Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway 0-6-0 No. 3960

Builder: W&LE Brewster Shops – Brewster, Ohio
Built: June 1935
Serial Number: #33
Wheel Arrangement: 0-6-0 Switcher
Driver Diameter: 51″
Cylinder Bore x Stroke: 21″ x 28″
Boiler Pressure: 200 psi.
Pulling Power: 41,200 lbs. of tractive effort
Engine Weight: 82.5 tons
Weight on Drivers:
Fuel: Coal
Status: Non-Operational

To save about $7,000 per locomotive over the cost of commercially constructed locos, the ever-thrifty Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway built twenty 0-8-0 switch engines between 1928 to 1930 in its well-equipped back shop in Brewster, Ohio. As 0-8-0’s were being successfully completed and deployed, the W&LE decided to turn to 0-6-0’s. Between 1929 and 1940, Brewster built 30 home-grown 0-6-0’s which were copies of the proven United States Railroad Administration design. All fifty locomotives included modern Nicholson thermic syphons in their fireboxes and Chambers front-end throttles in the smokeboxes. As was W&LE practice, road number series reflected 10 percent of an engine’s tractive effort, the 3951-3980-series for the B-5 class 0-6-0s, and the 5106-5125-series for the larger C-1a class 0-8-0s. It was very unusual for a small, 481-mile long railroad to construct any steam locomotives, but W&LE Brewster Shop built 50 of them!

After 7,230 manhours and at a cost of $28,686.56, 0-6-0 No. 3960 was completed at Brewster on June 8, 1935. Nearby Canton was home to the Timken Roller Bearing Company, and locomotives and freight cars of on-line W&LE were used to test the then-new idea of applying roller bearings to railroad equipment. Completed on September 25, 1935, W&LE 0-6-0 No. 3965 was the world’s first steam switcher built with roller bearings on all axles, including tenders (12.5 tons of coal and 8,150-gallons of water), as were all subsequent Brewster 0-6-0s.

All fifty Brewster-built switchers became property of the Nickel Plate Road with the December 1, 1949, leasing of W&LE by NKP. The homemade 0-6-0s were renumbered 351 to 380, with former W&LE No. 3960 becoming NKP No. 360. During its last year of active duty, No. 360 was assigned in Zanesville and made its last run under steam on October 31, 1957, when it chugged past a corn field that—53 years later—would become the site of the Age of Steam Roundhouse. In 1957, ex-W&LE 2-8-2 No. 6008 was chosen for display in Canton’s Mother Goose Land Park, but was later deemed too heavy and expensive to make the short, four-block trip by truck from the nearest rail siding. So, the smaller No. 360 was pulled from the dead line, cosmetically restored in Brewster Shop and placed into the park on June 19, 1958.

By 1971 weather had taken its toll on the engine, so a local W&LE fan cut off the boiler jacket with a hammer and chisel, and removed the water-logged asbestos insulation surrounding the rusting boiler and cylinders. Repainted in a thick coat of black enamel, NKP No. 360 was relettered to its original identity as W&LE No. 3960. The engine continued to sit outside and slowly deteriorate in Canton, eventually being acquired by the Silver Throttle Engine Association and Museum (STEAM), a group which had formed to restore it. In 1991, the engine was removed from the park, and after stops in south Canton and Louisville ended up in Minerva, Ohio. In the mid-2000’s, with STEAM low on funds, Jerry Jacobson attempted to acquire the engine, even sending a diesel locomotive and three coaches to Minerva to trade for the #3960. However, STEAM soon disbanded, and it was determined that Canton still had legal claim to the engine, setting off a decade-long discussion over No. 3960’s future.

After years of communications, the city finally placed No. 3960 up for auction, and Age of Steam Roundhouse was the high bidder. The wayward switcher is badly deteriorated and in need of significant work, but it is finally home in Sugarcreek and will eventually receive a full cosmetic restoration.