“The Merry Widow” Is Near Death (In Covington, Virginia)

Recently, my husband and I traveled to Clifton Forge, Virginia (to visit Douthat State Park).

While there in Clifton Forge, we drove over to Covington (to look for kit homes of course). While in Covington, we discovered an old steam locomotive, sitting at the end of Main Street. Now the property of Allegheny Historical Society, Locomotive #701 was originally built in 1911 for Chesapeake & Ohio.

It’s lovingly referred to as “The Merry Widow.”

The merry widow

The Merry Widow was built in 1911 by the Richmond Locomotive Company. It's looking a little rough these days, but it must have been a beauty in its prime. Note the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background. This locomotive came to rest here in 1952.


This year, The Virginia Rail Heritage region announced that The Merry Widow won the “honor” of being selected as one of the Top Ten Endangered Artifacts in the state. (The competition was sponsored by the Virginia Association of Museums and the Virginia Collections Institute.)

And this beautiful old train is truly an endangered artifact. To see a youtube video of its interior, click here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShFUejzd-4Y

The Chesapeake and Ohio steam engine is a 2-8-0 “Consolidation Class” locomotive. From 1911 to the 1920s, #701 huffed and puffed its way up and down the rails between Ohio and the Great Lakes region. In 1930, it was dedicated to pulling Pullman cars full of happy tourists to a famous historic landmark, The Homestead Resort (in nearby Hot Springs).

The moniker “Merry Widow” came from her single-minded devotion to that task of carrying folks north to Hot Springs, Virginia from Covington. From 1930  to 1952, #701 was the lone engine that ran on that line.

In 1952, a shiny new diesel electric stepped in and #701 was donated to Covington. She has patiently waited in that one spot – literally rusting in her tracks – for half a century.

The condition of this once-grand piece of machinery is precarious, at best. Hopefully, she’ll be restored and reclaimed, rather than relegated to the trash heap. Her placement on the Top Ten List bodes well for her future. Perhaps now she’ll get the attention she deserves.

It’s a beautiful train. I hope it’s not too late to save her.



A placard commemorates the dedication.



Another view of #701.



Can this engine be saved?



It's looking pretty iffy.



What a beautiful thing. Hopefully one day, her tender will be filled with coal and water and that old boiler will be fired up again.



The air quality in Covington can NOT be helping this artifact. What is billowing out of all those smokestacks? Is this a paper plant?



Despite three hours of wandering around in Covington, i found only one kit home: The Aladdin Plaza. Ironically, this was found within a block of #701.



The Aladdin Plaza (1919 catalog).



A badge on the side of the engine shows a manufacture date of 1911.



There must be a way to save this old engine.


To learn about Sears Homes, click here.

To learn more about #701, click here.

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  1. Rachel Shoemaker

    Yes! It CAN be saved. We have one in our Route 66 Village in west Tulsa that was just aweful and it looks brand spanking new. I found a GVT #612 near it.

    When you come to Tulsa to hunt houses we will visit our train and oil derrick 🙂

  2. lori vest

    They are in the process of raising funds to do the locomotive over.

    I have not looked but it may have actually been moved by now. That’s a paper mill we have in Covington, and it is one of a kind for what it does.

    I actually think i have seen more kit homes in Covington, but i think some have been bricked over.

    There is another one close to the park that i think might be one. I agree there are more in Clifton forge though.

  3. Maggie

    I have been told that my house is a Sears kit home and I am in Clifton Forge, VA. I cannot find any proof on the inside of home though. Is their any way to find proof that your home is a real Sears home?

  4. Mike Klaus

    Restoration is 90% complete of the Merry Widow !!