September 2019

Roundhouse Reports

Latest News on the Bessemer & Lake Erie No. 643

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Disassembly and pre-movement planning for “The King” (former Bessemer & Lake Erie 2-10-4 #643)


The first highway tractor trailer filled with parts removed from former Bessemer & Lake 2-10-4 #643 (nicknamed “The King”) was unloaded last week at Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum in Sugarcreek, Ohio. This huge steam locomotive continues to shed weight, as riggers removed both sand domes, two air compressors, air tanks, lubricators, piping and smoke box door, to name just a few of the detached components. All parts were carefully tagged, cataloged and photographed to insure their expedited and correct reassembly once the boiler, running gear and frame have arrived at #643’s new AoSRM home.

So far, we were pleasantly surprised that most nuts and bolts were loosened with plenty of penetrating oil applied, combined with the sheer human and mechanical pressures applied to remove them. A few holdouts had to be carefully heated or even torched off to surrender their unrelenting grip. Disassembly work occurs under the direction of Tim Sposato, AoSRM’s Chief Mechanical Officer, who, for more than 25 years, has shepherded the care and restoration of all 22 steam locomotives in our collection.

Michael Venezia, project manager for the transport of #643 from its current location in McKees Rocks, Pa., has been meeting with local city officials, crane operators and heavy-haul trucking companies to conduct various route-studies that will provide the ultimate highway designation that is best capable to move the enormously heavy #643. The safe highway routing is the biggest challenge in moving this big 2-10-4, and remains in a very fluid situation. The sheer tonnage could unintentionally damage various underground utilities as we begin these movements, thus making route and engineering studies critical components to our success. Pre-movement meetings and necessary approvals are underway, and there is a very strong likelihood that the locomotive’s frame, driving wheels and running gear might actually move by rail on a many-axled flatcar. Current plans call for moving the tender, boiler and all removed component parts by highway truck. We will keep you updated as final movement decisions are made.

Our film crew has been on site to capture the history and drama of this epic undertaking. All footage— including disassembly, special moments, interviews, historic film, reassembly, restoration and eventual display—will be edited and ultimately formatted into a comprehensive documentary that will be shown at AoSRM. The film crew will employ drone cameras during the heavy lifting, loading and movement phases of the #643 moving project, which will add a great dimension to the finished documentary. So that we may assemble a more complete and accurate record about “The King,” we ask that anyone who has worked with #643 during the past 30 years to share their remembrances, stories and photos of their experiences by contacting AoSRM through our website:

The Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum wishes to thank AGF Company, property owner where B&LE #643 has resided for many years. Their continued support and gracious hospitality have—and will—continue to help the AoSRM team work safely and efficiently as we accomplish our monumental goal. Additionally, the McKees Rocks Police Department and city officials have shared their expertise and support to help us stage and plan all movements of “The King” to its new throne in Sugarcreek, Ohio.

More updates to follow.

Bill Strawn, President and Board Chairman
Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum

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Roundhouse Reports

Bessemer & Lake Erie No. 643 - September Update

The initial study of how best to move Bessemer & Lake Erie 2-10-4 #643 from McKees Rocks, Pa., to The Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum in Sugarcreek, Ohio, has been completed by AoSRM employees and our 643 project manager. Nicknamed “The King,” the 643 will be carefully disassembled into smaller component parts, and then loaded by cranes onto super-haul truck trailers for the all-highway journey to Ohio.

Site preparation in McKees Rocks has begun in order to accommodate the staging of the heavy lift cranes and the 200-foot long super trailers that will be required to move 308.23 tons of iron horse history! B&LE 643’s tender will be moved first, after its wheel sets have been removed and shipped separately due to tonnage and height restrictions along the route. Currently, survey crews are driving and mapping several potential highway routes that will be presented to the Departments of Transportation of both Pennsylvania and Ohio for their approval. This is a very extensive part of the pre-move process necessary to receive the permits that we must have for each truck movement. All underground and overhead utilities, bridges, tunnels, etc., that are located on the selected route must be identified. Because city streets and country roads were not designed to support such a huge load as the 643, any temporary relocation of–or potential damage to–these entities must have a solid mitigation plan in place prior to movement of “The King.”

To reduce tonnage where possible, our current plan provides for the 643 to be stripped of all external, bolted-on appliances (such as the air compressors, injectors, power reverse, etc.). All removed appliances–including the locomotive’s cab and the brakeman’s “doghouse” on top of the tender–will be shipped separately by truck. The boiler will be removed from the frame as one component, and the frame, cylinders and running gear will remain together as the second component, and each will be shipped on a super-haul trailer. Due to the extreme tonnage of each of these components, as well as the hilly highway terrain, each trailer will require a truck on the front to pull, and another on the back end to push, much like railroads do with diesels every day. It is quite possible that two trucks will be pulling and one pushing!

Some may question why B&LE 643 will not be moved by rail. The answer, again, is based on the huge locomotive’s extreme weight and rigid wheelbase length, both of which exceed the maximum bridge capacity and minimum curvature existing on the Ohio Central Railroad.

We will produce a video documentary telling the 643 story from start to finish, as “The King” proudly ascends his throne in the center stall at the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum!

Future 643 reports and updates will be posted on this website.

Bill Strawn
Board Chairman, Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum

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