Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum

Idler Cars - P&LE X300504 and NS 960088

A railroad wreck crane’s constant companion was the idler car, sometimes known as a “boom car.” The idler car was typically a re-purposed flatcar or gondola which would be coupled directly ahead of the crane and below the crane’s long boom, allowing the crane to be coupled to the rest of the train. In addition to providing space for the crane’s boom, the idler car was usually outfitted to carry equipment needed for wreck cleanups, for example tools, spare wheels, or lengths of panel track.

Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum owns two idler cars. Former Pittsburgh and Lake Erie X300504 was the mating idler car for our 160-ton former P&LE wrecking crane. Jerry Jacobson purchased the entire P&LE wreck train in the 1990’s, at which time X300504 became Ohio Central Railroad X502. X300504 was built from a P&LE gondola car.

Former Norfolk Southern idler car 960088 was built from a flatcar and includes special toolboxes and other fittings to carry railroad wheelsets, lifting cables, and tools. Prior to purchase by the Ohio Central, 960088 was assigned to the Bellevue, Ohio wreck train.

Other than a steam loco, nothing says “Old-Time Railroading” more than a wooden water tank—Part 1

By John B. Corns

During the days of steam locomotion every railroad faced the same problem—supplying water to locomotive tenders while the generation of steam by the locomotive constantly emptied the tenders. At one extreme, several first class lines (most notably New York Central and arch rival Pennsylvania) built between-the-rails track pans so that locomotive tenders could lower a scoop into a long trough of water to take water “on the fly” without stopping speeding passenger consists. At the other extreme, some backwoods short lines dropped suction hoses into lineside streams to lazily syphon water up into tenders. Most railroads fell somewhere between and erected elevated water tanks at strategic locations, allowing the force of gravity to quickly supply fresh water down into nearly empty tenders. When located in remote areas, a few houses and stores would occasionally spring up next to these trackside watering facilities, giving rise to the term “tank town.”

Water tanks were constructed of a size suitable to provide ample storage considering locomotive tender size, frequency of refilling, and the source of the water. When located near cities and supplied by a constant source (such as a municipal water system), water tanks could be made smaller because they could be filled rapidly. In areas where the capacity of the ground water source was minimal or irregular, a larger tank would be built for a slow, continual refilling to assure that a sufficient quantity of water was always available for tenders. Also, by using larger tanks, some railroads were often able to get through third trick (night shift) without refilling the tank, thus saving the cost of an additional employee (a water tank pumper) during the least busy time of a 24-hour day.

Originally, all wooden water tanks were built to a slightly conical shape with sides that tapered inward toward the top. The vertical wooden boards in the tank—called “staves”—were tapered, and when assembled, the top of the water-holding “tub” was narrower than the bottom. This was necessary because huge, metal, reinforcing hoops that held the tank together were riveted to their required diameters—widest at the bottom with hoops of gradually diminishing diameters used toward the top—and then with hammers, driven down onto the tapered tub sides until the staves were squeezed together and the fit was tight, just like the construction of a wooden barrel. At the turn of the 20th century and the adoption of sectional, adjustable hoops that were easily bolted together end-to-end, the huge, riveted hoops and tapered staves were no longer needed. Cylindrical-shaped water tank tubs were easily constructed with their circular tops and bottoms having the same diameter, and with truly vertical sides.

Because the cylindrical design was stronger, required less reinforcing than other shapes, and was less expensive to build and maintain, it soon became the industry standard. Because wood was inexpensive, easy to work with, and readily available, lumber was the most common material for erecting railroad water tanks, but each road had its own construction requirements due to geographic, climatic and operational differences. High quality, air-dried lumber that had no knots and no excessive sap was preferred for the tub, with white pine being an economical substitute for “perfect” cypress and redwood staves that were scarce and expensive. Water tanks constructed of untreated lumber were usually painted on the outside of the tubs, while their interiors were either left unpainted or coated with pitch to increase their service life. The American Railway Engineering Association (AREA) set criteria for materials and methods of construction of water tanks, railroad structures, appliances and equipment.

Properly treated and maintained, a water tank’s white pine tub lasted about 20 years, twice as long as supporting timber framework holding up the tub. Wooden tubs usually began to rot from being allowed to dry out, so they were constantly kept full of water to retard decay. Since tubs were not generally filled to the very top, and since the top ends of the staves were deprived of water more often than the bottom ends, the staves’ upper ends began to rot before the rest of the tub. During the 1920s, creosoted lumber for water tank tubs became popular as this permitted the use of cheaper grades of timber during initial construction. Many railroads also adopted treated lumber for construction of the supporting tower framework to reduce the initial cost and long-term maintenance.

Wooden staves for the tub were nominally from 6 to 8 inches wide and of a length suitable for the capacity of the tub. AREA standards required stave thicknesses of 2-1/4” for 50,000-gallon tubs and 3” for 100,000-gallon tubs. (Appropriately, Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum’s 50,000-gallon capacity water tank uses staves made of 2¼”x 6” Western Red Cedar.) Stave side edges were cut or planed on radial lines from the centerline of the tank to assure tight joints between the staves when assembled. Also, the inner and outer surfaces of each stave were “surfaced” to the true circle of the water tank so that the tub was a true, curved cylinder, not a tube having 150 staves with 150 flat outer surfaces! The inner surface of each stave was milled with a 5/8” deep “croze” (channel) measured 4” from the stave’s bottom end to accommodate the tank’s 3-inch thick floor planks. The flooring’s plank ends were cut to the true circle of the tank for a tight fit into the croze. All wooden joints were precisely framed so that the tub structure would be totally watertight without needing caulking compounds to plug leaks.

The vertical wooden staves were held tightly together by hoops of rolled wrought iron whose cross-sections took shape as round, half-round, oval or flat. Each complete hoop consisted of six separate, shorter sections that, when bolted together end-to-end, formed an entire circle of hoop. Each end of each hoop section was threaded so the sections could be held together with turnbuckles or other tensioning devices (called “lugs”) to tighten the entire hoop and form a full circle. (This was easier than handling and installing the old, heavy, 24-foot diameter riveted hoops.) The tightened hoops maintained stave rigidity, provided the tub’s cylindrical shape and provided overall strength with no interior bracing. Because of the weight of the water pushing down from above, the pressure of the water in the tub was greater toward the bottom of the tub. Spacing between the hoops around the top half of a 50,000-gallon tub was about 20 inches and decreased to about a 9-inch spacing toward the bottom. Hoops were rolled into 3 diameters: 1-1/8” for use toward the bottom of the tank where the water pressure was the greatest, 1” hoops for the center and 7/8” hoops for the top of the tub where the water pressure was the least. Iron hoops lasted ten years or so, rusting generally on their inside surfaces (against the wood) where paint and preservatives could not be applied and where inspection and maintenance were difficult. For these reasons, hoops with the smallest surface contact with the wooden staves (i.e., hoops with round cross-sections) rusted less and lasted longer. In fact, more water tank failures were caused by faulty hoops than for any other reason.

Attached to the outside of the tub was vertical depth gauge as a visual indication of how much water (measured in feet) was in the tank. A float inside the tub raised and lowered with the changing water level, and a rope and pulley at the top of the tub connected the float with a weighted depth gauge pointer outside. When the tank was full, the float rode high on the water inside the tub and the pointer was at the bottom of the gauge. As the water was used and the tank was emptied, the water level and float moved downward, causing the pointer to move upward on the gauge, the opposite of what most people expected to see. For this reason, the depth gauge numbers were reversed from top to bottom, with the largest numbers being toward the bottom of the gauge. Of course, gallon-for-gallon, a foot of water in one tub did not equal a foot of water in another tub having a different diameter.

The water tank was usually built with a roof to retain heat in the winter and to keep birds, leaves and dirt out of the water supply. Roofs were generally shingled, and were equipped with a hatch for access to the interior of the tub. An interior ladder was provided down into the tank, while a separate, external ladder extended from ground level up to the roof. A ball, spire or other fancy decoration called a “finial” adorned the top of the roof’s peak.

Alabama, Tennessee & Northern 2-10-0 #401 -- A Locomotive Blessed with the Luck of Lindy

By John B. Corns

The basis for the word Decapod comes from the Greek for “10 footed.” Having 10 driving wheels (or “feet”), the 2-10-0 Decapod-type was a larger outgrowth of the very successful 2-8-0 Consolidation-type that had only 8 driving wheels. The first 2-10-0 prototype was built in 1867 by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, just a year after that same road had introduced America’s first 2-8-0 locomotive. Unfortunately, LV discovered that this first 2-10-0 was impractical due to its long, rigid wheelbase, so the railroad cut it down into a shorter 2-8-0 Consolidation. While the 2-8-0 Consolidation-type was improved continually during the 19th century and became the standard freight train power throughout the industry, the 2-10-0 Decapod languished in relative obscurity until the 1880s.

The Alabama Tennessee & Northern was a 220-mile long short line railroad totally within the state of Alabama. Through various mergers and expansions, the AT&N eventually reached the port of Mobile in 1928, but its rails never got close to Tennessee, or anywhere farther north. During that same year, AT&N ordered from Baldwin Locomotive Works a trio of light 2-10-0 steamers. Decapods were larger and produced more tractive effort (i.e. pulling power) than 2-8-0s and smaller 2-8-2s, but 2-10-0s spread their increased locomotive weight over five driving axles instead of four. This reduced their axle loading to just 19 tons, thus allowing AT&N’s 2-10-0s to operate on the lighter rails used by most short lines snaking throughout the South. The AT&N’s Decapods were numbered 401-403, rolled on 56-inch driving wheels and developed 46,512 pounds of tractive effort through 24”x28” cylinders and Walschaerts valve gear. Their tenders carried 12 tons of coal and 7,000 gallons of water.

AT&N’s 2-10-0s should not be confused with the so-called “Russian Decapods,” a group of 857 light, 2-10-0s constructed in the United States and exported to czarist Russia before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution that would cancel delivery of the remaining order of about 200 of these Decapods. Instead, the stranded Russian 2-10-0s became the property of the United States Government, which then rented them to American railroads during World War I, but only after substituting extra-wide driving wheel tires in order to reduce their wide track gauge from Russia’s 5-feet to America’s 4’8-1/2” Standard Gauge. The 200 Russian Decapods were purchased—and repurchased—by 42 different American railroads, most notably Erie, Seaboard, Frisco and other roads snaking throughout the South. Today, six Russian Decapods and seven other 2-10-0s—13 in all—still survive in the U.S.

During 1927, American aviator Charles Lindbergh became the first person to ever make a non-stop, solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. This difficult and dangerous task—with impossible odds against his success—caused his accomplishment to be celebrated around the globe, and Lindbergh became an instant hero. Even though he did not want to become commercialized, everyone else wanted to become part of the “Lucky Lindy” magic and tried to cash-in on his success. The AT&N operated its own fast freight service, and its steam locomotives even carried brass plaques underneath their front number plates advertising “The Lindbergh” speedy transportation.  

Because of World War II’s sudden and enormous increase in the volume of rail traffic moving through the Port of Mobile, the War Production Board authorized AT&N to purchase diesel locomotives, not steamers. Eleven, American Locomotive Company (Alco) RS1 and two, small, General Electric switchers allowed AT&N to be completely dieselized by 1946, being one of the first railroads of its size to do so. During that year AT&N #401 was sold to the Georgia Car & Locomotive Company, a dealer in used railroad rolling stock, and on May 13, 1948, it was resold to the Woodward Iron Company which renumbered it as #41 (BLW serial number 60341). Woodward’s facilities covered 80,000 acres that were served by a 50-mile, in-plant railroad where #41 pulled trains of coal and limestone from outlying company-owned mines and quarries to WIC’s pig iron-making mills in Woodward, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. Woodward’s blast furnaces turned out high-grade merchant pig iron for shipment to foundries across the U.S. where it was used for casting machinery, auto parts and pipes.

Decapod #41 was in operation at Woodward Iron Company until June 1959, when the locomotive was retired.  During 1964 the Mid-Continent Railroad Museum in North Freedom, Wisconsin, purchased #41 and had it hauled north. Plans to rebuild and operate the 2-10-0 never materialized, and #41 sat as Mid-Continent’s largest locomotive exhibit. Sitting outdoors in Wisconsin’s winter wonderland was tough on the old girl, and deciding that they no longer needed nor wanted this 2-10-0, Mid-Continent put it on the auction block. Due to problems with a flood-weakened local railroad bridge, moving this light 2-10-0 out of the museum with a big articulated truck would be neither easy nor inexpensive, and nobody—and I mean nobody—wanted to place a bid for #41.

However, #41 continued to be blessed by Lucky Lindy in the guise of one bidder. Jerry Jacobson, who had built the Age of Steam Roundhouse and saved 18 other steamers, purchased this 2-10-0 for $11,000 and paid another $90,000 for its move to Ohio. To avoid using that weakened bridge, #41 had to be loaded by a pair of cranes onto a special lowboy trailer with dozens of wheels for a short journey via highway to a railroad siding just a few miles distant. There, the 2-10-0 and its tender were transloaded onto railroad flatcars for the remainder of the trip to Sugarcreek, and arrived at the roundhouse on December 29, 2015, as the 19th steam locomotive saved by Jerry Jacobson. The rusted and moss-covered carcass of Woodward 2-10-0 #41 has been sandblasted, repainted and relettered as AT&N #401, and was given a reproduction brass “The Lindbergh” sign mounted underneath its front number plate. As one of the 13 Decapod-types preserved in the United States, our “Lucky Lindy” locomotive is safely preserved and displayed inside its new, forever home at the renamed Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum.

Boxcar – PRR 51121

Builder:PRR Altoona Shop
Original Owner:Pennsylvania Railroad
Capacity:50 Tons
Class:AAR Class XM, PRR Class X29

Since the US railroads frequently handed off freight cars between each other (the railroad term is “interchange”), it was advantageous to standardize design of cars between the numerous different railroads and companies who owned them. Standardization avoided compatibility issues such as one railroad’s cars not fitting through another one’s tunnels or couplers not matching up.

One of the trade groups driving standardization was the American Railway Association. In 1923, the ARA developed its standard 40′ steel boxcar. The design was successful, with over 300,000 copies built for use on North American railroads. In the 1930’s, the ARA merged with other trade groups to become the Association of American Railroads, an organization which still drives harmonization of railroad technology and designs today.

The Pennsylvania Railroad – which routinely preferred to build its own railcars and locomotives – built over 30,000 of its own ARA 40′ boxcars, and dubbed them its X29 class. Boxcar 51121 was built in the PRR’s Altoona Car Shops in 1929. These cars were used to transport all sorts of crated or boxed goods requiring protection from the elements. At some point – likely during World War II – 51121 was modified for express (i.e. time-sensitive freight) service and renumbered 4996.

After being acquired by Jerry Jacobson in the 1990’s, 51121 received new PRR paint and a quick lettering job to appear in re-created steam freight trains on the Ohio Central Railroad. In 2021 the boxcar was rolled into the Age of Steam Roundhouse Backshop for a more in-depth restoration. Freight Car Restoration Specialist Bill Hanslik led the charge to bring 51121 back to it’s early 1940’s freight look, just before its express modifications. During rust removal the PRR’s Keystone logo was uncovered, likely being applied in the 1950’s.

Rotting metal was removed and new patches were welded in. Wood was replaced on the roof walkway. The car was then primed and painted, with the paint color carefully matched to a paint swatch loaned from the Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society. PRR lettering diagrams were painstakingly followed to confirm the car’s final lettering was spot-on. When boxcar 51121 rolled out of the Backshop in the Summer of 2022, it looked as good as new!

Our thanks to Bruce Smith of the PRRTHS and John Frantz of Mt. Vernon Shops for their contributions of artwork, diagrams and paint swatches to ensure the accuracy of this project.

Morehead & North Fork 0-6-0 #12 – Age of Steam Roundhouse’s First Complete Rebuild

By John B. Corns

American Locomotive Company’s plant in Pittsburg (no “h”, thank you!), constructed saturated A-7 class 0-6-0 #1643 for the Southern Railway in September 1905 (serial #37672). After more than 40 years of service this yard goat was retired and sat in the scrap line until 1952 when purchased by a mundane, 4-mile long short line in Kentucky, the Morehead & North Fork. Renumbered to 12, this 0-6-0 joined M&NF 2-6-2 #11 (Baldwin, 1907) and 0-6-0 #14 (ex-Union RR, Alco 1944) in hauling trains of local clay products, coal and lumber to the Chesapeake & Ohio interchange in Morehead. The M&NF dieselized in 1963 with a pair of Alco S1’s, and railfans came from across the country to find and photograph this obscure steam holdout in its last days.

While serving as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Jerry Joe Jacobson often volunteered for extra duty, and his platoon sergeant would reward him with an occasional weekend pass. Foregoing the usual pleasures sought by young soldiers going to town, Jerry would endure a grueling, all-night 450-mile Greyhound Bus ride up to Clearfield, Kentucky, to see Morehead & North Fork 0-6-0 #12 chugging along in regular service. It was 1962—a year before M&NF dieselized—and Jerry savored the sights, sounds and smells of real steam at work on the 4-mile long short line, making a lasting impression on the young soldier.

The M&NF was abandoned in 1973, but a private owner took possession of the railroad and continued operations for his clay plant with four Baldwin diesels acquired in 1976. C&O successor CSX Transportation removed its track into Morehead during 1985, and for a while the landlocked line operated the occasional steam-powered—and then diesel-powered—tourist trains until 1995. Steam sisters #11 and #14 were sold and preserved elsewhere (and even operated), but 0-6-0 #12 was shoved into the M&NF’s ramshackle shed in next-door Clearfield. With no heat in the damp shed, the loco rusted badly, moss grew and #12 was mostly forgotten.

However, Jerry Jacobson never forgot about #12 and for twenty years he sought to acquire it, but the family that owned this venerable 0-6-0 wanted to hang on to their last vestige of their long-gone M&NF railroad. Finally, in late 2011 the late locomotive owner’s widow and son agreed to a sale, and plans were formed for the retrieval of the isolated 0-6-0 and haul it over the highway to Ohio. Being light in weight and not very tall, transportation of the tender was pretty easy, and it was unloaded at Jerry’s Age of Steam Roundhouse facilities in November.  However, moving the 68-ton, 14-foot six-inch tall #12 to the roundhouse by highway became a comedy of errors, but no one was laughing. Most amazing was the fact that this small loco loaded on a special low-frame truck trailer was still too tall to fit underneath some overhead bridges on the Interstate highway, a transportation system that had been built ostensibly for our country’s national defense. Who would’ve thought any differently?

Unbelievably, it required five separate attempts during a three-month period to get #12 loaded and moved to Ohio. The first trucking company got last-minute cold feet (“We’re supposed to move that train this morning, but we never hauled anything that big before. Good-bye.”). The second company arrived with a too-short truck trailer  (“Darn—I thought I measured that right—I guess not.”). A third truck had transmission troubles (“Yep. She blowed-up jest like a hand grenade.”), and permit expirations (“While a-waitin’ for our truck to be fixed, the permits expired and we forgot to check ‘em before we showed up the second time.”), and repeated police escort scheduling delays (“No officers are available today. Call back next week.”). And when #12 did arrive in Sugarcreek, the Ohio Highway Patrol escort insisted the 0-6-0 be delivered to the Age of Steam office address in downtown Sugarcreek, not out at the roundhouse where the locomotive was destined! Finally, on February 7, 2012, the 0-6-0 was lifted off its 50-wheel, 13-axle trailer and delivered to Jerry’s roundhouse facility. Whew!

After restoration by AoSRH’s squad of steam professionals in the new back shop (including an all new tender body bolted onto the original frame), 0-6-0 #12 was steamed-up on July 16, 2018, as the first derelict steam locomotive totally rebuilt for service at AoSRH. Unfortunately, Jerry had passed away in September 2017, ten months before #12 was first steamed up at the roundhouse to soldier-on once again. But #12 chuffs around the property now, teaching new generations of steam devotees how to fire-up, operate and maintain a real, living, breathing steam locomotive, fulfilling both Jerry’s dreams and Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum’s mission.

Insulated Boxcar – URTX 26571

Builder:General American Transportation Corp.
Original Owner:United Reefer Transit
Capacity:40 Tons
Class:AAR Class RS (special service refrigerated car)

Built in 1931 for United Reefer Transit, this insulated boxcar was leased to Libby, McNeill & Libby. It carried canned fruits, vegetables, and meats to market from Libby’s manufacturing facilities.

United Reefer Transit was one of numerous railcar leasing firms at that time, a business that continues to this day. Companies – such as Libby’s – found it more economical to lease cars to carry their products instead of owning their own fleets or using railroad-owned cars. Leased railcars were frequently painted with the lessee’s logo or corporate colors.

By the 1930’s most boxcars were built from steel. However, this car’s design used double layers of wood sheathing to take advantage of wood’s better insulating qualities. Not to be confused with a refrigerator car, which carries onboard refrigeration equipment, this insulated boxcar could not provide cooling for its contents. Instead, it was used to keep its cargo cool in hot weather or prevent its contents from freezing during winter months.

After acquiring URTX 26571 from another museum, Age of Steam Roundhouse crews extensively renewed the external wood sheathing. The repainted car provides a splash of color on a tour of the Roundhouse.