Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum

Bessemer & Lake Erie No. 643

Specifications
Builder:Baldwin Locomotive Works – Philadelphia, PA.
Built:1944
Serial Number:#70057
Wheel Arrangement:2-10-4 “Texas”
Driver Diameter:64″
Cylinder Bore x Stroke:31”x 32”
Boiler Pressure:250 psi
Pulling Power:96,700 lbs. tractive effort (109,800 lbs. with trailing truck booster engaged)
Engine Weight: 523,600 lbs. (261.8 tons)
Tender Weight:377,740 lbs. (188.87 tons)
Length:112 ft.
Fuel: Coal
Capacity:Coal- 26 tons; water – 23,000 gallons
Class:H1g
Status:Non-Operational

The Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum (AoSRM) in Sugarcreek, Ohio, is excited and pleased to announce that it has successfully acquired B&LE 643, which is the only remaining 2-10-4 Texas Type steam locomotive of the 47 built for the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad.

B&LE 643 is a heavy-haul steam locomotive that was designed and built to move iron ore, coal, and other high-density commodities to and from the Great Lakes region. Built in 1944, the 643 saw an early retirement in 1952 due to the increased introduction of diesels to the Bessemer & Lake Erie’s locomotive roster. Fortunately, the 643 and two other smaller steamers were preserved by the B&LE in its roundhouse in Greenville, Pa.

B&LE 643 will become the largest locomotive in the AoSRM collection. This behemoth is just over 108’ long, stands over 16’ high, and weighs 308.32 tons without coal and water. Add 26 tons of coal, and 23,000 gallons of water, and B&LE 643 tops the scales at 908,720 lbs., or more than 454 tons!

AoSRM founder, Jerry Jacobson, nicknamed B&LE 643, “The King,“ as it is believed to be one of the largest non-articulated steam locomotives in the world. It had been Jerry’s life-long desire to acquire this historic iron giant to restore and display with the other 21 steam locomotives in his collection. The Board of Directors and dedicated Staff at the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum, are deeply grateful to Glenn Campbell and The Steel City Railway Historical Society for saving B&LE 643 in McKees Rocks, Pa., and for their selflessness, by assuring the locomotive’s long-lived future at the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum.

The Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum would like to recognize and honor the efforts of The Ernest Stern Family and his son, Rick Stern, of Pittsburgh for their direct and dedicated involvement in the critical phases of restoration of B&LE 643. Their one time ownership, and financial investment in the 643, are responsible for much of the early work performed that has greatly helped its survival for these many years!

The King has arrived!

On January 31, 2024, former Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad steam locomotive #643 arrived at the Age Of Steam Roundhouse Museum.  With the arrival of the boiler and running gear, the entire locomotive is all together again and fulfills a lifelong dream of our Founder Jerry Jacobson.

Volunteer Documents

Feel free to download these documents and share them with potential volunteers.

Volunteer Application

Blank application for volunteering for the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum

Volunteer Emergency Contact Form

Blank Emergency Contact Form

Volunteer Waiver

Blank volunteer waiver

Volunteer Rights & Responsibilities

A list of your rights and responsibilities as an AOSRM Volunteer

Volunteer Appreciation Dinner

The Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum recently gathered its volunteer corps to thank them for a job well done. This year marked the beginning of public tours and programs at the Roundhouse. Volunteers contribute to everything from guiding tours to turning nuts in the restoration shop.

Museum staff thanked every volunteer for their support throughout the year, but for the first time the Museum also presented two awards in recognition of special contributions to the institution throughout the 2019 tour season. The Volunteer of the Year Award is for the volunteer who best exemplifies the spirit of the institution’s founders, Jerry and Laura Jacobson, and their love for steam locomotives, commitment to historic preservation, and joy of sharing those passions with the public. Chief Mechanical Officer Tim Sposato announced the winner of the Master Mechanic’s Award, given to a volunteer in recognition of their special contributions to the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum’s restoration efforts.

This year’s award winners where two longtime friends of the Jacobson family. The Volunteer of the Year Award went to Brittany Rodgers of West Lafayette who remembers Jerry inviting her into the cab of steam locomotives as a child and became a mainstay volunteer once the Roundhouse opened to the public in May of this year. The Master Mechanic’s Award went to Mike Costill of Canal Fulton who grew up as a childhood friend of Jerry’s and has been involved in his railroad and steam operations over the years. Mike volunteers regularly in the back-shop aiding with restoration jobs and often helps to guide tours and work with the public during special events.

The Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum is currently accepting new volunteers for the 2020 tour season. Perspective volunteers can find applications and information online at https://ageofsteamroundhouse.org/about-us/volunteer/. The roundhouse is open for public tours May through October on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 10AM, 12PM, and 2PM. Tickets can be purchased online at https://ageofsteamroundhouse.org/events/

Brittany Rogers and Mike Costill holding their certificates of appreciation

It has been a very busy few months at the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum! Our talented team has been working on a number of restoration / conservation projects and educational initiatives.

Passenger Cars

Open-window coaches #3659, #4979 and #5010 were sold in our October 1, 2019 auction, and should be moving to their new owners during November.

AoSRM’s former Canadian National/Via combine #9300 has had its old roof repaired with a new rubberized/fiber roof. Built as a coach by Canadian Car & Foundry in 1954, this car was rebuilt by CN as a 52-seat combine and is air conditioned.

Former Pittsburgh & Lake Erie wreck train diner White Castle is also receiving repairs with a rubberized/fiber roof. This car was built in 1918 by Pullman as open-section sleeper Aukland, ending its career in P&LE’s 6-car wreck train outfit. All 6 of the cars are in AoSRM’s collection.

Our crew/tool car #5012 Conneaut (a former Wabash RPO/coach) will soon receive the same type of roof repairs as applied to White Castle. Built in 1920, the post-steam-era career of Conneaut saw its use behind more fantrip steamers than probably any other fantrip-era crew car.

Previous slide
Next slide

Steam Locomotives

Boiler work on former McCloud River RR 2-8-2 #19 is nearing completion. Smaller items to seal-up the boiler—washout plugs, boiler studs, water glass fittings, globe valves and a host of others—are being installed for #19’s upcoming hydrostatic test. The locomotive’s front tender truck is being reassembled, which includes installation of the newly reprofiled wheel sets.

Former Morehead & North Fork 0-6-0 #12 was shined-up, fired-up and steamed-up to and from the spiffed-up Sugarcreek depot to participate in the village’s annual Swiss Festival. Each fall, Sugarcreek transforms itself into a lively Swiss village, celebrating the rich cultural heritage of the village’s founders. The recently refreshed depot featured roundhouse displays, information and AoSRM souvenir items. Accompanying jet-black steamer #12 for the long weekend was AoSRM’s beautifully restored, fire engine-red, ex-Wheeling & Lake Erie steel caboose #0222.

The big news this month is that the big, 23-ton/27,000-gallon tender from our big Bessemer & Lake Erie 2-10-4 #643 has arrived safely at the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum. Lifted off its big Buckeye 6-wheel trucks and devoid of everything removable to reduce weight, the 49-foot long tender was loaded onto a highway trailer at #643’s storage site in McKees Rocks, Pa. Snaking under tight-clearance overhead bridges and see-sawing around sharp street corners, doubled-headed highway trucks were needed to urge the big load up the steep on-ramp to Route 51 at the start of the journey to Ohio. Wonderful cooperation was extended by all on-line police and sheriff departments to be sure that this tender movement occurred without incident. The tender arrived in Sugarcreek on the afternoon of October 18, 2019, was easily unloaded the next morning, and set upon its Buckeye tender trucks once again.

Meanwhile, work continues in McKees Rocks to separate #643’s huge boiler and piping from the massive 2-10-4’s frame, cylinders and driving wheels. Removed #643 parts are catalogued and moved to Sugarcreek by the truckload (4 so far) for installation onto the 2-10-4 when boiler and frame have been reunited. This #643 project is similar to constructing an H-O model locomotive, but in a scale of 12-inches to the foot. We’ll update our progress in future Roundhouse Reports.

Previous slide
Next slide

Winter Programming & News

The Roundhouse may be locked up for the cold winter months, but we are welcoming a lineup of knowledgeable presenters sure to please any off season visitor with discussions on a variety of railroad topics. Join us at the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum throughout the off season for our Winter Speaker Series in the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum Depot Visitor Center scheduled monthly December through April 2019-2020. Our first speaker is Mr. Ted Goodman, architect of the Roundhouse, who will discuss the design process and construction of the roundhouse from its foundation to its roof. Click here for details.

We’re also having a holiday sale on all Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum merchandise purchased from our online store! Just enter WHISTLE as a coupon code at checkout and receive a 10% discount!

Santa Comes to the Roundhouse

Visit Santa at the Roundhouse on Saturday December 14th between 12 pm and 2 pm! Enjoy complementary hot cocoa and cookies in the Age of Steam Depot, observe a special holiday model train display, and have your picture taken with Santa surrounded by our historic collection of steam locomotives in our authentic 20th century Roundhouse! Click here for details.

Vortic Watch Railroad Edition Winner!

Almost 5000 people entered to win the inaugural season Age of Steam Roundhouse / Vortic Watch Railroad Edition wristwatch. We are happy to announce that the watch was won by Lea Reiter of California. Congratulations Lea! Thank you all for your support of the Roundhouse Museum and our mission. We hope to partner more with Vortic Watch in the future, so keep an eye out!

2019 Tour Season

Just some of the people that helped make this first season of public tours a success! Thank you to everyone who visited, volunteered and contributed! Tickets for next season are on sale now!

Latest News on the Bessemer & Lake Erie No. 643

Previous slide
Next slide

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: www.ageofsteamroundhouse.org

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

[wpedon id=1955]

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

[wpedon id=1955]