Have Cheetah,Will View #99 “Union Pacific’s Clinchfield Challenge” (1993)

It’s 11:31 pm

Lately the cheetah and I have been enjoying watching a lot cool live streams on YouTube on various trains and train stations. I briefly touched on this in my Catching Post.
So when I was doing a recent media at my library,I do what I always do first,I scour the shelves for any and all documentaries. I love learning about new things and I enjoy picking a good documentary when I can find one.
While I expect my luck to be iffy while shopping the thrift stores,yard sales and the like,I have high hopes of scoring these titles at place of great learning- the local library.
I have been lucky,I have scored a few titles and have reviewed a couple already.
When I saw “Extreme Steam: Union’s Pacific Clinchfield Challenge”,I was curious,I saw it was a train video and as long as the disc was scratch free,I would buy it. It was and I did and that is what the cheetah and I watched tonight.
Looking at the DVD case,I realized that I had seen “Questar” before but couldn’t place it.
Nevertheless the cheetah and I settled in to watch the Challenge.
First off,as you can see,this is a 24 year old documentary,I wasn’t aware of that as the back of the DVD didn’t have the year that this was put out. Second,it wouldn’t matter as this is a timeless adventure and can be watched anytime and with anyone.



In 1942,the United States was involved in World War Two and it wasn’t a bright time for America. The Clinchfield Railroad decided to have a Santa Claus locomotive go through several towns in Virginia,Kentucky,West Virginia and Tennessee dropping off small gifts to the children of the various towns.  The Santa train was a big hit every year and the railroad ran it every year until CSX took over the railway that Clinchfield once controlled.
Back in 1990,Union Pacific engineer Steve Lee started talks with Union Pacific management about doing a 50th anniversary Santa train and using the Challenger locomotive in the Christmas run. His bosses were keen on the idea but they had to work things out with CSX Transportation as the Challenger would be using their tracks and old school locomotives are not exactly seen on today’s railroads.
In October of 1992,Union Pacific steam locomotive 3985,the Challenger took off from Wyoming and started its long journey to Tennessee and that is where this documentary starts. The film is a love affair for the old locomotive and the beautiful landscape in this part of the country,several small towns and excited crowds coming to see the huge train.
At a depot in Tennessee,the full Santa Train is assembled,the train consists of Challenger and 13 cars including 3 that will be the main part of the Santa Train.
Challenger is a mighty machine,its positively HUGE and incredibly powerful. The head of steam it works up is amazing,the steam cloud just covers the whole train. But she isn’t the easiest engine to handle as much of the track laid down wasn’t made for a old locomotive and Challenger has several challenges to overcome in terms of turning around at the various depots she visits. She also has to be towed over several parts of tracks as well. Crossing several trestles demands the highest skill as trains travel over narrow tracks over deep gorges and valleys.


In Kentucky,the crew changes to configuration of the locomotive to reflect a Clinchfield locomotive,the Union Pacific signage and number are replaced and removed to reflect the times of the first Christmas train…the Clinchfield 676.
After many service stops where the crowds increase in size,the Challenger makes her Santa run in the middle of November. The crowds are fun to watch,the kids chasing after small gifts that are tossed by Santa and his elves and the adults rushing to get pictures of the mighty locomotive.
The run is complete after many,many stops….Challenger is turned around and begins her long journey home.

This is a simple and clean documentary with the narrative being 98% of the dialogue heard. We do hear a little bit about how the plan came together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Santa Train.  This documentary was produced by a group called Pentrex and its beautifully filmed. The long hours and hop-scotching it must have taken their camera crews is as dedicated as I have seen in a documentary.
“The Union Pacific’s Clinchfield Challenge” has a run time of two hours that moves very quickly.
You can buy a copy of this movie by clicking here or by going to the Pentrex website.

Are you a fan of trains or train travel? Tell us about your adventures in rail fanning by dropping a comment below.

7 thoughts on “Have Cheetah,Will View #99 “Union Pacific’s Clinchfield Challenge” (1993)

  1. How fascinating. I love watching documentaries too. I think the history of trains as well s other modern transportation is so interesting and it’s all really developed so much even in just recent years. Sounds like a very interesting watch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was really surprised at how timeless this documentary was. You watch a documentary 24 years later and most of the data is obsolete but not this time. Thanks for commenting!


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