The Sugar Express is a fun ride aboard vintage passenger cars behind steam-puffing ‘No. 148’, a historic locomotive built in 1920 that once served in the cane fields in Florida’s Glades region around the southern rim of Lake Okeechobee.
There’s a certain panache that comes with the ride, as my wife and I learned while riding the Lake Placid Limited a few weeks ago.
During December, you’ll experience a lot of holiday pomp.
All aboard the Santa Express!
Over three weekends in December, Old 148 will take you and your family on a 1.5-hour steam-whistling ride with Santa Claus from three inland depots at Lake Placid, Sebring and Clewiston.
Three trips are scheduled each day for 10 days with Santa Clause and his elves aboard, departing from three inland depots — at Lake Placid, Sebring and Clewiston.
The trains will be decorated in the holiday spirit and Santa Claus will provide the holiday cheer as the steam-whistling locomotive chugs through the countryside.
Cookies and refreshments will be served, and each passenger will receive a commemorative ornament.
The rides are popular and availability limited. Tickets are $50 for guests age 15+, $40 for children ages 4-14). Children 3 and under ride free.
2023 SANTA EXPRESS – December 2, 3 (Sebring), December 8, 9, 10 (Lake Placid), December 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 (Clewiston). The Santa Express departs and returns to the same station three times each day — 12 noon, 2:30 pm and 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 per guest (age 15 and up); $40 (ages 4 – 14); Children 3 and under free. To purchase tickets, go to sugarexpress.com
- Sebring Station: 781 Magnolia Ave, Sebring, FL, 33870
- Lake Placid Depot: 12 East Park Avenue, Lake Placid, FL, 33852
- Clewiston Rail Yard: 900 W C Owen Ave., Clewiston, FL, 33440
The ‘Toys 4 Tots’ Santa Train
On December 7, the Santa Express will deliver gifts for Toys for Tots at four cities in its South-Central Florida service area. There are no tickets being sold for this special one-day trip, but there will be plenty of excitement for kids who line the tracks along the way.
Santa and his elves will be aboard the train, waving to children along the route, and the elves will distribute gifts to children at each stop:
- 7:30-8:45 am — Belle Glade
- 9:50-11 am — Clewiston
- 12-12:45 pm — Moore Haven
- 2:15-3:30 pm — Lake Placid
For more information, go to: sugarexpress.com/toys-4-tots
Wait! There’s more!
The full season for the Sugar Express runs from October through the end of January with five unique trips, ranging in price from $48 per person all the way up to $550 for a three-day marathon.
Featured excursions are the Lake Placid Limited ($99), Moore Haven Meteor ($48), the Clewiston Comet ($99), Highlands County Crescent ($48) and the aforementioned three-day Rare Mileage Special ($550).
A few weeks ago, I rode the Lake Placid Express, an all-day adventure from U.S. Sugar’s railroad yards in Clewiston to the historic train station in Lake Placid with a two-hour layover for lunch.
The Lake Placid Limited — Nov 25 & Jan 27
I was hesitant to spend $99 for passage in coach, and $148 for a seat at a table in the dining was out of the question. After all, what is there to see? Endless fields of sugar cane?
There are no Florida mountains in full fall glory to see, no cliff-hanging canyons or scenic valleys.
The trip was fun, actually. I like riding trains, and I can’t recall the last time I was behind the chug-chug-chug of a whistling steam locomotive.
There was, as expected, fields of sugar cane, an occasional cattle ranch, an orange grove or two, two river crossings, rural back yards and a glancing view of Lake Placid. We did not see Lake Placid’s famed caladium farms.
The train was clean and the seats comfortable, and the ride through cane country was smooth. Rest rooms were comfortable and clean, though not spacious enough to allow persons with disabilities. The passenger cars are vintage, as the organizers explained in advance, dating to a time when little thought was given to such accessibility.
The train’s crew was polite and accommodating, answering questions about the train and the cane fields when asked. Muffins were served on the way out; chips and cookies on the way back; bottled water throughout the trip.
Passengers were free to roam through the cars, and the “open-air” baggage car with its open doors was popular, especially for photographers who lean out to capture No. 148 as it steamed around curves.
I was surprised U.S. Sugar didn’t offer even a short presentation about how they grow and process sugar cane, especially given the criticism the company often faces about its stewardship of the environment, especially the Everglades eco-system. A basic introduction is provide in a brochure, and the train’s crew was available to answer questions.
I was disappointed old “No. 148” was actually used in only one direction, a diesel in the other. But it was understandable. As explained in the promotional materials, there were no turnarounds at our destination, making it impossible for the steam locomotive to lead the train both ways.
As for destinations, Lake Placid (population 2,400) is a great choice. The historic train depot is in the center of town, and the 2.5-hour layover allowed just enough time to view the community’s clever wall murals, visit the tiny American Clown Museum (across the tracks) and enjoy lunch at one of 10 nearby eateries. (I highly recommend “The Notorious B.L.T” at Morty and Edna’s Craft Kitchen.)
THE LAKE PLACID LIMITED – November 25, 2023 and January 27th, 2023. Departs from the U.S. Sugar rail yards in Clewiston, 900 W C Owen Ave, at 10-10:30 a.m. Arrives in Lake Placid at 12 noon. Departs Lake Placid at 2-2:30 p.m. and arrives back in Clewiston at 5 p.m. First-class tickets are $148 and deluxe coach tickets are $99.00.
MOORE HAVEN METEOR — Nov. 26, 2023
This two-hour trip from Clewiston to Moore Haven and back is $48 for adults and $30 for children. There are two trains each day, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The train follows the same tracks as the Lake Placid Limited but stops halfway at Moore Haven, a port of call for boaters crossing the state on the Okeechobee Waterway.
You’ll see the small town, clusters of boats, and the locks that offer transit from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River.
There is no turnaround in Moore Haven, either, so Old No. 148 will pull the train one way and the diesel locomotive the opposite direction
Parking and boarding for the trip will take place at 900 W C Owen Ave, Clewiston, FL 33440.
CLEWISTON COMET – Jan. 13, 2024
The Clewiston Comet originates in Lake Placid and will carry passengers to Clewiston and back with a two-hour layover at the Market on Bond Street in Clewiston, featuring local farmers, fresh food, entertainment in downtown Clewiston.
This full-day excursion departs Lake Placid at 9 a.m., returning at 3:30 p.m. for a 6 p.m. arrival in Lake Placid. Your total time on the train is about six hours.
Deluxe coach tickets are $99.00 and first class seats in the Palmdale Dining Car are $148. Dining Car passengers receive complimentary drinks, light snacks, and appetizers.
For hotel accommodations in Lake Placid, go to HOTELS.COM
HIGHLANDS COUNTY CRESCENT – Jan. 14, 2024
Enjoy a two-hour passenger train ride from Sebring, Florida through the orange groves and along the shores of Lake Placid for a roundtrip to and from the sugarcane loading station site at Childs, Florida. Tickets are $48.00 plus tax. Children three and under who do not occupy a seat ride free.
For hotel accommodations in Sebring, go to: HOTELS.COM
RARE MILEAGE TRAIN – Jan. 20-22, 2024
This is a three-day event that will allow passengers to explore the entire South Central Florida Express, U.S. Sugar’s sprawling rail network with more than 200 miles of track.
This network was built in the early 1900s to access the agricultural communities that emerged from rich soils and muck around the southern shores of Lake Okeechobee. This “Black Gold” was once part of the massive Everglades eco-system.
Each of the three days, old No. 148 will carry passengers on a 6- to 9-hour excursion to the far reaches of the rail network, a different route each day.
Day passes are $248 per person. The three-day pass is $550, and first-class table packages for four guests are $2,200.
For detailed itinerary, more information and tickets, go to: sugarexpress … 2024-rare-mileage-tour
For hotel accommodations in Clewiston, go to HOTELS.COM
About U.S. Sugar Company
Old ‘No. 148’ is owned and operated by U.S. Sugar Company, the largest producer of sugar cane in the nation.
The Clewiston-based firm owns 230,000 acres of land in the massive Glades Agricultural Area of Palm Beach, Hendry and Glades counties, where imore than 700,000 tons of sugar cane are harvested each year, according to Wikipedia.
Aside from sugar cane, U.S. Sugar also produces sweet corn and oranges.
In order to transport the sugar cane to processing within eight hours of harvest, U.S. Sugar operates a truck fleet and rail network to haul the cane from far-flung fields to the company’s refinery in Clewiston.
Old 148 was first put to work hauling sugar cane in 1952 after faithfully serving the Florida East Coast Railroad on freight and passenger routes for almost thirty years.
Replaced by diesel locomotives in the 1960s, Old 148 was retired, worn out and left to die in storage. Six years ago, U.S. Sugar’s CEO ordered it out of mothballs for restoration and its new life to improve public relations.
Sugar Express/Santa Express Recap
- Sat, Nov 25 – Lake Placid Limited — 6 hours — $99, coach; $148, dining car
- Sun, Nov 26 – Moore Haven Meteor — 2 hours — $48
- Sat, Dec 2 – Sebring Santa Express — 1.5 hours — Adult (15+), $50; Child (4-14), $40; Child (3 and under), free.
- Sun, Dec 3 – Sebring Santa Express — 1.5 hours — Adult (15+), $50; Child (4-14), $40; Child (3 and under), free.
- Fri, Dec 8 – Lake Placid Santa Express — 1.5 hours — Adult (15+), $50; Child (4-14), $40; Child (3 and under), free.
- Sat, Dec 9 – Lake Placid Santa Express — 1.5 hours — Adult (15+), $50; Child (4-14), $40; Child (3 and under), free.
- Sun, Dec 10 – Lake Placid Santa Express — 1.5 hours — Adult (15+), $50; Child (4-14), $40; Child (3 and under), free.
- Fri, Dec 15 – Clewiston Santa Express — 1.5 hours — Adult (15+), $50; Child (4-14), $40; Child (3 and under), free.
- Sat, Dec 16 – Clewiston Santa Express — 1.5 hours — Adult (15+), $50; Child (4-14), $40; Child (3 and under), free.
- Sun, Dec 17 – Clewiston Santa Express — 1.5 hours — Adult (15+), $50; Child (4-14), $40; Child (3 and under), free.
- Mon, Dec 18 – Clewiston Santa Express — 1.5 hours — Adult (15+), $50; Child (4-14), $40; Child (3 and under), free.
- Tue, Dec 19 – Clewiston Santa Express — 1.5 hours — Adult (15+), $50; Child (4-14), $40; Child (3 and under), free.
- Sat, Jan 13 – Clewiston Comet — 6 hours; $99/person, coach; $148, dining car
- Sat, Jan 20, 21, 22 – Rare Mileage Special — One-day pass, $248. Three-day pass, $550; First-class table packages, 4 guests for $2200.
- Sat, Jan 27 – Lake Placid Limited — 6 hours — $99, coach; $148, dining car
For details and tickets, go to SugarExpress.com
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Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 14 years ago.