling a six-mile path of track from downtown to what today is near Dorchester Road.

The original engine arrived here by ship in 1830 in pieces, from the West Point Foundry in New York. Its inaugural trip came on Christmas Day, carrying 141 passengers. Six months later the locomotive was lost to a boiler accident.

The current replica was built in the 1920s from the original plans. It was meant to be a focal part in the 100th anniversary of the “South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company.” Southern Railway then took the replica on trips across the country, according to the train’s website.

In 1993, Norfolk Southern Railroad donated the Best Friend to the city of Charleston, where it went on display.

In 2007 the engine was moved to Atlanta to become part of a display inside the company’s downtown office building. In exchange, Norfolk Southern paid the city $250,000 and did a restoration.

Riley said the museum will add to the block’s draw, along with the nearby Visitor’s Center and Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry.

Mary Lehr, who operates a museum dedicated to the Best Friend at Citadel Mall, said she is looking forward to the return, slated for around Sept. 15.

Jun 122011

A home movie depicting a ride on the “Best Friend of Charleston” — a historic re-creation of the first steam railroad locomotive built entirely in the United States. This reproduction was built in 1928 to celebrate the centennial of the South Carolina Canal and Railroad. The excursion depicted in the film took place in North East, PA on September 27, 1986, at the Norfolk Southern Freight Depot. The outing was sponsored by the Norfolk Southern Railroad in conjunction with the Lakeshore Railway Historical Society.

The Best Friend of Charleston was a steam-powered railroad locomotive. It is widely acclaimed as the first locomotive to be built entirely within the United States for revenue service. It also produced the first locomotive boiler explosion in the US.

Best Friend of Charleston Blueprint

Bring The Best Friend Home

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May 232011

This open letter was published in the May 7, 2011 issue of the Charleston Post & Courier. A dire situation indeed, and one we need to get moving on quickly.

Johnny Cash during the film shoot for Ridin The Rails - 1974 - Best Friend and Southern Railway engineer John Smith with Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash during the film shoot for Ridin The Rails - 1974 - Best Friend and Southern Railway engineer John Smith with Johnny Cash

Charleston, what a wonderful city. What a wonderful past.

But how about Charleston’s rich history and heritage as the first city in America to use regularly scheduled train travel to move forward in surviving a slump in its economy in 1830? Are we going to lose our hold on the only tangible evidence of Charleston’s solution to a failing economy?

What are the city’s plans for the replica of the Best Friend of Charleston?

Are we going to have her returned to Charleston or are we going to allow her to remain in Atlanta?

If the City of Charleston does not get busy and use the $250,000 being paid to it by Norfolk Southern to assist in building a place to display our train permanently in the city for which it is named, then the Best Friend will remain in Atlanta at the end of Norfolk Southern’s loan period that expires in July 2012.

It will be returned to the city at Norfolk Southern’s expense only if the city has a permanent display area ready by 2012.

Are we going to allow this mistake to happen? Well, if the Charleston Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society has any say in what happens, we will make sure our train finds its way back home, to Charleston. We have been in contact with the city but have found it difficult to track any plans that are being made. The train cannot go back into the Engine House from whence she came because that structure now belongs to the Children’s Museum.

Charleston, we need some help. We need to know what the city proposes to do to have the train returned home. Only a little over a year remains for the city to make plans and execute them.

Someone, everyone, get on board! Let’s ask the city to be informative and forthcoming with their plans.

Today is National Train Day, and we will be celebrating at the Best Friend of Charleston Railway Museum, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., at the Citadel Mall.

Come visit us and support us in our journey to bring our train home to Charleston where she belongs.

Mary Lehr
President, Charleston Chapter
National Railway Historical Society

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