The Florida Railroad Company Inc.
Seaboard Air Line Railway's - Orange Blossom Special


Post Card Picture of the Seaboard's Orange Blossom Special
"Streaming" Through the Fragrant Orange Groves of Florida
Florida Photographic Collection

The restored railroad passenger car, "Orange Blossom Special", on the Bay Street side of the Prime Osborn Convention Center in Jacksonville Florida, pays tribute to both the train by that name and the song it inspired. Donated to the City of Jacksonville by CSX Transportation, successor line of the Seaboard, which also shared in the cost of restoration, the car is of the Cape Cod series built when railway passenger service was peaking in Florida during the land boom of the 1920s.

When the car was delivered to the Convention Center on October 12, 1986, it acquired the distinction of being the last passenger car routed by rail to the Jacksonville Terminal, arriving over the nearby Florida East Coast Railway tracks. From that point it was shuttled by truck to its permanent Bay Street location.

The Story of the Orange Blossom Special

Back in the days when Florida railroading was at its peak, the most popular trains were those that were the fastest and most fashionable, and some which captured the public fancy became almost as famous as the celebrities they often carried. But no train on the Jacksonville run has been more celebrated in song and story over the years than the "Orange Blossom Special".

In fact, the most popular song ever written about a train on the Florida run is a hand-clapping, foot-stomping piece that music critics regard as "the most original fiddle tune of this century" and a perennial favorite among the bluegrass and country set. That song, the "Orange Blossom Special", and the train that inspired it, have a story to tell.

The Train

When the Seaboard Air Line (SAL) launched its new luxury train, the "Orange Blossom Special", on November 21, 1925, it did so amidst a great deal of fanfare. Inaugural ceremonies held at Winter Haven, Florida, featured six bathing beauties who christened the train with bottles of orange blossom perfume. The train's logo or "drumhead" was composed of a portrait of a popular Ziegfeld Follies beauty of the day, Miss Ina Claire, peering through an orange blossom tree in full bloom.


The Orange Blossom Special - Arrival in Miami Florida 1927
Image from Florida Photographic Collection

The train featured such amenities as an Observation Library Car and valet and maid services. It even carried its own barber and manicurist, and from the outset became a favorite of the traveling public. And the SAL worked hard to keep it that way. In January of 1934 the "Orange Blossom Special" became the first Florida train to be air-conditioned, and during the 1938-39 winter tourist season the first passenger diesel locomotives in the Southeast made their debut hauling the "Special" to Florida.


The Orange Blossom Special - Passenger Cars at Sebring Florida ~1930
Image from Florida Photographic Collection

During that same winter Seaboard staged an open house at the Jacksonville Terminal for the new diesel powered version of the train, and among those who stopped by for a look were two Florida fiddle players whose visit was to make country music history.

The Song

Well I'm goin' down to Florida
And get some sand in my shoes ...
I'll ride that Orange Blossom Special
And lose those New York blues ...

The time was during the Great American Depression, and Chubby Wise, Florida's champion fiddle player, was driving a taxi in Jacksonville by day and, to make ends meet, playing his fiddle by night for nickels and dimes in local taverns and saloons. (Remembering those days, Chubby said, "It may be hard to believe now, but a dime was a lot of money in those days. A lot of money.")

One night, after chubby and fellow musician Ervin Rouse made their usual rounds, they decided to visit the Jacksonville Terminal and see what the fuss over the "Orange Blossom Special" was all about.

As Chubby recalled that night, "even though it was about three in the morning we went right into the Terminal and got on board and toured that train, and it was just about the most luxurious thing I had ever seen. Ervin was impressed, too. And when we got done lookin' er over he said, `let's write a song about it'. So we went over to my place in Fairfield at 809 E. Adams Street and that night she was born. Sitting on the side of my bed. We wrote the melody in less than an hour, and called it `Orange Blossom Special'. Later Ervin and his brother put some words to it."

The rest is history. Rouse copyrighted the song in 1938 and recorded it in 1939. A year later, Bill Monroe, regarded by many as "the father of bluegrass music," recorded the song and made it a hit. Since then countless versions nave been recorded, among them Chubby's own, as an instrumental in a 1969 album, "Chubby Wise and His Fiddle". And that version, said Chubby, "is the way it was written and the way it's supposed to be played." As such, it is lively, spirited, fun tune that sounds-through the magic of Chubby's fiddle-like a train rushing through the night. As the song says:

Talk about a-travelin'
She's the fastest train on the Line...
Talk about a-travelin'
She's the fastest train on the Line.
It's that Orange Blossom Special Rollin' down the Seaboard Line. "

Text & Picture of Chubby Wise - Courtesy of the Prime Osborn Convention Center.

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