Reading 0-4-0 “Camelback” No. 1187

Builder:Baldwin Locomotive Works – Philadelphia, Penn.
Serial Number:#21831
Wheel Arrangement:0-4-0
Driver Diameter:50″
Cylinder Bore x Stroke:16″ x 24″
Boiler Pressure:200 psi
Pulling Power:20,890 lbs. tractive effort
Engine Weight:52 tons
Length:48′ 10″
Fuel:Anthracite Coal
Capacity:Coal – 5.5 tons; Water – 3,500 gallons

Railroads – like any well-run business – constantly seek to control costs and find more efficient methods to accomplish their goals. One of the more unique ways this concept manifested itself in the early days of steam railroading was the innovative “Camelback” locomotive design.

The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad served numerous anthracite coal mines in Eastern Pennsylvania. Anthracite is harder and denser than typical bituminous coal and burns slowly with high heat and minimal smoke. These properties made anthracite a popular choice for heating buildings in the days before gas and electric heating. The mines shipped anthracite in gravel-sized lumps; the remaining dust and small pieces (referred to as “culm”) were piled outside the mine and forgotten about.

John Wooten served as the General Manager of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad beginning in 1876, having previously worked as the P&R’s Superintendent of Motive Power. He noted the growing culm piles along the railroad and envisioned using this anthracite waste for low-cost locomotive fuel. To do so, the locomotive firebox needed to be wider and shallower than the designs that were then popular. By widening the firebox grate to the full width of the locomotive and moving it above the drive wheels, Wooten created a locomotive which could make use of anthracite and save his company money. With these changes, however, the locomotive cab no longer could fit on the rear of the boiler; the solution was to move it forward, straddling the boiler in front of the firebox. The engineer would operate the engine from this cramped enclosure; the fireman scooped coal while standing on the tender deck and was almost completely exposed to the elements. This unique design was nicknamed “Mother Hubbard” or, more popularly, “Camelback.”

The Camelback concept saw mixed success; anthracite-hauling railroads embraced the idea but the engines were never especially popular with crews. The cramped cab sat directly over the driving rods, which put the engineer in danger should a rod break at speed. The fireman suffered through all four seasons of Pennsylvania weather with minimal shelter. Noting these safety concerns, the Interstate Commerce Commission eventually outlawed construction of new Camelbacks in the late 1920’s.

Philadelphia & Reading 0-4-0 #1187 was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1903. After a long career switching cars in yards for its owner (and its successor, the re-organized Reading Company), the engine was sold into industrial use with the E&G Brooke Iron Company in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania and re-numbered #4. The Strasburg Railroad – a pioneering tourist railroad in Lancaster County, PA – acquired the engine in 1962, and it was run to Strasburg under its own power. The little Camelback proved too light for most of Strasburg’s trains, and it last ran in 1967. After being displayed in the Strasburg yard as well as at the neighboring Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, the engine was eventually deemed surplus. Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum purchased #1187, and the engine arrived at the Roundhouse on August 3rd, 2020. Plans call for this unique addition to receive a full cosmetic restoration in the future.