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The Historical Roots of the Choo Choo

The roots of the Choo Choo 9 Miler & 5K are intertwined with the roots of central Ohio itself.  You may remember the story of Silas B. Rutherford from your Ohio history classes.  The race is held in honor of Rutherford’s fateful final journey aboard his doomed steam train, the Bessie Express

To refresh your memory, area historian Logan Wells has eloquently put Rutherford’s story down in writing.

The Legend of Silas B. Rutherford & the Bessie Express

In the year eighteen aught two, the relatively-famed Silas Bertrand Rutherford IV embarked on an unprecedented journey of immense danger, incalculable bravery, and unheard-of speed.

Following a drunken exchange in the local tavern, Tarnation’s Gulch, the ever sanguine Silas boasted that he had engineered a vessel of such prowess that it could transport him the roughly 170 miles from the foothills deep in Southern Ohio to his beloved wife, Bertha “Bess” Rutherford, residing just north of the newly founded Columbus, OH—all within nine hours. The local skeptic and mathematician, Edmund Thaddeus Nevill, exclaimed “Preposterous, sir! Inconceivable, nay, impossible I say!”

Silas, not one to cower from a perceived challenge, engaged young Edmund in a gentleman’s wager that would forever shape the rest of his life and, indeed, history itself.

The Bessie Express, named for the woman towards whom it was bound, left town the next day precisely at noon, an undoubtedly arduous journey ahead. And arduous it was, Silas resigned to feed the raging furnace of the train and his dreams, alone, one scoop of coal at a time.

As the clocks neared the fateful hour, Silas labored away, sweat dripping from his brow, shoulders tearing with each heap tossed into the fire. News of his journey failed to travel at the same astronomical speeds of up to 19 miles per hour, and so onlookers were left to gaze in awe and confusion at the spectacle before them. Still, Silas carried on.

Then, just north of Columbus, Silas’s journey came to an end. Out of fuel, exhausted, and nearly dead from inhaling so many fumes, Silas and the Bessie Express rolled to a stop exactly nine miles from his wife’s doorstep. Too weary to continue, Silas dictated his final words to a local pageboy who happened across the halted locomotive. They read as follows:

Dearest Bessie,

It seems I have traveled a fortnight to be in your loving embrace, but alas, here my journey ends, weak, dejected. Pray, let not this shame mar my love for you. Were my body willing, I would crawl to your side and be with you forevermore, but it seems my own pride has driven me to this point when a more cautious course might have been advised.

But that is my enduring legacy—a man unintimidated at the prospect of greatness. And it is my undoing. If I had but one final wish, save to be by your side, it would be this: that someday, somewhere, another like myself might complete this journey in my name. A brave soul it would be to take up the job, but a brave soul it must be to carry on the voyage of Silas B. Rutherford.

With all my love,


Your Challenge, in the Memory of Those Final, Fateful 9 Miles 

And so, in the spirit of the great Silas B. Rutherford, we invite YOU to help him complete his journey.  Honor the memory of this great titan of the steam engine, and set out to conquer the final 9 miles which laid him low.  Bring this choo choo into the station.  We’ll see you at the starting line.

For more information about Ohio's actual railroad history, we suggest you check out Rails and Trails, as well as Columbus Railroads.

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