A ten year mystery – solved!

This is one of those things that just sort of nags you, but its not really important enough to merit doing anything about it. One of those things that when you do see it again, you think, “so what is the deal with that anyway? I should find out sometime”.

Well, I did found out about something recently. A little backstory…

About ten years ago or so, my now wife and I moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan for her residency on her way to becoming a real-life doctor. During my time there, I would sometimes drive north on Patterson Avenue, alongside the now Gerald R. Ford International Airport. Before reaching 36th Street, there was a railroad overpass, and painted on the side was a curious logo. It looked like something silhouetted within a circle, creating a strange sort of outline. And for the life of me I could not figure out what the hell it was! To me, it looked a bit like a genie’s lamp. But as it was painted on the side of a railroad bridge I assumed it had some relevance to the rail industry.

The mystery logoAs I stated, its one of those little things that really doesn’t merit any research, or real forward action on resolution. It just kinda nestled itself in my mind, only emerging when the enigmatic image would appear again. And again I’d say, “Dagnabit! What IS that thing?”

Years pass. We move back to PA. The girlfriend has morphed first to fiancee then to wife. We establish in Central PA. The strange logo and its mysteriousness just sort of hides out. On very rare occasions I spot it, on a railroad bridge, or on the side of a rail car. Each time it is spotted I have the same small query above.

Finally, about a week ago, I spotted it again, this time on a railroad car parked near the road I sometimes travel on the way home from work. But for some reason I decided to put an end to the mystery, to finally find some sense of finality for this ongoing concern. The big clue was some words printed in connection with the image. And I had a tool that was not in my possession ten years ago: Wikipedia.

I turned to what has become a de-facto go-to website for figuring out stuff to figure this out. I entered the words from the railroad car: Chessie System.

The original imageAs it turns out, Chessie System is the holding company that owned the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and two others during the 70’s and 80’s, until the C&O and B&O were merged into CSX. The logo was called the “Ches-C”, a stylized letter C that was based on an old advertisement for the C&O railroad. The picture in the ad was of a kitten tucked into a bed with the tagline “Sleep like a kitten”, touting the C&O’s sleeping cars. The kitten was nicknamed “Chessie” (as in Chesapeake). When the railroad was merged with the others in the Seventies, the company was named after the popular mascot, and the stylized logo was based on the silhouette of the image.

Yes, really.

So the mystery came to an end. And even knowing where it came from, I still can’t see it…


  1. tomwest says:

    You should’ve asked me. My dad worked for ALCOA corporate in Pgh. for 19 years as a rail rate analyst. I knew about the Chessie cat as a pre-teen.

  2. relantel says:

    Ah, the saddest dumbest choice in marketing. Go from a sure asset in the Chessie Cat to an entity known just by the letters CSX. The holding company came into being in 1980, with control of the Seaboard and Chessie System. 1986 was the critical year that the old paint started to disappear in earnest, though one can still find mostly unrepainted locomotives out there. CSX broke my heart when the State of Virginia sold the RF&P to them in 1991.

    (I didn’t get my fraternal nickname of “Chattanooga” for nothing!)