She showed up about a week ago in Newberry.
Parked next to a row of towering palm trees and pointed north facing the town water tower, the bright red Kirby Family Railroad engine number 2007 known as KFRX 2007 has been hard at work.
The diesel-electric locomotive weighs in at about 115 tons, and is fitted with an 8-cylinder EMD 567 series engine that produces 800 horsepower.
KFRX 2007 brings with her a storied past of service and survival and passersby traveling on Newberry Road might overlook the engine that was one of 41 of its kind when the US Army ordered them built by Electro-Motive Division (EMD) of General Motors in 1951.
Serial number 15002, model type SW8 is how KFRX 2007 is identified. The US Army took possession of the locomotives numbered the 2000-2040 from EMD in 1950 and shipped them to South Korea in the spring of 1951, according to William Grimes, locomotive engineer for the 733rd Logistics Readiness Squadron Transportation utility rail branch at Fort Eustis in Virginia.
Grimes is a civilian who trains the next generation of railway systems operators for the US Army. The transportation school certifies operators of military railroads. He is also a history buff who keeps the stories of locomotives alive.
Grimes has detailed the history of KFRX 2007 right up to its arrival in Newberry. Here is an excerpt of his record keeping:
“During the Korean War the US Army Transportation Corps operated the Korean National Railways (KNR) to help move supplies, equipment, and people. The 712th and 724th Railway Operating Battalions used the SW8 type locomotives all over South Korea, some locomotives were damaged in combat. Most SW8s returned stateside after the war. When the 2007 returned from Korea it was overhauled and likely placed in storage until needed. By the 1960’s engine 2007 was transferred to the US Air Force and assigned to Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida.
By 1965 engine 2007 was working for the USAF Titan II Missile program. Locomotive 2007 along with sister engines 2000 and 2021 were needed to pull the Titan launch vehicle from the Solid Motor Assembly Building SMAB to the Integrate Transfer Launch (ITL) site. This required two locomotives to operate in tandem, which is common on railroads, however they had to be side-by-side on parallel tracks; for which a special modification was made. All three locomotives working for the Titan Program received a large boom mounted to the side containing electrical and pneumatic cables to couple to the locomotive on the adjacent track, the boom transmitted the signals for both engines to operate in unison; having to match each other’s speed perfectly. The locomotives used at Cape Canaveral are credited with assisting in 82 Titan launches between 1965-2005.
When the Titan Missile Program ended in 2005 engine 2007 was shipped to Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah. Hill AFB is the main railroad maintenance depot for all government owned locomotives. Called the Defense Generator Rail Center (DGRC) the depot is responsible for overhauling and maintaining the entire fleet of Army and Air Force engines and non-tactical generators. Usually when a train is sent to Hill it is only for repair, but engine 2007 was put to work as the base switch engine. Operated by the 75th Logistics Readiness Squadron, engine 2007 moved oversized missile motors and parts around base when the loads were too large and heavy for transport on base roads by semi-trucks. The Missile Maintenance Squadron at Hill AFB is responsible for repairs and modifications to the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) which were shipped to Hill by railroad until 2011. When ICBM shipments by rail ceased engine 2007 (along with sister engine 2000) were transferred back to the US Army and in 2012 they were reassigned to Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, Kentucky. Neither the 2000 or 2007 saw much use at Blue Grass and, in 2017, the US Army declared both engines as surplus.”
According to Grimes and Daryl Kirby, the KFRX 2007 was donated to the Kirby Family Farms of Williston in 2017 with the intentions of placing the engine on display with other exhibits at the farm. And while the train exhibit was under construction engine 2007 was sent to a shortline railroad in North Carolina for a thorough inspection and maintenance. The engine returned home to Florida to join the Kirby Railroad collection about a week ago.
The 501c3 is a non-profit educational organization founded by Daryl and Tract Kirby who made the decision to purchase 174 acres of land and build and educational outreach organization called Kirby Family Farm.
The Kirby’s vision was to build a space where children of all ages could visit and learn about yesterday, while preparing themselves for the future. They first rescued an historical locomotive that dates back to the late 1800’s, and it was restored by volunteers.
The abandoned train serves as the centerpiece of Kirby Family Farm giving rides to thousands of children and guests each year. Terminally ill children, special needs children, foster children as well as other at risk children continue to be a special focus of the organization which was granted its 501c3 status in 2014.
They offer educational, historical, recreational, agricultural, and community enrichment programs through a hands-on historical museum and agricultural experiences.
The Kirby’s programs were developed using railroading, history, and agriculture to teach as much about life as their respective fields.
“We use the historic artifacts from our museum collection to teach about history and significant times. Our mission is to educate and assist children to get back on track, or stay on track in life through teaching, encouragement, and most of all, love,” the Kirby’s said.
Their farm is located in Levy County, one of Florida’s poorest counties. Only 20 percent of American youth are in an intact home today, according to Daryl Kirby, and some of those intact homes are undesirable.
The Kirby’s said they use local connections including hospitals, school prevention programs, guidance counselors, guardian ad litem, law enforcement, foster organizations, social workers, family members, and others to host children needing help to overcome life’s challenges.
Daryl Kirby, 49, decided to loan the KFRX to Florida Northern Railroad (FNOR) to keep her working while he develops his own railway system. He said in order to keep a train in good condition it needs to be run and can’t be stagnant.
When Kirby made the request for the FNOR to keep the KFRX 2007 running, FNOR General Manager Matt Schwerin said, “bring it down,” according to Kirby.
For now the FNOR will maintain it the KFRX 2007 and keep it functional and blue carded, Kirby said.
“A blue card is the history of a trains servicing,” Kirby said. “Your inspection certificate.”
For now, you’ll see the KFRX 2007 traveling up and down the train tracks pulling mostly cars full of coal. She is the “perfect size to be a switching locomotive on a short line,” Kirby said.
His ultimate goal is to open a short line and become a vocational school teaching hydraulics and locomotive management and railway careers.
“If we do decide to acquire our own short line,” Kirby said, “we’ll be able to branch into that.”
Kirby said the joy of operating Kirby Family Farms is watching kids who visit, “have the time of their lives.
“Giving these kids good memories is easy,” he said and added that he hopes their interaction with the trains and other machines at the farm sparks an interest in a career that turns a vistors’ attention to exploring college or trade school.
“The number one reason a kid goes to college is a teacher or coach or next door neighbor seriously invested in their life,” Kirby said.
About 10,000 kids a year visit the farm for free, he said. The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted those visits, but Kirby and his wife Tracy who taught third grade and studied early childhood education and farm counselors are using Zoom to video conference and continue their outreach to area students.
One day, the KFRX 2007 might move from the rail running through Newberry to a short line track at the Kirby Family Farm where she will join the Robert E. Lee engine, a fire truck from the Space Shuttle program, 16 cars from the retired Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and thousands of kids who will learn from her.