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.