Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum

Canadian Pacific #1278 4-6-2 – The unheralded hero of modern-day steam

By John B. Corns

A little-known landmark locomotive is located at the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum in Sugarcreek, Ohio. Most railfans know how former Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 #1278 gained notoriety for its infamous crown sheet incident in 1995, but far fewer fans are aware that this trim Pacific-type set the stage for an entire industry of privately-funded restorations of privately-owned steam locomotives that were returned to operation to pull main line excursions. Without the early-day fantrip successes of #1278, there would have been no Ross Rowland and his fantrip-operating High Iron Company, no rebirth of NKP 2-8-4 #759 (the first main line steam locomotive resurrected from the dead), no Reading 4-8-4 #2101, no Texas & Pacific 2-10-4 #610, no Southern Pacific 4-8-4 Daylight #4449 and no Chesapeake & Ohio 4-8-4 #614. There would have been no American Freedom Train, no Chessie Steam Special, no Chessie Safety Express, nor many other notable steam trips on main lines and short lines all across the Eastern U.S. The superb performance of #1278 astonished early doubters and ensured the continuance of future fantrips by the High Iron Company. All subsequent steam locomotive resurrections during the past half-century owe their restorations and revivals to this one G-5d, former Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 #1278.

Pacific #1278 was one of thirty, G-5d class engines built for CP during 1948 at Canadian Locomotive Company in Kingston, Ontario (serial #2435). Their low-weight, 117-ton construction was perfect for light-rail and branch line duty on CP passenger and freight trains. These 4-6-2s had a perfect power-to-weight ratio and were known as “diggers” that dug in and ran as fast as engineers dared. The more you beat them, the hotter they got—800 degrees F steam heat going into the cylinders, so hot that sometimes their shiny piston rods turned blue! The balanced design of the G-5d had the advantage of a perfect ratio of crank position to small-ish, 70-inch driving wheels. That is important because of the increased number of power strokes per mile, compared with locos having larger drivers but less power. This G-5d steamer loved screaming uphill with 17-20 coaches and 1% grades.

The #1278 was equipped with all modern devices of the day, including an Elesco 5-poppet front-end throttle, an Elesco feedwater heater and a mechanical stoker. Inside the firebox, new style button-head staybolts were used to affix the steel crown sheet. A big advantage was #1278’s small firebox with no large, expansive sheets, thus reducing thermal stresses because of limited strain due to less expansion and contraction. The G-5d locos had very strong fireboxes, but with generous grate areas and big ash pans. Like all of CP’s G-5d locos, #1278 had a slotted dry pipe and, therefore, needed no steam dome. They were easy to fire, easy to maintain, and strong as an ox! All G-5d Pacifics have all-weather aluminum cabs, but climb onto the engineer’s seat on a hot July day and you will soon learn that the poorly ventilated, hot, enclosed space is better suited to Canada’s cold winter weather.

Along with CP 4-6-2 sisters #1246 and #1293, #1278 was purchased (in 1965) by F. Nelson Blount for use at his expanding Steamtown USA museum and Green Mountain tourist train operation in Bellows Falls, Vermont. Retired in 1960, #1278 still had flue time, so was put to work running at Steamtown…and elsewhere. The first High Iron Company fantrip occurred on October 13, 1966, between Jersey City, NJ, and Jim Thorpe, Pa., and used Steamtown’s #1278 to pull the 15-car train at 70 mph (track speed) for most of the way. Nelson Blount, the loco’s owner, was invited to be the guest engineer on the homeward trip and commented afterward, “Thank you so much for arranging this trip. I’ve been dreaming all my life what it must be like to run at track speed and now I know. I just had the best experience of my life!” Less than a year later Mr. Blount died in a small plane accident.

All of the G-5d locos used a vertical, coil-type Elesco feedwater heater resembling a lady’s hatbox that projected upward out of the top of the smokebox in front of the smokestack. Specifications for #1278 are the same as for all of Canadian Pacific’s G-5d 4-6-2’s, except that #1278 now uses a bundle-type Elesco feedwater heater inside a horizontal tube mounted transversely across the top of the smokebox. While at Steamtown, the #1278’s original hatbox-style feedwater heater was changed to this more traditional style Elesco model.

During the winter of 1968, two steam locomotives were quickly set up as emergency boilers for the municipal steam plant in the city of Reading, Pa. They had been scheduled to pull a double-headed fantrip that January, but were diverted to stationary boiler duty. Steamtown’s #1278 and Strasburg RR’s 2-10-0 #90 were then called in to pinch-hit for the two sidetracked steamers, and the double-headed trips ran flawlessly and on-schedule. Later, #1278 was renumbered to #127, continued running at Steamtown, and during 1970-71 was leased to the Cadillac & Lake City in Michigan. To commemorate the Delaware & Hudson’s 150th anniversary, during 1973 the #1278 was given huge “elephant ear” smoke deflectors, a sunken headlight mounted inside the smokebox. and was renumbered as D&H #653 for a series of successful fantrips. After Steamtown had moved to its new home at Scranton, Pa., the lighter #1278 was traded during 1987 to the Gettysburg RR in exchange for that road’s larger, ex-Canadian National 2-8-2 #3254, a more powerful steamer that was now needed to handle additional cars on Steamtown’s steeper main line grades through the Pocono Mountains. This trade would change fantrips forever.

On the evening of June 16, 1995, the juxtaposition of lax maintenance, poor employee training and operational errors at the Gettysburg RR combined to cause the boiler water level to drop too low and the steel in #1278’s crown sheet to become soft, sag and partially fail when the staybolts pulled through the weakened steel. That small rupture in the boiler and immediate discharge of steam eliminated the internal pressure, thus allowing boiler water to expand 1,600 times its own volume! In an instant, all water in the boiler flashed into steam. The blast of escaping steam, called a BLEVE (an acronym for “boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion” and pronounced “blevy”) burned three crewmen. The National Transportation Safety Board investigated, determining that the modern, Canadian design of the firebox with button-head staybolts reduced the size of the crown sheet failure and may have prevented additional injuries and perhaps deaths. Because of this incident, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) developed an all-new set of rules for the maintenance and operation of steam locomotives.

The ex-Gettysburg RR equipment was sold at auction during 1998, and Jerry Jacobson purchased both #1278 and a small Frisco 2-8-0 #76 (which he sold later to another museum). Today, CP 4-6-2 #1278 is displayed in the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum as a monument to its seminal role in the steam resurrection of the 1960s, and for its pivotal role in the rewriting of the FRA’s so-called “New Steam Rules” for better locomotive maintenance, employee training and safety. All of us are safer today—and into the future—because of #1278’s bad experience.

Photo: #612 under steam at Fort Eustis, Virginia in 1957 with a silver-painted smokebox and yellow pilot and footboards.

#2630 “G.I.” 2-8-0 United States Army Transportation Corps (USATC)

By John B. Corns

As a naive teen-ager I was not enthralled with the flat sandbox, European-style buffers and somewhat awkward appearance of the U.S. Army’s 2-8-0 Consolidation-type steam locomotives that had been constructed during World War II. Each had a single 11-inch air compressor mounted on one side of the loco’s front that imparted a lopsided, unsymmetrical appearance. Worse yet, they employed a tiny “black-out” headlight or no headlight at all. These ugly ducklings looked nothing like NYC’s handsome Hudson 4-6-4s or PRR’s pretty Pacific 4-6-2s.

What I did not know then was that these U.S. Army 2-8-0 locos—all 2,120 of them—were part of the largest class (S160) of steamers ever constructed in the 48 States. These standard-design, standard-gauge “G.I.” 2-8-0s (government issue, a military term) were constructed during World War II by U.S. locomotive builders Alco, Baldwin, and Lima (and in Canada) for railroad service in North Africa, Asia, England, South America and all of Western Europe. (Special, 5-foot, wide-gauge 2-8-0s were built here and shipped to Russia.) The idea was to build a no-nonsense locomotive that could be operated almost anywhere in the world, using standardized parts and appliances that were interchangeable among all locos of this class. Measuring just 12 feet 10-1/2-inches high and only 8 feet wide, these compact Consolidations were designed with small loading gauges (dimensions) for use on existing British railways whose own steamers had been destroyed by German bombing. The G.I. loco could fit through tight-clearance tunnels and was light enough for operations on any standard-gauge track. They used standard, off-the-shelf features such as self-cleaning smokeboxes, welded steel fireboxes, rocking grates, hopper ashpans and other American innovations and conveniences mostly unheard of in England at that time.

The first G.I. 2-8-0 constructed was #1702, completed on October 22, 1942, at Baldwin Locomotive Works. (It never left the U.S. and exists today at the Great Smokey Mountains tourist railroad in Sylva, North Carolina.) Decorated with the Stars and Stripes and a red, white, and blue Union Jack, the first G.I. 2-8-0 arriving overseas was #1609, being unloaded in South Wales on December 13, 1942. Immediately given the sobriquet of “Yanks” by the thankful, locomotive-starved Brits, about 800 G.I. 2-8-0s were placed into service on British rails during the first years of World War II, with many being shipped across the English Channel to the European continent after D-Day. Like much military equipment headed into battle, G.I. 2-8-0s were intended for a short-duration existence of only six-years, but many saw service in far-flung areas of the world for three more decades. Eight G.I. 2-8-0s have been preserved on American soil, while about two-dozen others survive worldwide.

Built at Baldwin during 1943, the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum’s Yank carried serial number 69857 and road #2630, but was never shipped overseas. It remained stateside and was used to train soldiers in locomotive operations and maintenance at the U.S. Army Transportation School at Ft. Eustis, Virginia. The #2630 was renumbered 612 in 1954, and remained on active duty for the Ft. Eustis Military Railroad until the end of steam operations there during 1972. Later that year, #612 was donated to the Cass Scenic RR in West Virginia to pull passengers, but this 2-8-0 was never fired-up after a flood washed-out a portion of the line. During 2010, the rusted #612 was sold to a noted locomotive restoration expert who trucked it to a railroad museum in Georgia for storage, inspection, and repair. Some work was performed, but it was too much for one man to accomplish.

The long-suffering G.I. #612 was purchased by Jerry Joe Jacobson, a veteran of the U.S. Army’s distinguished 82nd Airborne Division. On May 13, 2015, several highway trucks delivered the disassembled, disparate parts of #612 to his beautiful Age of Steam Roundhouse and locomotive back shop complex located in Sugarcreek, Ohio. A crew of steam locomotive professionals cosmetically restored and repainted #612 into its earlier olive drab appearance as United States Army Transportation Corps #2630. A few parts remain missing, but it is 95% complete. This former ugly-duckling locomotive has been transformed into a handsome-appearing and respect-deserving War Baby, a surviving member of America’s World War II-era “Arsenal of Democracy.”

This rugged U.S. Army veteran has an unremarked, yet interesting and proud past, for which all of us at AoSRM say, “Thank you for your service!”

The “Fireless Cooker” -- Columbus & Southern Ohio Electric Company #2

By John B. Corns

In its basic form, a steam locomotive was a railroad machine that burned fuel with fire to heat water contained in a boiler to make steam, and that pressurized steam pushed against pistons that were connected to cranks on the wheels, causing them to rotate to produce power and the motion necessary to pull a train. Pretty basic, eh? Well, there was once a type of locomotive even simpler than that—it had no fire and did not burn fuel to boil the water!

Boiling is the physical process where a liquid (in this case, water) turns into a gas (steam) when heated to its boiling point. The boiling point of water is the temperature when boiling occurs. When molecules of a liquid are heated, they begin to move around and spread apart. If the molecules are heated to the boiling point, they will be able to spread out enough to change from a liquid state to a gaseous state—bubbles form and boiling occurs. At the normal atmospheric pressure of 14.7 psi (pounds per square inch) water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, pressure on the surface of water keeps the water molecules contained. When pressure is higher, it takes more energy (heat) to bring water to the boiling point. Inside a tightly sealed pressure vessel, the water is heated and eventually boils into steam. Since the steam cannot escape, it collects in the top of the boiler. All of those trapped water molecules in the steam increase the pressure inside the boiler, and boiling stops until the steam pressure is reduced. Water under pressure does not boil at 212 degrees F, and will not—cannot—produce steam at that temperature. When pressure is applied to water, its boiling point rises—the higher the pressure, the higher the boiling point. For example, if water in a boiler is under a pressure of 50 psi, the water will boil when its temperature reaches 281 degrees; under a pressure of 250 psi water will boil only at a temperature of 401 degrees.

Using this scientific principle of how pressure affects the boiling point of water, the commercial locomotive builders designed small switching locos that, when filled initially with a charge of hot water and steam, could continue generating their own steam for about 8 hours, and without the need for a fire. Such “fireless” steam locomotives were popular for use in areas where flammable substances were handled, such as in textile mills, chemical plants and coal-burning power plants. Nicknamed “fireless cookers” after the then-popular “pressure cooker” top-of-stove kitchen device, fireless locos operated without the need of a fire to heat boiler water to make steam. Instead, these engines were built with heavily insulated boilers to store both pressurized steam and hot water that were supplied from a separate source. Insulated boilers had to contain heat because there was no fire.

As a fireless cooker performs work and uses steam, its boiler pressure and boiling point of water are both reduced, thus allowing the superheated water inside the boiler to begin boiling again and make additional steam. Steam is produced, collected at the top of the boiler and is available to continue providing uninterrupted power for the locomotive. When the steam pressure rises again, the water stops boiling and the entire process is repeated over-and-over until there is not enough hot water remaining in the boiler to produce steam, even at low pressure. Then it was time for another injection of hot water and steam from the separate source to recharge the boiler. Typically, fireless cookers could be operated for about eight hours on a single charge of superheated water and steam.

On January 23, 2018, the Age of Steam Roundhouse acquired its 20th steam locomotive, former Columbus & Southern Ohio Electric Company 0-4-0F #2. Constructed by Heisler Locomotive Works in 1940, this fireless locomotive was used at C&OSE’s electric generating plant in Groveport, Ohio. It had 250 psi in its boiler, which was reduced to 75 psi for use in its 21”x20” cylinders to turn small 36-inch driving wheels. As such, #2 developed just 14,700 pounds of tractive effort. Though not very powerful, this fireless cooker had to move only a few loaded or empty coal hopper cars at any given time—why pay for more tractive effort than would ever be needed? Along with fireless sister 0-4-0F #1, these little locomotives were donated in 1965 to the Penn-Ohio Railfan’s Association, and they were stored out in an open field near Canfield. During 1974 loco #2 was acquired by and moved to the Old Express restaurant in Sharon, Pa. A truck stop company named Travel Centers of America acquired that property, and their new plans did not include this old locomotive. So, the Age of Steam Roundhouse offered to purchase this fireless cooker at scrap value and preserve it indoors at its beautiful loco display and restoration facility in Sugarcreek, Ohio. A highway truck backed-up to #2, and the 54-ton 0-4-0F was winched aboard the lowboy trailer for its 112-mile trip to AoSRH (since renamed Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum).

Nickel Plate 2-8-4 #763 — Queen of the NKP and Queen of the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum

By John B. Corns

They were 80 of America’s finest steam locomotives, designed and built in Ohio to race—at passenger train speeds—freight trains filled with perishable meat and vegetables from Western suppliers to East Coast markets. They were fast, economical. beautiful and beloved by legions of railroad buffs. They were the Nickel Plate Berks, or, more properly, the 2-8-4 Berkshire-type steam locomotives of the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railway. Fifteen NKP Berks were built in 1934 by American Locomotive Company (Alco), and the remaining 65 were constructed by Lima Locomotive Works during World War II until 1949 when NKP 2-8-4 No. 779 rolled out of the erecting shop as Lima’s last steam locomotive. Six NKP Berks still survive, and one—No. 765—still operates.

These so-called “Van Sweringen Berkshires” were operated by 4 of the railroads controlled by the brothers Van Sweringen—Pere Marquette, Chesapeake & Ohio, Nickel Plate Road and Erie railroads—and shared a common heritage. They were designed by the Advisory Mechanical Committee (AMC), a consortium of locomotive experts from these four railroads who collaborated with Lima to produce some of the finest reciprocating steam power ever to turn a wheel. For the first time a locomotive’s boiler could develop and sustain more steam than its cylinders could use. No longer did a loco have to stop and “build up steam.” The AMC had advanced the then-new concept of Super Power where steam locomotives produced their maximum horsepower at high speeds, not maximum tractive effort at slow speeds as in the earlier era of drag-freights plodding along at 7 miles per hour.

Nickel Plate’s 2-8-4s were positioned at several major terminals across its 523-mile Chicago to Buffalo main line, with intermediate division points located in Fort Wayne (Indiana), and at Bellevue and Conneaut (Ohio). A freight train would usually be operated from one division point to the next where its steamer was replaced at each successive terminal with a different, “fresh” locomotive. Each “old” locomotive was turned around, serviced (given coal, water, lubricants and minor repairs), and then used on another freight train to get back to its home terminal. Through experience and daily repetitions, the Nickel Plate had orchestrated these freight runs down to tightly kept schedules that relied on optimal performance by men and machines. On-time connections with other railroads were imperative to prevent delays to the perishable fresh meat, fruits and vegetables inside the ice-refrigerated freight cars (“reefers”). The Nickel Plate was famous for its High Speed Service, the company’s slogan that was proudly emblazoned in large lettering across the sides of its caboose fleet.

With World War II raging all around, American railroads needed a continual stream of new steam locomotives to move men and matériel across the network of steel rails, which was dubbed “The Lifeline of the Nation.” The Nickel Plate turned again to on-line Lima for its third batch of “War Baby” Berkshires. These thirty S-2 class 2-8-4s were considered as the best steam locomotives ever owned by the NKP, with locomotive #763 being the “Queen of the NKP.” The #763 was completed and shipped to the Nickel Plate Road on September 1, 1944.

The widespread use of more efficient, internal combustion diesel locomotives surged after World War II, and old-fashioned steam locomotives were displaced gradually from American railroads. There were a few hold-outs where steam still ruled the rails, most notably the Norfolk & Western, Grand Trunk Western, and Duluth Missabe & Iron Range, all of which ran their last steamers in 1960. The Nickle Plate had to dieselize during July 1958 (two years earlier than planned) because it could no longer get spare parts to repair its steamers. NKP Berk #763 was outshopped at Conneaut in August 1957, and made its break-in run with westbound freight train #35 on September 1, as seen in this remarkable “panned” photograph (above) by noted NKP historian, John A. Rehor.

The #763 was operated successfully until its last run in June 1958, but was held in steam with several other NKP 2-8-4s until July 21 when their fires were finally dropped. Main line steam was dead on the Nickel Plate Road. The #763 sat in Conneaut but was never donated as planned to the city of Erie, Pa., and during 1966 NKP successor N&W took #763 to its headquarters city of Roanoke, Virginia, for display at a museum there. Jerry Jacobson purchased #763 in 2007 and moved it on its own wheels to his Ohio Central Railroad System. He then built his beautiful Age of Steam Roundhouse in Sugarcreek, Ohio, to protect and preserve his collection of steam locomotives. NKP #763—the Queen of the NKP and the Queen of the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum— will soon be joined by a steam locomotive nicknamed “The King,” former Bessemer & Lake Erie 2-10-4 #643.

After taking time to analyze the best available information concerning the Covid-19 pandemic I have decided to err on the side of caution. In an attempt to follow the lead of Governor DeWine and after considering the official advice offered by officials at both the state and federal levels by the Ohio Health Department and the CDC we are postponing both the safety video recording scheduled for next week on March 27th-28th and the CPR/First Aid course that was originally scheduled for the morning of Saturday April 4th.

At this time, planning is difficult as it is unclear when the governor’s orders for social distancing and the Health Department’s official advice will be lifted but I will be in touch with you as soon as we are able to reschedule times for these important projects.

Please feel free to let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

I want to thank you for your patience and understanding in these uncertain times.

Thank you and take care,
Mr. Taylor Little

Bessemer & Lake Erie No. 643 Update

Boiler and Chassis separated
643's Tender in the Back Shop
The Tender's "Doghouse"
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The winter months and holidays have slowed the movement of B&LE #643 running gear and boiler arrival to the Roundhouse.  However, behind the scenes efforts continue to work out all the intricacies with local and state authorities for using roadways.  Several decisions are also being evaluated regarding the use of railroad flat cars.    Labor and cost are driving factors in this decision making.     We feel that work should be resuming shortly, weather permitting.

Meanwhile the No. 643 tender was inspected and repaired as needed.  The coal bunker and stoker auger system has been thoroughly cleaned of coal, scaled rust and other debris.  This area was painted with good a rust preventive primer and finish coated with gloss black.   The upper elements of the tender that were removed to lower the height for road travel have been carefully reinstalled in their original locations.

The use of the original stoker motor was very beneficial in helping clean the bunker out.  We were very pleased with its performance as it took little effort to start up and run flawlessly for several days of use.

The Brakeman’s cabin, also known as the “doghouse”, was repaired while it was removed, including the rusted areas in the well area in which it sits.  After several good coats of paint in the well, the doghouse was re-bolted to the tender deck.   

The bottom of the tender cistern has eight washout plugs and these have been removed and the water compartment is currently receiving a complete descaling and flushing out of loose scale and flaked rust.  The tender journals looked very well maintained but were still cleaned and had fresh oil applied.  Plans are in place for the entire tender body to be sandblasted to grey metal and repainted using high quality industrial paint.         

In conclusion, Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum would like to thank all of you that have donated to, offered support for, and well wishes for this complicated yet exciting project. 

More updates will be forthcoming as we gain momentum in the next phase.