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.