"The train engine is fantastic," Historical Properties Chairman Philip McRae said. "This extremely generous donation will be a real drawing card for the museum. People sometimes tend to ride by without noticing what we have here, but this will get their attention."
The donated engine was one of many used by the Laurinburg & Southern Railroad until its retirement in the 1980s, when it operated along a route that took it north as far as Raeford and southward through Wagram and Laurinburg to Johns Station, where the goods it carried were transferred to other railroad lines and sent throughout the country.
Former Historical Properties Chairman John Stewart remembered loading watermelons and cantaloupes onto Laurinburg & Southern Railroad cars.
"This was an important train line for Laurinburg for many years," Stewart said. "The engine given to us today will help us to show how important the railroad was, and is, to Scotland County."
The engine, a 600 horsepower SW-1 locomotive built by the General Motors Electro-Motive Division in 1948, was donated in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Laurinburg & Southern Railroad Company.
According to Bill Robertson, author of 80 Years of Laurinburg & Southern History, the railroad was incorporated on March 4,1909, with rail construction from Johns Station to the eastern edge of Laurinburg completed during the summer of that year. The L & S shipped its first load, a boxcar of woven materials bound for Wilmington, in July.
By 1910 the route was in place from Johns Station to Wagram, and the L & S began shipping passengers as well as agricultural products; mail service was added the next year. In 1921, L & S purchased a 12-mile piece of track from Aberdeen & Rockfish Railroad, bringing in a period of prosperity that would last until the Great Depression.
During the 1930s, highway travel for passengers and freight contributed to lost revenues for the company, but the years after World War II saw a resurgence for the L & S. By this time the train line was hauling gasoline from the Atlantic Refining Company's bulk distribution facility, meat from Armour and Company, and materials from the Laurinburg Plywood Corporation and from the Hammond Grocery Company's storage warehouse. In 1946, the company began purchasing diesel locomotives to replace the steam locomotives currently in use, and by 1948 the company had sold all four of its steam locomotives. The L & S shipped coal in the 1950s and began carrying refined oil products from the Maxton Oil and Fertilizer plant in the 1960s.
In 1973 the company began hauling freight for the LOF Glass Company, which became the railroad's largest single customer. At the same time, oil shipments decreased, forcing the company to consider other sources of revenue. Murphy Evans, the great-grandson of original co-owner John F. McNair, became the company's president in 1976. Evans began the practice of obtaining cars for leasing purposes, and by 1989 the railroad had some 44 locomotives in service and was leasing more than 300.
In the late 1990s Evans sold the company to Pete Claussen, owner of Gulf & Ohio Railways.
"My son was managing the business, but decided not to continue in that position," Evans said. "I was getting older, and it seemed like a good time to stop, so we sold the railroad."
At a ceremony Thursday to officially transfer engine number 133 to Scotland County Historical Properties, Claussen said the decision to donate an important part of Scotland County history to the museum was something he was happy to do.
"The Laurinburg & Southern Railroad is an independent business 100 years old," he said, "and has been owned by only two families. Since we had several older engines, we thought it would be a nice idea to repair and donate this to the county museum."
Today, the railroad continues to transport materials from the LOF Glass Company and from Murphy-Brown, two "primarily rail-dependent" businesses, according to Claussen.
Jim Blue, a board member with Historical Properties, said the completed engine display at the Museum of Scotland County should be impressive.
"We will be installing three lights in the museum parking lot in the near future that were used in downtown Laurinburg during the 1920s," Blue said. "It will be set up so that when these lights are turned on the train's cab light, along with the front and back lights of the engine, will come on as well. We will also install a compressor so that we can blow the engine's whistle and ring the bell. I don't know where else you can go around here to see something like this."
The Museum of Scotland County is located on Xway Road in Laurinburg, across from the historic John Blue House.