Locomotives - History

Locomotives - History

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Davenport Locomotive Works

The Davenport Locomotive Works was a manufacturer of small switcher locomotives, similar to the Whitcomb Locomotive Works, whose earliest history dates to the first years of the 20th century.

During the steam era the company built a mixture of rod and geared locomotives, particularly tank models of the former, eventually transitioning over to diesel-electrics starting in the 1920s. Davenports became popular with some railroads and especially in the industrial marketplace due to their small size and relatively cheap costs. 

Interestingly, the builder also fanned out into the general manufacturing field building various types of industrial equipment. Some of its largest diesels were constructed during the 1940s although it never seemed to find as much success as rival Whitcomb. Eventually, Davenport was purchased by the Canadian Locomotive Company and its plant was shut down in the 1950s.

Little switchers, like this 0-4-0 saddle tank type built for Koenig Coal & Supply Company, were Davenport's most successful line of locomotives.

The history of the Davenport Locomotive Works begins in 1901 with the founding of the W. W. Whitehead Company of Davenport, Iowa. A year later in 1902 the manufacturer was producing small, light duty steam locomotives that were marketed as a switcher design for use in all sorts of related applications.

After just two years in the business the company was renamed, more appropriately perhaps, as the Davenport Locomotive & Manufacturing Corporation or simply, Davenport Locomotive Works.

Interestingly, while Davenport and the Whitcomb Locomotive Works would eventually come to compete in the diesel switcher market, for their first 25 years in the business this was not so much the case since the former built steam-powered models and the latter gasoline designs (later transitioning to diesels).

Other Small Manufacturers

They were similar, however, in another way. During the World War I conflict both companies manufactured reliable and durable narrow-gauge locomotives for use in the French trench railways moving material and troops for the war effort.

Through the late 1920s Davenport's business was centered around saddle tank switchers such as tiny 0-4-0Ts and 0-6-0Ts (also known as "dinkies"), which became its most popular models during its early years in the business.

Buyers for these locomotives could be found in every imaginable industry outside of common-carrier railroads from mining companies (i.e. coal, copper, or ore) to sugar plantations and cement companies. 

After 1910 the manufacturer began to branch out somewhat and produced slightly larger locomotives including 2-4-0s, 4-4-2 Atlantics, 2-6-0 Moguls, and even 2-6-2 Prairies.  

While Whitcomb was not an initial competitor to Davenport others such as H.K. Porter certainly were, and had been in the business since just after the end of the Civil War. Since that time Porter became the leading manufacturer of light duty and small steam locomotives building thousands through World War II.

After a long decline after World War I Porter was acquired by Davenport in 1950. In 1933 the Davenport Locomotive Works was reorganized as the Davenport-Besler Corporation and had manufactured its first diesel switchers in 1927 for the Northern Illinois Coal Company of Indiana, a 30-ton design.  

As the company began transitioning from steam to diesel interest for its locomotives grew among the general railroad industry.

While the advent of diesel-electrics in main line applications did not catch on until the 1939 introduction of Electro-Motive's FT, builders like Baldwin and the American Locomotive Company (Alco) had been constructing small switchers since the early years of that decade.  

Railroads were growing to like diesels for use in switcher and light duty work during this time due to the savings they afforded. ਏor more reading aboutꃚvenport's early steam locomotives please click here.

As it were, Davenport's most popular model seemed to be the 44-ton type, which General Electric also found to be of high demand with a switcher it constructed of the same weight.

The company was still finding some success in the light steam market. During World War II it signed a government contract to build a USATC (United States Army Transportation Corps) S100 Class 0-6-0 for use in the African campaign, and later in Europe as the war progressed.

These reliable locomotives were also built by Porter and Vulcan Iron Works with nearly 400 manufactured for the war effort. Once again, Davenport's equipment performed so well that the U.S. Army bestowed upon the company its "E" Production Award for Excellence in War Production. 

Not all of Davenport's switchers were saddletanks, such as this little 38-ton, 0-4-0 manufactured in 1909.

For a selection of photos featuring Davenport's਍iesel models please click here.  Following the war the builder focused almost exclusively on diesel switchers. Its largest turned out to be one of its last, the 112-ton model, a center-cab design that looked like a big brick on B-B trucks.

In May, 1955 Davenport-Besler was purchased by the Canadian Locomotive Company and a year later, on May 17, 1956 its plant was shutdown ending more than 50 years of locomotive production.

Despite its closing, because Davenport locomotives were small and lightweight they became excellent for restorations by tourist lines and railroad museums due to their much lower cost compared to larger models. As a result, several can still be in use around the country.

A year later, in August of 1830, the three year old Baltimore & Ohio carried out trials of the Tom Thumb , the work  of Peter Cooper. ਊ month after this event the South Carolina Canal & Railroad Company (SCC&RR) tested its Best Friend of Charleston.

The SCC&RR would also be remembered as the first to haul a revenue train with an American-built design when its Best Friend of Charleston, a product of the West Point Foundry in New York, carried paying customers on December 25, 1830.

The railroad was chartered on April 24, 1827 to solidify Baltimore's standing as one of America's important ports and provide competition against New York's Erie Canal.  

As the success of these operations, and others, grew railroad mania struck the nation.  The new form of transportation could operate in all types of weather and move people and goods at previously unheard of speeds. 

Notable Early Railroads

By 1840, states east of the Mississippi River boasted over 2,800 miles of track and a decade later that number had more than tripled to over 9,000. During these early years much of the trackage was still disconnected and largely concentrated in the Northeast.  

There were also a variety of different gauges in service, ranging from 4 feet 8 1/2 inches (which later became standard) to six feet.  

Unfortunately, traveling could be a tricky, proposition as railroads saw no need to develop safe operations. ਎ven after development of modern "T"-rail, old strap-iron rail was still used for many years.  

A Santa Fe company photo featuring a beautiful lineup of FT's sitting outside the shops at Barstow, California circa late 1940s. Author's collection.

This led to cases of deadly "snake heads" where iron straps came loose from their attached wooden planks and tore into the under-frame of cars, injuring or killing passengers.  In addition, cars themselves were not reinforced to better withstand the carnage during derailments.  

Railroads used their power to influence politicians and avoid infrastructure improvement and safety enhancements, such as knuckle-couplers and air brakes.  Such things only cost money.  

In their greed they even refused to interchange freight with one another.  This arrogant attitude eventually led to extreme regulatory oversight.  

Who Invented The Railroad?

Who invented the railroad?  As mentioned elsewhere in this article, the first chartered railroad in the United States was the New Jersey Railroad Company of 1815 while the Granite Railway was the first actually put into service in 1826. 

However, railroading's roots can be traced back centuries before the modern incarnation was born during the 19th century.  As with many of our contemporary transportation technologies, the railroad came about gradually over time. 

Many different individuals are recognized for developing a number of different devices which found their way into what would now be described as the modern-day railroad of the 1820's. 

According to historian Mike Del Vecchio's book, "Railroads Across America," the very first railroad-like operation was opened in England during 1630 which used wooden rails, with wooden cross-ties (or "sleepers") for lateral support, to haul coal.

The first known implementation of iron rails occurred at Whitehaven, Cumberland in 1740, followed by William Jessop's (Loughborough, Leicestershire) invention of the flanged wheel in 1789.  The steam engine is attributed to Thomas Newcomen who received a patent for his design in 1705. 

It was later improved upon by James Watt in 1769 who realized expanding steam was much more powerful and efficient than Newcomen's condensing version.  He first employed the engine in steamboats, which later made their way to the United States. 

George Stephenson is credited as inventor the modern railroad when the Stockton & Darlington was placed into service in 1825.

Before Colonel John Stevens tested his "Steam Waggon" in 1826, the first patent for a steam locomotive is credited to Englishmen Richard Trevithick and Andrew Vivian in 1802. 

It entered service in 1804 along the Merthyr-Tydfil Railway in South Whales where it pulled loads of iron ore along a tramway.  Two decades would pass before the first modern version appeared, the work of George Stephenson. 

Although often overlooked, the very first device which could be described as a "locomotive" was the work of a Frenchman, Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, in 1769.  It was steam-powered but did not run along a fixed trackway. 

Today, this historic piece of engineering still survives, housed and on display at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris.  All modern locomotives and automobiles can trace their heritage back to this machine. 

Once more, Britain earns the recognition as putting the first contemporary railroad into operation when the Stockton & Darlington Railway formally opened on September 27, 1825. 

Mr. George Stephenson, a well-known builder of early steam locomotives, was also heavily involved in this project: he surveyed the route, gauged the rails to 4 feet, 8 inches (only a 1/2-inch narrower from the width which would later be recognized worldwide as standard-gauge) and, of course, furnished the locomotives. 

His little 0-4-0, named Active (later renamed Locomotion No. 1) was placed into service that day, earning Stephenson recognition as creator of the modern railroad.  His designs would also find their way onto early U.S. railroads until American builders became well-established. 

For their many advantages, some in public simply did not like the iron horse. ਊs John Stover points out in his book, "The Routledge Historical Atlas Of The American Railroads," one school board in Ohio described them as a "device of the devil" while those overseeing the Massachusetts turnpike called them "cruel turnpike killers" and "despisers of horseflesh."  

There was even a claim that rail travel would cause a "concussion of the brain." ꃞspite corporate malfeasance and the public's weariness, the efficiency and speed trains offered could simply not be argued.  

Chicago Great Western F3A #115-A has freight #43 along the main line at Kenyon, Minnesota (roughly 50 miles south of the Twin Cities) on August 31, 1962. Roger Puta photo.

During the Civil War railroads once more proved their worth as they quickly transported men and material to the front lines at speeds not previously possible.  

The North effectively harnessed this advantage, as historian John P. Hankey points out in his article, "The Railroad War: How The Iron Road Changed The American Civil War," from the March, 2011 issue of Trains Magazine.  

Its ability to do so was predominantly why it won the war. 򠯯ore hostilities had ended efforts were already underway to link the entire continent by rail.  

With the creation of the Pacific Railway Act, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on July 1, 1862, authorizing construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.  

The new legislation formed the Union Pacific Railroad to build west from the Missouri River at Omaha, Nebraska while the Central Pacific struck out eastward from Sacramento, California. ਋oth companies were given large tracts of land to complete their respective sections. 

Small-town America. Santa Fe F7A #335 is southbound with a maintenance-of-way (MOW), weed-spraying train as it passes through the little hamlet of Glen Flora, Texas on the now-abandoned Cane Belt Branch during June of 1976. Gary Morris photo.

After several years of hard work, particularly for the Central Pacific, the two met at Promontory Point, Utah during a formal ceremony held on May 10, 1869.  

Without the Pacific Railway Act our country's history would likely be very different as rail travel opened the west to new economic opportunities.  

After the Transcontinental Railroad's completion the industry exploded by the 1890s there were more than 163,000 miles in operation.  

Eventually, four major railroads established direct lines from the Midwest to West Coast including the Great Northern, Northern Pacific, Santa Fe, and Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific (Milwaukee Road) while others worked together in linking both points.  

Conrail GG-1 #4800 ("Old Rivets," the original GG-1), in its vibrant Bicentennial livery, stopped at Leaman Place, Pennsylvania at the interchange with the Strasburg Railroad. Jerry Custer photo.

The era also saw many other advances as the late historian Jim Boyd notes in his book, "The American Freight Train." ꂯter several years of distrust a standard track gauge of 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches was adopted during the 1880s along with development of the automatic coupler and air brake.  

All three initiatives proved revolutionary, allowing for greater efficiency and much safer operations. ਏrom the late 19th century though the 1920's railroads enjoyed their greatest dominance and profitability in particular was the year 1916, which saw mileage peak at over 254,000 and railroads carried virtually 100% of all interstate traffic. 

Rail Mileage Throughout The Years

Below is a timeline of railroad mileage throughout the years: 

A Baltimore & Ohio 4-6-2 heads a local passenger train as it eases into the station at Williamstown, West Virginia some time during the 1940s. Passenger service on the Ohio River Subdivision survived until the mid-1950s. Author's collection.

1916: 254,037 Miles (Peak Mileage)

An Ohio River Rail Road 4-6-0 leads a work train near Parkersburg, West Virginia during the line's construction circa 1884. Author's collection.

Sources:  "The Routledge Historical Atlas Of The American Railroads," by John F. Stover.  New York: Routledge, 1999. �ral Railroad Administration's "Summary Of Class II and Class III Railroad Capital Needs And Funding Source" Report (October, 2014)

Penn Central U25Bs #2685 and #2674 lead a southbound Erie Lackawanna freight through North Tonawanda, New York on August 5, 1973. Doug Kroll photo.

During the 1930s the streamliner era hit the nation, all in an attempt to sway patrons back to the rails.  These fast, sleek new machines provided a new perk color and modernity never before seen.  

The industry's transportation dominance ended after World War II, as a long decline followed thereafter.  In response, the so-called mega-merger movement was launched in the 1950s in an attempt to cut costs through consolidation.

At the time the move was only partially successful as railroads slipped into despair by the 1970's.

The common observer could see this for themselves as tracks became weed-choked while trains were dilapidated. ਏor carriers like the Rock Island and Penn Central, both on the verge of complete shutdown, dirty and barely operational equipment was not uncommon.  

What happened in the 1970's has many causes although it can arguably be traced back to expanded powers placed upon the Interstate Commerce Commission following the passage of the Elkins Act (1903) and, in particular, the Hepburn Act (1906) and Mann-Elkins Act (1910).  

The latter two legislative actions gave ICC the authority to set freight rates and force railroads to explain why any rate change should be implemented.  

An A-B-A-B-B set of Santa Fe covered wagons, led by F7A #301, pulls the westbound San Francisco Chief during one of its final runs through Hercules, California in April of 1971. Amtrak was only a few days away. Drew Jacksich photo.

It was a lengthy, time-consuming process that was rarely successful.  The expanded federal oversight was all brought about to limit railroads' power as many executives had grown arrogant and forgetful of their ultimate purpose, to serve the public interest.  

Unfortunately, the legislation went too far and had placed an increasing burden on the industry by the post-World War II period, at which point they no longer held a transportation monopoly.  

During the 1970s several famous companies went under, now termed fondly as "fallen flags."  The decade also saw the collapse of Northeastern rail service following Penn Central's 1970 bankruptcy.  

Its failure led to others as neighboring railroads filed for reorganization. What eventually came out of the mess was the Consolidated Rail Corporation.  

A federally-funded corporation to restore service, Conrail began on April 1, 1976. ਊ few years earlier, also partially in response to PC's downfall, another government-sponsored railroad was born, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak).  It launched on May 1, 1971 and relieved many of their money-losing passenger services.

Before Penn Central was folded into Conrail, Federal Railroad Administrator John Ingram highlighted the difficulty for any railroad to abandon an unprofitable branch.  While touring the former Pennsylvania Railroad's Delmarva Peninsula trackage he said this during a speech highlighting the PC's plight:

"Let me tell you a little story about the abandonment of unprofitable branch lines.  One weekend last summer I was headed for Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean.  

You have to drive across the Eastern Shore of Maryland to get there, and I asked my staff to list a few of those Eastern Shore branch lines that the Penn Central wants to abandon. 

I wanted to see for myself - perhaps count the boxcars on sidings to see if there really was a shortage of business.  I drove to the area, checked my maps, and simply couldn't findਊnything that looked like a railroad.  

On Monday morning, I hollered at my staff for having sent me off on a wild goose chase, but they stuck to their guns.  So we went back - this time with property maps and a surveyor.  

We found the branch line, all right. ਊt one place it was directly under a junkyard full of wrecked cars. ਊt another point the highway department had covered the tracks with at least eight inches of pavement.  

And just off the road we found a six-inch wide tree growing between the rails.  That line had been completely forgotten, yet grown men were arguing before the ICC that that stretch of track was vital to the Nation's economy!"

A postcard of Northern Pacific's train #1, the westbound transcontinental "Mainstreeter" (Chicago - Seattle), at Fargo, North Dakota in a scene that likely dates to the 1950s. Author's collection.

Railroads of today would likely be very different if it wasn't for the Staggers Rail Act of 1980, proposed by Harley Staggers of West Virginia.  Prior to this legislation there had been discussions of simply nationalizing the entire industry, a scary proposition that both executives and those in the government wished to avoid.  

The bill brought a great level of deregulation as railroads regained their footing thanks to renewed freedom in setting freight rates and abandoning unprofitable rail lines.

The 1980s saw a slow recovery as Conrail posted its first profits in late 1981 and the mega-merger movement continued, creating today's Norfolk Southern Railway and CSX Transportation that decade. I

Also, Union Pacific purchased the Chicago & North Western while Norfolk Southern and CSX gobbled up Conrail in 1999.  The freight growth has continued into the 21st century.  We have also seen a renaissance in rail travel as folks look to escape the highway gridlock.

3. Trains helped the North win the American Civil War.

Throughout the war, railroads enabled the quick transport of large numbers of soldiers and heavy artillery over long distances. One of the most significant uses of trains came after the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863, when Abraham Lincoln was able to send 20,000 badly needed replacement troops more than 1,200 miles from Washington, D.C. to Georgia (in just 11 days) to fortify Union forces—the longest and fastest troop movement of the 19th century. Control of the railroad in a region was crucial to military success, and railroads were often targets for military attacks aimed at cutting off the enemy from its supplies. Union General William Tecumseh Sherman provided particularly adept at the art of railroad sabotage. During his infamous “March” through Georgia and the Carolinas, his men destroyed thousands of miles of Confederate rails, leaving heaps of heated, twisted iron that southerners wearily referred to as “Sherman’s neckties.”


Bianculli, Anthony J. Trains and Technology: The American Rail-road in the Nineteenth Century. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2001.

Bohn, Dave, and Rodolfo Petschek. Kinsey, Photographer: A Half Century of Negatives by Darius and Tabitha May Kinsey. Vol. 3. The Locomotive Portraits. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1984.

Bruce, Alfred W. The Steam Locomotive in America: Its Development in the Twentieth Century. New York: Norton, 1952.

Collias, Joe G. The Last of Steam: A Billowing Pictorial Pageant of the Waning Years of Steam Railroading in the United States. Berkeley: Howell-North, 1960.

Reutter, Mark, ed. Railroad History, Millennium Special: The Diesel Revolution. Westford, Mass.: Railway and Locomotive Historical Society, 2000.

White, John H. American Locomotives: An Engineering History, 1830–1880. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968 1997.

Introduction of Steam Locomotives

The first steam railway locomotive was introduced by Richard Trevithick in 1804. He was the first engineer to build a successful high-pressure stationary steam engine in 1799. He followed this with a road-going steam carriage in 1801. Although that experiment ended in failure, in 1804 he built a successful unnamed rail-going steam locomotive for the narrow-gauge Merthyr Tramroad in South Wales (sometimes incorrectly called the Penydarren Tramroad). Amid great interest from the public, in 1804 it successfully carried 10 tons of iron, 5 wagons and 70 men a distance of 9.75 miles (15.69 km) from Penydarren to Abercynon in 4 hours and 5 minutes, an average speed of nearly 5 mph (8.0 km/h). This locomotive proved that steam traction was a viable proposition, although the use of the locomotive was quickly abandoned as it was too heavy for the primitive plateway track. A second locomotive, built for the Wylam colliery, also broke the track. Trevithick built another locomotive in 1808, Catch Me Who Can, which ran on a temporary demonstration railway in Bloomsbury, London. Members of the public were able to ride behind at speeds up to 12 mph (19 km/h). However, it again broke the rails and Trevithick was forced to abandon the demonstration after just two months.

The first commercially successful steam locomotive was the twin cylinder Salamanca, designed by in 1812 by Matthew Murray using John Blenkinsop’s patented design for rack propulsion for the Middleton Railway. Blenkinsop believed that a locomotive light enough to move under its own power would be too light to generate sufficient adhesion, so he designed a rack-and-pinion railway for the line. This was despite the fact that Trevithick demonstrated successful adhesion locomotives a decade before. The single rack ran outside the narrow-gauge edge-rail tracks and was engaged by a cog-wheel on the left side of the locomotive. The cog-wheel was driven by two cylinders embedded into the top of the center-flue boiler. Four such locomotives were built for the railway and they worked until the early 1830s.

Blenkinsop’s rack locomotive Salamanca, Middleton to Leeds (UK) coal tramway, 1812, author unknown, riginally published in The Mechanic’s Magazine, 1829.

Salamanca was the first commercially successful steam locomotive, built in 1812.

Other Locomotive Designs

Locomotives first began using engines as power plants dating back to the early 20th century when gasoline versions were first introduced.  The first, true diesel powered locomotive was a switcher born in 1924 as a collaboration between General Electric and Ingersoll-Rand, later to be joined by the the American Locomotive Company (Alco).  The little boxcab demonstrator toured on several railroads listed as #8835 and drew much interest.  However, this original example did not sell.  In 1925 all three companies began marketing 60 and 100-ton models for sale, with the first purchased by the Central Railroad of New Jersey, #1000.  At this time, though, most roads were not convinced that the diesel could be developed as main line power.  Still, switchers for use in light duty work drew increased interest and acceptance.  

Alger-Sullivan Lumber Company's little 25-tonner, #1 (General Electric), is dwarfed by the wood-chip cars it is toting at the mill in Century, Florida in 1973. Warren Calloway photo.

The new Electro-Motive Corporation (EMC) began marketing its own line of switchers in 1936, followed by General Electric a few years later, and Alco in 1940.  For EMC, which later became General Motor's Electro-Motive Division (EMD), it was not new to the concept of diesel powered locomotives.    The new builder had worked with the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy and Budd Company in helping to develop the Pioneer Zephyr streamlined trainset that awed the public on May 26, 1934.  It was powered by a 660-horsepower prime mover built by EMC's subsidiary division, the Winton Motor Carriage Company.  The manufacturer's early switcher models were assembled through 1938 and carried designations such as "SC," "NW," and "SW."  In the case of GE, it began building and marketing several small switchers that were simply listed by their tonnage 23-tonner, 44-tonner, 70-tonner, etc. 

Finally, Alco offered its own variants known as the "S" series ranging from the S1 of 1940 through the S6/T6 of the late 1950s/1960s.   (For a time, Fairbanks Morse also cataloged a pair of switchers, the H10-44 and H12-44 built between 1944 and 1961.  They sold quite well despite FM's inability to seriously compete in the market.)  For GE, it saw moderate interest in its switcher line over the years selling its versions to a variety of buyers from railroads to private industries.  Interestingly, while Alco struggled to remain competitive in the diesel market by the 1960s its switchers were well liked as the company produced thousands, the most successful of which was the S2 selling 1,500 examples.  During the 1940s it even led the market, as well as with the early road-switcher, the RS1 of 1941. 

Electro-Motive plant switcher #105 is seen here in McCook, Illinois on October 6, 1962. Roger Puta photo. According to Marty Bernard: "#105 was a DH2, a SW8 modified as a diesel-hydraulic for demonstration purposes. Later, and in this photo, it was converted to a standard diesel-electric with traction motors and no drive shafts, serving as an EMD plant switcher."

Unfortunately, as the years progressed industry leader EMD took over this coveted spot.  During the late 1930s GM's new locomotive division moved into its own plan in La Grange, Illinois at which time it began releasing new models powered by the parent's new model 567 prime mover.  The first designs were the NW2 and SW1 of 1939.  Just as with the popular FT cab units these switchers began selling very well with nearly 2,000 examples sold between those two variants alone.  In the following years EMD continued to release popular switcher models like the SW7, SW9, SW1200, SW1500, and MP15 series.  These were built through the 1980s and by that time there were only two builders left in the market.  By then, interest switchers had waned with so many now in service and a high level of reliability.

Warwick Railway 50-tonner #104 (built by the Atlas Car & Manufacturing Company) is seen here with its crew running light in Warwick, Rhode Island during January, 1977. Warren Calloway photo.

Even today, decades since they were outshopped one can still find early SW1s and NW2s in regular service.  Additionally, major Class Is still roster various MP15 models and SW1500s for yard service.  In recent years there have been some new switchers built, although not by the major manufacturers in the 2000s RailPower (now a division of RJ Corman) released a line of gensets.  There have also been several switchers rebuilt into either gensets or overhauled for improved performance.  It seems that while we may not see new switcher models cataloged anytime soon, classic examples in service for years now will still be around for many more.  To read more about switchers from various builders please visit the Diesel Locomotives section of the site, which can be reached from the top of this page.

Famous Locomotives

In 1980, John H. White, Jr., and his colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution pondered how to mark the 150th anniversary of the locomotive "John Bull." Dare they carefully steam up and actually operate the oldest locomotive in America? After all, it did spend 35 years in rough railroad service, and the best way to learn how machinery actually worked is to operate it. There were risks, but much to be learned in the process.

The firm of Robert Stephenson in England constructed the locomotive for the Camden and Amboy Railroad and delivered it in August of 1831. By 1866, the "John Bull" was out of service-but the railroad recognized its historic importance and preserved it intact. After the Pennsylvania Railroad absorbed the C&A in 1871, it exhibited the "John Bull" at various expositions and in 1885 presented the locomotive to the Smithsonian Institution.

Almost a hundred years later, Smithsonian staff and volunteers completely disassembled and inspected the ancient engine. After many tests and lots of tender care, the "John Bull" steamed again, hauling its companion passenger car over branch lines near Washington, D.C. Over a period of several weeks in the fall of 1981, the locomotive taught its keepers more about early steam power than any textbook possibly could. It looked, smelled, sounded, and behaved exactly like the thousands of steam locomotives that followed it -- to the delight of curators and rail fans alike.

Most of the 75,000 streetcars running around the United States in the 1920s were old and tired, and it seemed the way to revitalize the industry was to design a new type of streetcar-one that would replace the boxy and rattling old traditional streetcars and bring the image of modern comfort and design to the street railroad industry.

A planning group formed late in 1929 to study the problem. Representatives of railroads and the manufacturing industry collaborated to evaluate everything about the streetcar, from controllers and brakes to the shape of seats and exterior appearance. Their new design, named the PCC (after the President's Conference Committee) Car, was modern in appearance and featured innovations that made it lighter, smoother riding, more comfortable, and more durable than earlier cars.

The first was placed in service in Brooklyn during early 1936, and lines in Baltimore and Chicago soon placed orders. Almost 5,000 PCC cars were built, most of them ending up in perhaps 30 cities across North America.

The PCC did not save the street railroad industry, but it helped slow the inevitable decline. The PCC car's durability and relatively low maintenance cost allowed several transit operations to survive during the postwar period, and these venerable streetcars can still be seen serving transit riders in Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh, Newark, and Toronto.

Most famous of the motor trains was the Zephyr, named after the Greek god of the west wind. It was a complete, compact, self-propelled three-car train, clad in gleaming stainless steel and looking every bit like the train of the future.

Christened in April of 1934, the diminutive train toured the East and Midwest while plans were laid for a spectacular promotional stunt. The stubby little Zephyr was to make the 1,015-mile trip from Denver to Chicago in a dawn-to-dusk dash of 14 hours-12 hours under the fastest regular service. The trip got off 65 minutes late on May 26, 1934. The shovel-nose streamliner reached a top speed of 112 miles per hour as it hurtled across the Plains. Its progress, closely followed by the press, was announced to visitors at Chicago's Century of Progress Exposition.

The train broke a timing tape in Chicago at 7:10 p.m.-13 hours, 4 minutes, and 58 seconds after it left Denver-and rolled onto the stage at the climax of the "Wings of a Century" pageant at the exposition. There, with Lake Michigan as a backdrop, the Zephyr signaled the end of the Steam Age, claiming the future for the diesel-electric streamline train.

In January of 1968, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe caught the attention of the trade press (and shippers) with the inauguration of the Super C-a 40-hour piggyback and container train on the 2,200-mile route between Chicago and Los Angeles. This six-days-a-week service was as fast as the Super Chief-hence the name average speed was more than 55 miles an hour, topping out at 79.

Trains were light. No more than about 20 cars were projected, though in reality they would often run with as few as two or three. As originally conceived, the trains were a straight shot-no classification, no pick-up or drop-off. There were, however, 17 crew changes en route, an indication of the antediluvian nature of the work rules at that time.

Naturally, the Super C was a premium-price service, costing about double the usual COFC/TOFC rates, in fact. Because of the high cost, the train had some difficulty attracting a steady clientele. The operation's purity was further compromised by the addition of a Kansas City pickup, as well as combinations with trains west of Barstow, California.

At the same time, Northern Pacific was fielding a similar service on the 1,875-mile Seattle-Minneapolis Tokyo Express, which averaged 51 miles per hour and was thus faster than the North Coast Limited, NP's premier passenger train. Neither this train nor the Super C would linger for long, but they proved how quickly inter-modal freight could move by rail.

The CZ's death was slow, painful, and public. Western Pacific, the weakest of its three operators, was the first to go to the I.C.C. to ask out-in September of 1966. The Commission was on the horns of a dilemma, since the line was clearly demonstrating significant losses, yet the train was running full in summer, with a year-round load factor of 78 percent.

Furthermore, a survey showed a 95 percent approval rating by passengers. Although Rio Grande claimed losses, it still stood firm with pro-passenger Burlington in supporting the train. The I.C.C. deliberated for five months, then ordered Western Pacific to run the train for another year.

WP was back, hat in hand, as that term expired, only to be rebuffed again by the I.C.C., which felt that the railroad was only half-heartedly trying to improve the train's faltering balance sheet.

Then, in May of 1969, the Rio Grande asked to discontinue its portion of the run, citing annual losses of almost $2 million. By now, passengers were finally beginning to desert the CZ, disillusioned by poor timekeeping, deteriorating equipment, and years of discontinuation notices. The end came in February of 1970, when the I.C.C. ruled that the WP could end its segment, with Rio Grande dropping back to tri-weekly runs, connecting at Salt Lake City with Southern Pacific service to San Francisco.

The California Zephyr made its last run just over a month later.

The Delaware Hudson Adirondack

As Amtrak went about saving the American passenger train in the 1970s, the corporation instituted significant changes. One that was distinctly two-edged, however, was the standardization of richly varied ancestors into look-alike trains.

One colorful exception was the Adirondack, a day train between New York and Montreal that was funded in part by the State of New York under a provision of the Amtrak Act that allowed states to mandate service by funding a percentage of the cost-two-thirds originally, later one-half.

The Delaware & Hudson was a willing operator of this train between Albany and Montreal-a wonderfully scenic ride, much of it along the shore of Lake Champlain-but on its terms, which were that the equipment used would be its own, refurbished at state expense and painted in a fetching blue, yellow, and gray. The locomotives would be four distinctive Alco PAs, handsome locomotives that D&H had purchased from Santa Fe in 1967 for service on the Laurentian and Montreal Limited.

Because D&H under Carl B. Sterzing, its feisty young president, wanted its identity front and center, Sterzing and Amtrak struck sparks virtually from the time of the train's inauguration on August 5, 1974.

After the leased CP domes were returned, Amtrak provided dome coaches in their stead, which D&H painted in its own colors, outraging Amtrak officials. Amtrak's blue and red promptly returned, and the passenger corporation played its trump card in this identity battle in 1977 by bumping the D&H equipment entirely with Turboliner trainsets.

The United States never embraced railroad electrification in a big way. Distances were generally too great and traffic densities too low for electrification's expensive infrastructure to make sense. The Pennsylvania Railroad's multi-track main line between New York and Washington was a dramatic exception.

By 1934, Pennsylvania had developed the locomotive that would become the operation's mainstay for almost half a century-the mighty GG1. The prototype, No. 4800, was cloaked in a somewhat ungainly, riveted shell. Fledgling industrial designer Raymond Loewy was given the important assignment of turning this proverbial ugly duckling into a swan.

The result was a shiny dark green carbody tricked out with five elegant gold pinstripes that plunged to vanishing points on the locomotive's shapely nose. Small red keystones provided discreet splashes of color. One hundred and thirty-nine GG1s were built.

By the 1970s the GG1s were aging though still able to outhaul anything in sight, their days were numbered. To provide a fitting finale, a group called "Friends of the GG1" restored one of Amtrak's "Gs" to its original pinstripe scheme. On May 15, 1977, GG1 No. 4935 was rededicated at Washington Union Station and put back into service.

Four years later, the Jersey Central Railway Historical Society and NJ Transit restored GG1 No. 4877 to glorious Loewy pinstripes-but in this case in Tuscan red (worn by a handful of Gs in the fifties). Like No. 4935, 4877 entered regular service and was on hand for the bittersweet ceremony on October 29, 1983, when the last active GG1 was retired from service on Transit's North Jersey Coast Line.

PRR's "E44" Electric Locomotives

Perhaps the last and most advanced freight electric locomotives to ever operate in the U.S. were built for the Pennsylvania Railroad by General Electric.

Dubbed E44s the electrics featured the latest technologies available and were quite efficient workhorses.

The E44s began arriving on the Pennsy in the late 1950s and eventually the motors wound up with three different owners after the Penn Central collapse of the 1970s handed them over to Conrail in 1976.

Conrail was never particularly interested in electric freight operations, especially after the North East Corridor was given to Amtrak upon the Penn Central's collapse during the 1970's. 

As a result, freight operators are charged high fees to use the line, which is largely kept clear for passenger service.  This decision remains bitterly opposed to this day as the corridor naturally is the best artery to transport freight between the Northeast's largest cities.  

In the modern era, freight trains are primarily relegated to overnight operation.   

For this reason, along with a number of other factors, Conrail gave up on electric operation in the mid-1980s.  Today, one E44 stands preserved, #4465 on display inside the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania at Strasburg.

During Conrail's brief years of operating electrified freight service E44s, led by #4436, lead an eastbound/southbound consist along the Columbia & Port Deposit Branch near Safe Harbor, Pennsylvania during early November of 1977. Randy Kotuby photo.

The E44 freight electric locomotive was an Ignitron-rectifier built by GE in 1959 as the PRR needed a new freight locomotive to replace its aging fleet of P5s and supplement its GG1s (which by the late 1950s were used in both freight and passenger service).

The new E44s employed a C-C wheel arrangement and were capable of producing 4,400 hp (thus their name E44 Electric, 4400 hp).

In total the Pennsylvania would come to own a fleet of 66 E44s, that were quite similar to the Virginian’s EL-C rectifiers, later known as E33s, albeit a bit more powerful. 

Interestingly, the E44 model resembled the E33s for a very good reason, the PRR used the design as a template for its own freight motor.

By the time the Pennsylvania began testing them they had been purchased by the New York, New Haven & Hartford as the Virginian had been purchased by the Norfolk & Western who no longer saw a need from them (they soon after shutdown all of the Virginian's electrified operations).

Penn Central E44 #4461 and MU commuter cars layover at the ex-PRR Orangeville terminal/roundhouse in Baltimore, Maryland on August 9, 1970. This facility has since been abandoned. Roger Puta photo.

Still practically brand new the PRR was quite impressed with the E33s and contracted with General Electric to use the design as a basis for its own new model. 

From a technical standpoint the E44 used six GE Model 752 E5 traction motors. The primary difference, internally, of the E44 was its means of converting AC current to DC.

The first E44s the Pennsy received used Ignitron tubes to convert the current.

However, the last batch of locomotives used newer and less maintenance intensive, air-cooled silicon diode rectifiers. These upgraded locomotives were dubbed E44As to distinguish them from the original models.

Penn Central E44 #4446 hustles southbound past the station at Princeton Junction, New Jersey as a commuter train is stopped on the next track over during August of 1971. Roger Puta photo.

The model became the face of the Pennsylvania's late electrified operations prior to the transition to Penn Central in the late 1960s.

With such a large fleet the railroad used the E44s all over its electrified lines, particularly along the Northeast Corridor.

If you were lucky at the time you could occasionally even catch the freight locomotives in passenger services, used as needed, usually zooming along in commuter service despite the fact they were not really intended for use in such a capacity. 

Overall, the E44s proved to be quite reliable freight motors and while they were geared for speeds of up to 70 mph they usually operated somewhere below this threshold.

Extremely quiet in service, they effortlessly lugged freight trains down the line with relative ease.

The model was delivered to the Pennsylvania in a very standard all-black with the company's classic keystone logo in crimson red and yellow featuring the interconnected "PRR".

All 66 units were delivered between 1960 and 1963, which by that time was the railroad's final days as an independent carrier.

Too rigidly managed during times that called for change to survive in the industry, the PRR was out of money and running on borrowed time.

During early days, such as prior to World War II, the railroad would likely have purchased many more new electrics of various designs, notably for passenger service, instead of relying on its worn out fleet of GG1s.

A trio of Penn Central E44's are under the train shed at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on May 18, 1969. Roger Puta photo.

In any event, after the collapse of the Penn Central in 1970 and the creation of Conrail in the spring of 1976 the locomotives were used sporadically until 1981 when most were stored at the PRR’s old Enola Yard.

By the mid-1980s all had been sold by Conrail, interestingly two buyers of which were Amtrak and NJ Transit, which intended to use them in passenger service.

Conrail E-44 #4414 runs light between assignments near Wormleysburg, Pennsylvania during the fall of 1978. Randy Kotuby photo.

Dissatisfied with their performance both passenger carriers elected to sell them either outright or for scrap.

Unfortunately, the E44 was similar to late model steam locomotives that despite being well conceived and designed, was retired well too early.

The youngest units were barely 20 years of age before being parked. Today, at last one E44 has been preserved at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania near Strasburg.

Locomotives - History

Between 1875 and 1878, Charles Darwin Scott , a lumberman of considerable mechanical ingenuity, operated a logging tram road with a home made locomotive to handle logs to the Scott and Akin mill at Spartansburg, nine miles from Corry, Pennsylvania. Scott’s experiments with his home made locomotive lead to his invention of the Climax locomotive.

Scott decided to place his locomotive on the market and took his plans to the Climax Manufacturing Company in Corry to have the locomotive built. The first known Climax was out-shopped in March 1888 and was sold to the firm of Imel, Powers and Shank . Three more were built and sold within the next three months. A patent was applied for on February 10, 1888 and granted December 4, 1888, however, the patent was issued to George D. Gilbert instead of Scott.

George D. Gilbert was a relative of Scott by marriage was well educated and a civil engineer by trade. He had also been involved in the manufacture of portable steam engines. Scott had only a limited education and had agreed to let Gilbert draw the plans and handle the procedures of applying for the patent. However, Gilbert did not credit the invention in Scott’s name.

When new patents were taken out for design improvements by R. S. Battles of the Climax Manufacturing Company, Scott was again ignored. Scott filed suit against both Gilbert and Battles and applied for a patent in his own name. After a lengthy court battle a verdict was rendered in Scott’s favor and he was granted a patent on December 20, 1892. However, the lawsuit left him penniless and he never reaped much benefit from his invention and since the Climax name was applied to the locomotive, Charles D. Scott has been virtually forgotten. George D. Gilbert is still incorrectly credited as being the designer of the Climax in many publications and on some Web pages.

Climax Development

The first Climax Locomotives built were very crude in appearance and bore little resemblance to conventional locomotives. A vertical boiler and two cylinder marine type engine was mounted on top of a platform frame, supported by a four wheel truck at each end. A round water tank was placed on one end and a fuel bin on the other. Power was transmitted to the axles by gears with a differential arrangement similar to the modern automobile, and driven by a line shaft connected to the engine through a two speed gear box. The frame, canopy type cab, and even the truck frames were made of wood.

The idea of the differential gears was to reduce the resistance on sharp curves by allowing one wheel to be idle or revolve at less revolutions than the one on the opposite end of the axle. Several locomotives were built to this design, but it was soon found to be objectionable in that it reduced the pulling power when negotiating sharp curves, especially on steep grades. This truck design was known as the “loose wheel arrangement”.

The first Climax locomotive weighed ten tons in working order, and was soon increased to fifteen tons. It also set the pattern for the Class A type, which became so popular and was built until the plant went out of business.

The Class A Climax

The trucks were redesigned to eliminate the differential gears and bevel skew gears were substituted, with the wheels pressed tight on the axles. This was known as the “tight wheel arrangement”. At the same time the truck frames were redesigned to a steel arch bar type with individual springs over each journal bearing, which allowed the axles to move up and down on rough track.

The most outstanding feature of the Class A Climax was the two speed gear arrangement connecting the engine to the longitudinal line shaft which in turn connected with the axles, centered between the wheels. These gears had two speeds, high and low, which could be shifted at will by the engineer in the cab. The low speed was a decided advantage when a heavy train had to be started on a grade, or when climbing a steep grade. The low speed gear ratio was 9:1 providing 13,200 pounds tractive effort and the high gear ratio was 4.5:1 resulting in 6,600 pounds tractive effort. They also had a neutral position which could be used to allow the locomotive to roll freely down grade by gravity. However, this was not recommended on steep grades.

A second feature was the simplicity of design which made it possible to build the Class A and sell it at a cheap price. This also made the locomotive easy and cheap to maintain and operate. Woodsmen called it many names such as “Box Car Engine” because it resembled a box car, but a better term might be the “Poor Mans Engine”. The Class A Climax was well liked by the crews because of its large roomy cab, which gave all the crew members a place to ride, out of the cold, wet weather.

The Class A locomotive had an operating speed of six to ten miles per hour depending on which gear was used. This was slower than the larger Class B and C Climax and other makes of geared locomotives, but was ideal on poor track. All three classes of Climax Locomotives used the same type of trucks. The design used on the Climax truck was the most flexible ever used on any geared locomotive and the center drive allowed them to swivel freely and negotiate the sharpest of curves. The line shafts crossed the axles in the center and were held in place by cross boxes and bearings. This arrangement, plus the springs over each journal bearing, would allow the axles to move up and down on rough track without the slightest binding of the gears which always remained in perfect mesh.

The Class A locomotives were always small and were standardized in twelve, fifteen, eighteen and twenty-two tons sizes. Its combination of low speed and flexible trucks with its light weight, allowed it to run on the lightest rail and rough poorly constructed track with ease and haul a heavy load. In comparison with its weight, it was a very powerful little engine.

Class A Variations

The appearance and appliances of individual Class A locomotives varied considerably. The original open frame canopy style cab was often modified by the owner and was later changed to an enclosed cab by the manufacturer. A few were built with cabs that completely enclosed the locomotive. Larger capacity square water tanks could be ordered and in fact became the standard in the last years of production. Headlights could be any number and mounted in various locations. Bells were rare, but were applied in several instances. The spark arrestors varied from a simple wire screen cage fastened on the top of the stack, to a distinctive Climax style diamond stack. Quite a few Class A locomotives had no spark arrestor at all.

The Class A Climax was constantly improved over the years and the vertical boiler was eliminated. It was first replaced with a round fire box tee shaped boiler, then a square fire box tee boiler, followed later by a taper shell type boiler and finally a larger straight shell type. In 1911, the main frame was redesigned with steel and offered as an option. After it became available, only a limited number were built with wood frames. In 1916, the round water tank was replaced by a larger square water tank.

Wheels were available on the Climax locomotive for all applications. There was a wheel cast with grooves or cleats running across the tread and a deep flange for better traction on wood rail.

There were wheels designed for use on a combination of wood and steel rails concave shaped wheels with double flanges for use on track built from poles and conventional steel tired wheels.

Climax Locomotives were built for track gauges ranging from 24 inches built for a Midwest contractor, up to 9 feet for a Class A locomotive built to operate on a Pole Road in Mississippi.

A small type A Climax was also designed which weighed seven to eight tons. It was basically like the larger engines except that it only had two axles and four driving wheels and did not have the speed gear shift. About four of them were built, but they did not prove successful because of being too light for most logging railroad operations.

The Climax was eminently successful from the very beginning. After the first engine was built, approximately forty locomotives were out-shopped during the next three and a half years. However, there was an increasing demand for larger logging locomotives and it became necessary for Climax to design larger engines. While the Class A was very practical, the nature of its design was not suited for larger locomotives.

The Class B Climax

A larger Climax was designed with a horizontal boiler and with the cylinders arranged in a horizontal position. It also retained the proven Climax truck design, gear train and the two speed gear shift feature. The new engine weighed twenty-eight tons, was designated Class B and resembled the conventional steam locomotive.

The first locomotive of this type (S/N 81) was out-shopped in January, 1891 and was sold to Smith, Glover, and Duncan . A second engine was completed in February, 1891 and shipped to North Carolina. A few others were built, but the design did not prove successful. The chief fault was that too many gears and other working parts were necessary to incorporate the two speed gear shift feature. While the gear shift feature was a desirable and simple arrangement in the Class A, it was too complicated when adapted to the horizontal type engines.

A new Class B Climax was designed which eliminated the gear shift feature and changed the position of the cylinders to an approximate elevation of twenty-five degrees. The first locomotive of this design was built in 1893 and weighed twenty-five tons. It proved an instant success and was the beginning of the long line of Class B locomotives that proved so popular as long as the Climax locomotive was manufactured.

Soon after the first Class B was built, Climax designed and offered their locomotives in several sizes from seventeen to fifty tons. The small seventeen and twenty ton sizes had a tee shaped boiler with a round fire box, which in a few years was changed to a square fire box. The larger sizes used a straight shell boiler for many years, then was changed to a taper shell wagon top boiler. Eventually the Class B was built in sizes ranging from seventeen to sixty-two tons.

The Class C Climax

The first Class C Climax built with three trucks and twelve drivers, was completed in 1897 and shipped to the Colorado and Northwestern Railroad . It was 36 inch gauge and weighed fifty tons. The three truck Climax gradually increased in weight to sixty and sixty-five tons and then to seventy-five and eighty-five tons. Eventually it became standardized in weights from seventy to one hundred tons.

From the beginning, Climax gradually improved their locomotives and added more sizes, which they continued to do as long as the locomotives were manufactured. Eventually the Climax Locomotives were offered in seventeen sizes, in weights from twelve to one-hundred tons.

In 1910, Climax reclassified the sizes of the locomotives to conform with new improvements being made. At this time all straight shell boilers were replaced with taper shell, wagon top type boilers except the Class A and twenty ton Class B engines. Until this time all cabs were of wood, but now, steel cabs were offered as an option. They became so popular that wood cabs were seldom used after this date except on the Class A, that was always built with a wood cab.

Until 1915, all Climax Locomotives used the Stephenson valve gear. At this time it was replaced by the Walschaert valve gear on all sizes of forty-five tons and larger. This proved to be a decided improvement and had the advantage of all the working parts being on the outside of the locomotive and easy to maintain. The Walschaert valve gear was also less likely to get out of adjustment and had less wearing of the working parts, resulting in less maintenance.

In 1922, Climax designed a one-hundred ton, three truck locomotive, which was out-shopped in July, 1923. At the same time, the sixty ton Class B and all Class C locomotives were upgraded with many new features. The main frames were strengthened and many large castings formerly made of cast iron, were now cast from steel. Piston valves replaced the old slide valves and superheaters were added as an optional feature.

Again in 1925 more improvements were made. The main frame was again strengthened by a girder type frame which eliminated truss rods. The engine frames were redesigned with alligator type cross heads, and cast from steel. Cast steel truck frames replaced the arch bar type frames. All weather vestibule cabs replaced the open cabs on all Class C locomotives. This was the first of the improved geared engines offered to the lumbermen and preceded the West Coast Special Heisler and the Pacific Coast Shay by several years.

Climax Production

Climax also built a line of logging cars for many years. Many orders for a locomotive often included several logging cars. Before they began building locomotives, the company had long been engaged in the manufacture of mowers and reapers, stationary steam engines, oil well equipment and other products. However, locomotive production soon reached the point that it taxed the capacity of the plant and all other products were dropped.

During a period of over forty years, Climax built between 1,030 and 1,060 locomotives. They were widely distributed and popular in the lumbering regions throughout the United States and Canada. Many were also exported to foreign countries. They were also much used on mining, industrial switching, plantations, brick yards, short lines and many other specialized railroad uses.

It is difficult to accurately determine the total number of locomotives constructed by Climax due to the assignment of shop numbers and the lack of complete shop records. The assignment of shop numbers was unique, to say the least. Numbers from 1 to 250 or 300 were assigned consecutively. From 250 or 300 through 499, only the odd numbers were used and from 500 through 1000 only even numbers were used. Between 1001 and about 1585 only odd numbers were used, and from 1586 through 1694 all numbers were used except for a few around 1690. 1694 was the highest shop number ever used.

Sometime after 1900 the use of numerical order was discontinued. A batch of builders plates would be cast at one time and placed in a bin. When a locomotive was ready for the builders plates, or plate in the case of the Class A, the first single or matching pair found would be placed on the locomotive. Sometimes plates would be placed on a locomotive boiler on which production was delayed for an extended time or which was built for stock and not sold immediately. This would result in locomotives that appear to be “early” production models often being delivered after “later” production models.

End Of An Era

During the latter half of the 1920’s, the demand for new geared logging locomotives had shrunk to a small portion of what it had been in former years. At this time the owners of the Climax plant were well advanced in years. This and the limited sale of new locomotives induced the owners to sell the business in September, 1928, to the General Parts Corporation . This company had been engaged in purchasing defunct automobile companies and providing a repair parts service. This was also their reason for acquiring the Climax business and they had no intention of continuing to manufacture the locomotive. The only new locomotives they sold after acquiring the plant were two engines completed for stock and four others under construction, which they completed and sold. Others under construction which were partially completed were dismantled for their parts.

General Parts Corporation continued the repair parts service for several years. Later the plant buildings and machinery were sold to others and part of the plant was torn down to make way for a new building to manufacture war material during the Second World War.

Historical Clarifications

Over the years, many inaccuracies about the Climax locomotive have been published in books and articles pertaining to both logging railroads and geared locomotives. These inaccuracies are often the result of over-enthusiastic rail-fans - intrigued by the design of the Shay locomotive - rather than in mechanical design and performance. For example - because of the drive-line arrangement of the Shay, the trucks where sprung on only one side - and thus were prone to derail on the rougher track of the smaller logging operations whereas the Climax and Heisler locomotives with their fully sprung trucks, could handle the roughest track without derailing or loosing tractive effort.

It has often been stated that the Climax was invented as an attempt to improve upon the Shay locomotive. This was hardly the case as development of both locomotives occurred during roughly the same time frame and at locations hundreds of miles apart. It is doubtful that either inventor knew of the others work until after both locomotives were placed on the market.

Experiments by Ephraim Shay and Charles Scott quickly lead both men to realize that a successful logging locomotive had to be as flexible as a loaded log car. However Shay’s design was built to fit existing parts from a wrecked barge, resulting in its odd offset design, while Scott’s locomotive was designed from the rail up to have an even centered power distribution.

An often quoted misconception about the Class B and C Climax Locomotives is that the flywheels that transmitted power to the line shafts resulted in a vibration that would actually cause damage to the locomotive.

The larger Class C locomotives with their larger and heavier parts did create a problem for counterbalancing for more than one speed of the locomotive and resulted in vibration of the crankshaft. The shake was not materially transmitted to the trucks because of their extensive springing and so proved far more uncomfortable than dangerous or damaging. Improvements to the Class C Climax in 1928, virtually eliminated this vibration.

The lesser weight of the parts on the smaller locomotives did not create the centrifugal forces that arose on the large engines so that their counterbalancing was not difficult and the vibration was never a problem for these locomotives.

Another misconception often perpetuated by the authors of these publications is that the Climax locomotive was not as popular as the Shay or other geared locomotives because of the number produced and/or that the Climax was somehow inferior to the competition. In reality, the Climax was extremely popular.

There are numerous documented statements by both lumbermen and locomotive engineers, that attest to the popularity of the Climax locomotive and its ability to perform its intended job. In many instances, where companies operated Climax Locomotives along with the other types of geared locomotives, the Climax was usually the preferred locomotive, especially on the smaller operations with their inherently rough track.

In fact, it has been documented that when a Climax and Shay locomotive of approximately the same size and operating weight were used on a logging railroad, the Climax could always handle more tonnage over the same grades than the Shay.

A typical example of the power and tracking qualities of the Climax versus the Shay on many of the smaller logging railroad operations is that of the Whitmer-Steele Company at Clearfield, Pennsylvania. This operation was started in 1912 with a single 25 ton Class B Climax, No. 2, S/N 155 built in 1896. To supplement its operations, the company purchased a new 24 ton Shay locomotive, No. 5, S/N 2629 built in 1912. The new Shay did not perform as expected.

William Wilson , an employee of Whitmer-Steele related his experiences with the Shay:

“The men were elated when they found they were getting a new locomotive. The No. 2, by now 16 years old, was placed in the engine house as a spare. The engineer for the first trip with the new Shay was Charles Hoffman. The crew was promptly dismayed by the locomotive leaving the rail within a short distance. Thinking little of this, other than it might be expected of a new locomotive, the crew managed to re-rail the engine and got the train to the loading area, but their troubles were far from over.”

“Leaving the valley of Lick Run to climb the Mt. Joy Ridge, it became evident that the locomotive did not have sufficient power to bring the train over the grade. Cutting the train in half, it was then possible to get the train over the hill. But this meant double work for the crew, for they had to return for the other half. Climax No. 2, could handle the same train without doubling the hill.”

“As time passed, the situation, if anything, became worse. The crews spent much of their time re-railing the engine and doubling the hills. What had been the pride of the railroad, soon was put in the engine house and replaced by Climax No. 2.”

Climax No. 2 saw a total of 47 years of service, ending its career at Cornwall, Virginia in 1942. The 24 ton Shay, No. 5, was the only locomotive ever purchased new by Whitmer-Steele and the only Shay ever used by the company.

Watch the video: Identifying Freight Locomotives: Train Talk Ep. 29