Digest>Archives> Mar/Apr 2021

Locomotion – Coast Guard Style

George A. Cassidy


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The Coast Guard Locomotive. (Lighthouse Digest ...

In 1979, I was in the U.S. Coast Guard serving in New London, Connecticut at the Coast Guard Academy as the Assistant Public Affairs Officer. One day, when I was sitting in my office in Hamilton Hall, I heard the whistle of the locomotive of a train going through the Academy grounds. That’s when I came up with the idea of creating a Coast Guard locomotive.

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The dedication and christening ceremony of the ...

I approached my boss, Lt. George Whiting, and he gave his full support. Rear Admiral (RADM) Malcolm Clark was Superintendent at the time. I approached the Admiral with the idea and he told me to go ahead-as long as it didn’t cost the Coast Guard any money. I then contacted the Central Vermont Railway (CV), and they agreed to it, also, only if it didn’t cost them any money. This resulted in a challenge, but we got the job done – for zero dollars. It seemed to all work out well.

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Anne Clark, wife of Rear Admiral M.C. Clark and ...

We started with a CV GP-9, a 124-ton, 56-foot-long engine built in 1956. The U. S. Coast Guard logo on the locomotive came from the USCG Cutter Cape Fairweather, home-ported in New London, thanks to a chief boatswain’s mate who was also a railroad fan. We added lots of help from Coast Guard Academy cadets and, of course, lots of rags and paint. Most of the painting was actually done by the Viking Ford Dealership in East Lyme, Connecticut. We had just purchased a brand-new Pinto station wagon from them, and thus we had a little leverage. So, they did it for free – but, of course, they did get something in return. They were allowed to put their name on the back lower portion of the rear hood on the engineer’s side.

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George Cassidy is shown standing on the front of ...

My wife got the good job of painting the tire rims (locomotive wheels) white, a no-no with the Federal Railroad Administration on diesels. (The Central Vermont let it ride at first, but six months later, the tires were no longer painted.) We also tried to polish the bell on the nose, but it just wouldn’t come clean; so, we painted it gold. The Coast Guard flags were displayed in the flag holders on the unit, and the American flag in the coupler. The CV road foreman, shortly before we “launched” the locomotive in ceremonies at the CV roundhouse in New London, placed red and green lamps – “running lights” – in the classification lights on the nose.

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Rear Admiral Malcolm E. Clark enjoying his first ...

When we christened the locomotive, RADM Clark’s wife, Ann, smashed a bottle of bubbly on it. In order to make this a grand event, I had shaken up the bottle beforehand. This worked so well that Mrs. Clark got covered in champagne, from head to foot! She told my wife that she was going home to “suck her dress.” I never let on what I had done!

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Rear Admiral Malcolm K. Clark, USCG, (l) is shown ...

This was the invitation: THE UNITED STATES COAST GUARD and THE CENTRAL VERMONT RAILROAD cordially invite you to be one of our guests at the Commissioning Ceremonies of THE ONLY COAST GUARD LOCOMOTIVE IN THE WORLD! Monday, July 2, 1979, Central Vermont Roundhouse, New London, Conn. Ceremonies Start 9AM.

The CV kept this locomotive clean – it was washed often in St. Albans, Vermont. Even though the CV only agreed to the color scheme for three months, it was repainted twice and its image even made it onto to a post card.

I’m sure there’s never been anything like this in the Coast Guard, before or since. The CV and the USCG got lots of positive feedback from it: “Get on the right track – take the Coast Guard!” Its runs were between New London, Connecticut and Brattleboro, Vermont where the Coast Guard normally didn’t get much exposure. I was quoted in the paper as saying, “It should turn a lot of heads,” and I guess it did. Articles on the engine appeared in Connecticut’s the New London Day and the Springfield Sunday Union in Massachusetts.

Rear Admiral “Mac” Clark not only had given his permission for this project, he was also a railroad enthusiast himself. One day, he called me into his office and hinted that he’d like to have a ride in “his” locomotive. I arranged a ride from the Coast Guard Academy up to the Willimantic area for the both of us. I even had his two-star flag flying from the front of the locomotive for the trip (I still have that flag today). You should have seen the looks on the cadets’ faces as we rolled through the lower Academy and they spotted the Admiral in civvies in the window of the locomotive. Yep, they braced up and saluted! My wife (a great Coast Guard wife) followed us up in the car, and even shot some photos of the train going north along Route 32. Admiral Clark had a great time doing this.

We even had certificates made up for the engineers who drove the locomotive, which read as follows:

Honorary Commanding Officer, United States Coast Guard

______________________of the Central Vermont Railroad is hereby designated Honorary Commanding Officer in the United States Coast Guard. Your commission as Commanding Officer of the First Coast Guard railroad engine in the world is in effect from 2 July through 30 September 1979.

Signed: PHILLIP LARSON, General Manager, Central Vermont Railroad

M.E. CLARK, Rear Admiral, U. S. Coast Guard

Dated: July 1979 at New London, Ct.

When the official Coast Guard birthday came around on August 4th, the locomotive was scheduled to be on display at the Coast Guard Academy, but instead, it was on an actual “SAR [Search and Rescue] mission.” Three locomotives and 14 freight cars had derailed near Springfield, Massachusetts when a heavy rainstorm washed out a section of track; so, when duty called, the 4924 was pressed into service. How perfect!

This story appeared in the Mar/Apr 2021 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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