With the recent passing of former United States President George Herbert Walker Bush, many Americans have thought back to his presidency. Some Americans may recall his whistle-stop tour in 1992 on his campaign train “Spirit of America”. However, only a few people are aware that that very locomotive can frequently be seen in Madison hauling freight for CaterParrott Railnet, LLC.
CaterParrott Railnet (CPR) was established in 2005 by Jamie Cater and Christopher Parrott; the Madison location has been in operation since January 1, 2014. With a 124-mile network, CPR is the third largest privately owned short-line railroad in the state of Georgia serving four rail lines and 11 counties.
The GP40-2 locomotive, previously identified as Wisconsin Central 3000, was purchased by Cater and Parrott without the engine’s history being known. Parrott recalled, “Progress Rail, the company that did the rebuilding for us, actually had it. Jamie and I looked at various models. We liked this one’s qualities and had it rebuilt for our railroad. We subsequently researched the history for this engine, because the history was lost on this thing through different mergers and engines being moved to different locations. People kind of forgot what it did. So, we went back and did the homework on it and actually uncovered this information and were very impressed. We are now very proud to have that engine in our fleet.”
The locomotive has since been repainted and provided a new serial number of CPR 7001.
“It was Chris’s idea to put a plaque on that locomotive about eight months ago,” Cater stated. “He said, ‘Why don’t we do this to say it pulled Bush 41?’ And I said, ‘Splendid idea! Splendid idea!’ So that’s what you’ll see on the engineer’s side of it.”
The two men have heard narratives of George H. W. Bush walking from one end of his presidential train to the other and thanking the crew. If that story is correct, then it would mean Bush would have actually stood in the locomotive now used to haul freight.
Parrott explained the difference in terminology: “A single engine is a locomotive, and a train would be a locomotive with a series of railcars behind it.”
“Chris and I said upfront that all of our equipment is not going to be dumpers; they’re not going to look bad,” Cater noted. “So we have all of our locomotives repainted in our scheme of blue with gold lettering. We pride ourselves on having nice, good equipment that is not going to fail and something that looks good. A lot of people in the short-line business know who we are and kind of like how we do it.”
The partners each bring their own skill sets to the business. Cater has a background in city government and Parrott in restaurant management. However, CPR was not their first venture together.
Cater explained, “We first met when I was on Tifton’s city council serving as mayor, and Chris, who was maybe 18 or 19 years old at the time, had an idea about creating a museum in the old Atlantic Coast Line Railroad freight depot. And I said, ‘I love trains! I used to sit and watch trains as a kid, and I still have all my model trains.’ It’s a love – this whole thing has been a labor of love for us. The depot was redone, and that museum has been a big success. Then we got into the rail line.”
The Tifton Terminal Railway Museum is a means for Cater and Parrott to share their passion for and knowledge of locomotives with others through interactive displays. For both men, that fascination started at an early age.
“I don’t remember when my interest in trains began, that’s how young I was,” Parrott stated.
Cater shared, “When I was three or four, I got a toy train made by Lionel that I still have. And I got a whipping one time because where we lived – in a garage apartment – you could hear the train coming. We were sitting there at the dinner table, and I heard the train. Without asking permission, I jumped up, ran down the steps, ran out to the street, and was barely able to see the train going by; that’s how much I loved trains. Well, needless to say, I got a spanking for that. But that’s how much I love them, and Chris loves them just as much.
“Trains are mighty beasts. Look – they haven’t even changed anything over all those years; they’re still built the same way, the same kind of tracks, the same kind of ties, and the same kind of rocks. Nothing’s changed. So, whoever built them was pretty smart, and they work really well.”
Although CPR is still a small business compared with larger rail companies, the partners are enthusiastic about their rail line. CPR freights commodities for various companies including Georgia Pacific, Pennington Seed, and Flambeau. One commodity commonly transported is polypropylene – plastic pellets that can be melted down to create products such as polyester clothing or cups. Some finished products have labels that actually indicate that CPR freighted the commodities. For instance, Cater and Parrott were told that lumber at a Home Depot in Valdosta had “Georgia Pacific, Madison” on the packaging. They further know that when people get a to-go cup that says Dart Solo on the lid, their company freighted the raw material. However, their business did not grow overnight or without hard work.
Cater explained, “The first rail that we ever got was from Valdosta to Nashville, Georgia, and then up to Willacoochee, which was a 44-mile line. We got into it and had an opportunity to get the next line and then another line and another line. It’s a labor of love for us, and we do love it. It’s so nice to work with someone you trust and believe in. Even though there’s an age gap between us, Chris and I are like brothers more than partners. We’ve got great people who work for us. The Lord has blessed us with a lot of great employees.”
Parrott added, “We’ve taken the business model of, ‘Let’s treat our people right, treat our customers right, and let’s do right by the railroading.’ We’ve been able to grow traffic on all of our routes and grow business where others have failed. So, we are really proud of what CPR has been able to do in all of our communities, including Madison.
If you spot locomotive CPR 7001 hauling freight on the rail line between Shady Dale and Madison, make sure to stop and wave. You are a witness to both American history and the American dream.