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