(Including US Sugar) 


The South Central Florida Express is shaped like a letter U wrapped around Lake Okeechobee in Florida with operations run out of Clewiston at the base of the U. The 159 mile line runs to the northwest and a CSX connection at Sebring, and to the northeast and a Florida East Coast connection at Fort Pierce. The Sebring line is ex-CSX acquired in 1990 by the South Central Florida Railroad. In 1994 US Sugar bought the railroad, changed the name to Express, and in 1998 took over operations of the FEC K-Line to Ft. Pierce under a 20 year lease.
The fertile, flat plains south and east of Lake Okeechobee are home to the largest collection of sugar cane fields in the US, the dominant player being US Sugar with it's huge processing plant at Clewiston. The company also operates about 120 miles of private rail lines through the cane fields in two "divisions". One group of lines extends south out of Clewiston and the second runs out of Bryant on the eastern shore of Lake Okeechobee. Cars from the Bryant division are shuttled to Clewiston by South Central Florida Express trains during the cane harvesting season which runs from October to mid-April.


GP7u #9018 is at the road's shops in Clewiston, FL on July 20, 2002. This unit started life as Southern Pacific #2139. Note that the dynamic brake has been blanked out, not needed on the flat Florida plains.


GP11's #9027 & 9030 are in charge of the returning Fort Pierce turn, here westbound at Marcy, FL on February 18, 2010.


The Ft. Pierce turn continues across the lift bridge over the St. Lucie Canal at Port Mayaca, FL. The bridge is normally in the raised position over the waterway which connects Lake Okeechobee with the Atlantic, so the train must stop and the crew closes the bridge.


The train raises the dust crossing a rural road near Sand Cut, FL and a sign warning motorists to "Look Out for the Cars". This train makes a roundtrip from Clewiston to the FEC at Ft.Pierce every weekday.


GP11 #9023 is on train "Cane 1" as it pulls a cut of empty cane cars out of the plant and around the wye at Sugar Jct. in Clewiston, FL on February 19, 2010.


Cane 1 made it's way west on the SCFE to just past Moore Haven, exchanging empties for loads along the way. Now finished, the train is heading east back to the mill at Clewiston with healthy string of loads as seen her across the harvested fields near Gramlin, FL.


GP11's #9031, 9032 and 9023 sit at Clewiston on July 20, 2002. New sugar cane is growing in the fields for the next harvest, so the railroad is less active in the summer with many units to be found sitting in the shop area.


GP11's #9030 and 9027 are eastbound with the Ft. Pierce turn at South Clewiston, FL on February 19, 2010. The smoke above the train is not from the engines but from a cane burn taking place in the distance behind the train.


GP16's #9017 and 9016 are looking a bit weathered as they lead the westbound Sebring turn nearing Palmdale, FL on Feb. 19, 2010. These ex-CSX units were rebuilt by the Seaboard System at the nearby Tampa shops from GP7's.


GP18's #9022 & 9021 power a loaded cane train headed from the Bryant fields to the mill at Clewiston. Here the train is approaching the Route 835 crossing at South Clewiston on the morning of February 19, 2010.


US Sugar GP11 #8752 is working a loadout near Vaughn, FL on the Clewiston group of lines on February 19, 2010. Trucks like those in the foreground bring in cut cane for loading into the rail cars and transport to the mill at Clewiston.


A closeup of #8752, an Illinois Central Paducah rebuild of the same #. The unit was rebuilt from IC #9198 in 1/81 and was the second to last GP11 rebuilt at Paducah.


Over on the Bryant division, GP38 #406 was pulling a long string of cane loads approaching the Highway 80 crossing. These loads will be turned over to the SCFE at Bryant for the trip to Clewiston.

US Sugar owns a fleet of almost 1,000 cane cars of steel or wood-sided construction, some dating back to the 1920's. The cars have doors on their sides which are hinged at the top. Upon arrival at the mill in Clewiston, the bottom of the doors are unfastened and the cars pushed into a dumper which tips them. The doors then swing open and the cane is emptied. The top row shows various cars with roller bearings used on the longer runs to the Bryant Fields. On the bottom row are cars with friction bearings which were banned from interchange service in 1980. These trucks have a box on the axle that requires constant lubrication, with grease soaked cotton waste often used. A dry bearing can overheat causing smoke or a fire leading to a broken wheel or axle, hence the term "hotbox".

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  Note the opened journal box cover on the closest axle of this car.    

Prior to harvesting, a controlled fire, or burn is made of the cane field. This burns off the leaves of the plant, leaving just the stalk, or cane. During the October to Mid-April harvest, the horizon is typically dotted with these smoke plumes marking a cane burn.


A cane field being harvested. The cane is cut and loaded into these small carts pulled by tractors who take it to a rail loadout point. Cane from more distant fields is brought by conventional trailer dump trucks over paved highways to the loadouts.