Reviving the Orange Blossom: Sheriff restores historic vehicle
Apr. 29—VALDOSTA — No one seems to know the exact age of the Orange Blossom Special.
Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk recalls playing on it as a child, when his folks lived on Iola Drive. Back when the vehicle was regularly parked by the American Legion Post 13 headquarters on nearby Williams Street.
Some American Legion veterans recall seeing it in parades, or being pulled in a car behind it, when they were children.
Ben Blanton has a cap with insignia from his father, Gerald Blanton, bearing the 40|8 similar to the 40 over 8 on the Orange Blossom Special, along with the French words: "Les Societe Des Quarant Hommes ... Et Huit Chevaux," which translates to: The Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses.
The 40 & 8 mission is "committed to charitable and patriotic aims. Our purpose is to uphold and defend the United States Constitution ..., to promote the well-being of veterans, their widows, widowers and orphans, and to actively participate in selected charitable endeavors, which include among others, programs that promote child welfare and nurses training," according to the 40 & 8 website.
The invitation-only honor society was originally formed by American troops who were transported by train to the front during World War I.
The Orange Blossom Special is old but it's not that old. It is believed to be a 1929 truck designed to look like a train.
There are black-and-white photos of the truck at the Lowndes County Historical Society.
And while Paulk, Blanton and fellow American Legion Post 13 members Stephen Blanton, post commander, James Traynor, R.D. Martin, Ed Kent and Richard Brown did not know the exact age of the truck-train, they each have memories of its past.
And they all gathered recently outside of the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office to see it prepped to ride again.
While the Orange Blossom Special was a regular part of South Georgia parades many decades ago, it has spent the past several years parked, unmoving, first beside the American Legion post then for several years in a lot outside of the sheriff's office and jail.
Several months ago, Paulk began efforts to refurbish the truck-train.
The Orange Blossom Special needed more than just a tune-up and a coat of paint.
It needed a new engine and areas of the metal body had to be replaced.
John Fletcher of Winnersville Machine & Welding and John Wallace of Wallace Truck & Equipment Sales, both of Valdosta, did the figurative and literal heavy lifting to get the Orange Blossom Special running again.
A dump truck motor powers the vehicle now.
The Orange Blossom Special was restored through drug funds seized by the sheriff's office.
Mark Heidkamp with the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office is scheduled to be the regular "engineer" of the Orange Blossom Special.
Heidkamp is a train aficionado. He collects model trains. He even has an engineer's cap.
In the "locomotive" section, Heidkamp pulled the steam whistle and bell, giving the truck the sound of an actual train approaching.
Paulk said he plans to make the Orange Blossom Special part of area parades and trick-or-treat events for children at the sheriff's office, adding it should be ready for an "all aboard" later this year.