August 2020

Reading 0-4-0 "Camelback" No. 1187

Builder:Baldwin Locomotive Works – Philadelphia, Penn.
Serial Number:#21831
Wheel Arrangement:0-4-0
Driver Diameter:50″
Cylinder Bore x Stroke:16″ x 24″
Boiler Pressure:200 psi
Pulling Power:20,890 lbs. tractive effort
Engine Weight:52 tons
Length:48′ 10″
Fuel:Anthracite Coal
Capacity:Coal – 5.5 tons; Water – 3,500 gallons

Railroads – like any well-run business – constantly seek to control costs and find more efficient methods to accomplish their goals. One of the more unique ways this concept manifested itself in the early days of steam railroading was the innovative “Camelback” locomotive design.

The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad served numerous anthracite coal mines in Eastern Pennsylvania. Anthracite is harder and denser than typical bituminous coal and burns slowly with high heat and minimal smoke. These properties made anthracite a popular choice for heating buildings in the days before gas and electric heating. The mines shipped anthracite in gravel-sized lumps; the remaining dust and small pieces (referred to as “culm”) were piled outside the mine and forgotten about.

John Wooten served as the General Manager of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad beginning in 1876, having previously worked as the P&R’s Superintendent of Motive Power. He noted the growing culm piles along the railroad and envisioned using this anthracite waste for low-cost locomotive fuel. To do so, the locomotive firebox needed to be wider and shallower than the designs that were then popular. By widening the firebox grate to the full width of the locomotive and moving it above the drive wheels, Wooten created a locomotive which could make use of anthracite and save his company money. With these changes, however, the locomotive cab no longer could fit on the rear of the boiler; the solution was to move it forward, straddling the boiler in front of the firebox. The engineer would operate the engine from this cramped enclosure; the fireman scooped coal while standing on the tender deck and was almost completely exposed to the elements. This unique design was nicknamed “Mother Hubbard” or, more popularly, “Camelback.”

The Camelback concept saw mixed success; anthracite-hauling railroads embraced the idea but the engines were never especially popular with crews. The cramped cab sat directly over the driving rods, which put the engineer in danger should a rod break at speed. The fireman suffered through all four seasons of Pennsylvania weather with minimal shelter. Noting these safety concerns, the Interstate Commerce Commission eventually outlawed construction of new Camelbacks in the late 1920’s.

Philadelphia & Reading 0-4-0 #1187 was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1903. After a long career switching cars in yards for its owner (and its successor, the re-organized Reading Company), the engine was sold into industrial use with the E&G Brooke Iron Company in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania and re-numbered #4. The Strasburg Railroad – a pioneering tourist railroad in Lancaster County, PA – acquired the engine in 1962, and it was run to Strasburg under its own power. The little Camelback proved too light for most of Strasburg’s trains, and it last ran in 1967. After being displayed in the Strasburg yard as well as at the neighboring Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, the engine was eventually deemed surplus. Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum purchased #1187, and the engine arrived at the Roundhouse on August 3rd, 2020. Plans call for this unique addition to receive a full cosmetic restoration in the future.


Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum Receives Its 23rd Steamer

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Earlier today the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum in Sugarcreek, Ohio, safely unloaded its newest acquisition, a rare Reading Railroad “Camelback” steam locomotive #1187 constructed in 1903. It is the 23rd steam locomotive acquired for Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum’s collection, and is one of only three Camelbacks still existing, all the others being scrapped and melted down by the mid-1950s.

On July 15, the locomotive was sold in a closed-bid auction held at the Strasburg RR in Pennsylvania, with the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum placing the highest bid. The sale price was not disclosed. Moved to Ohio by three highway trucks, #1187 and its accompanying coal-carrying water tender were rolled off their trailers this morning. A third trailer carrying #1187’s parts will be delivered tomorrow.

“This Reading 0-4-0 Camelback is a unique, unusual and significant type of steam locomotive that is a welcome addition to the Age of Steam Roundhouse,” said William Strawn, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Jerry and Laura Jacobson Foundation, Inc., the organization that provided the funds to build AoSRM. “This tiny switch engine rolled on just 4 driving wheels and was able to negotiate tight curves to move railroad cars at factories or waterfront docks. The #1187 was the last Camelback used in regular freight railroad service (1962), and in 1967, with a special Strasburg RR train, made its last run under steam. We are adding another one of a Jerry’s goals to our steam collection,” Strawn added.

Camelback #1187 is a former Philadelphia & Reading Railroad 0-4-0 steam switcher that was specially designed to burn the smokeless anthracite “hard coal” found in eastern Pennsylvania. The Camelbacks needed a special, wider firebox to burn anthracite coal with its lower heating value than found in other types of coal. Consequently, engineers had to operate these locomotives inside a separate cab that was mounted on top of the boiler. It was this hump-back appearance resembling the desert-dwelling animal that gave rise to their nickname, “Camelback.” Firemen shoveled coal into the wide firebox in the usual manner, but from their own small, open-sided cab located at the back of the locomotive. Therefore, the engineer and fireman had to work in two separate cabs on the same locomotive. Perched in his tight cab located atop a Camelback’s hot boiler, the engineer roasted during the summers, and working in his tiny, open-air cab during the winters, the fireman froze.

From 2008-2012, Jerry and Laura Jacobson of Sugarcreek constructed their historically accurate Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum. The late Mr. Jacobson was the owner and operator of the 550-mile Ohio Central Railroad System. Jerry loved old-time steam locomotives and acquired 22 of them for his private collection, believed to have been the world’s largest, privately-owned collection of steam locos. Mr. Jacobson sold his railroads, and spent the remainder of his life constructing his 18-stall roundhouse and back shop complex to restore and display his stable of iron horses. Today, Mrs. Jacobson kindly continues Jerry’s “love of locomotives” tradition and generous support as begun by her late husband.

“Even though #1187 appears in rough shape, AoSRM has all of its parts except for its wood cab that has rotted away,” said Tim Sposato, Chief Mechanical Officer at AoSRM and who shepherded #1187 to its new home in Ohio. “Luckily, included with the locomotive’s purchase is the original drawing of #1187’s cab. That will be a huge help in AoSRM’s cosmetic restoration of this rare little switcher.”