Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum Receives Its 23rd Steamer

Previous slide
Next slide

Earlier today the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum in Sugarcreek, Ohio, safely unloaded its newest acquisition, a rare Reading Railroad “Camelback” steam locomotive #1187 constructed in 1903. It is the 23rd steam locomotive acquired for Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum’s collection, and is one of only three Camelbacks still existing, all the others being scrapped and melted down by the mid-1950s.

On July 15, the locomotive was sold in a closed-bid auction held at the Strasburg RR in Pennsylvania, with the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum placing the highest bid. The sale price was not disclosed. Moved to Ohio by three highway trucks, #1187 and its accompanying coal-carrying water tender were rolled off their trailers this morning. A third trailer carrying #1187’s parts will be delivered tomorrow.

“This Reading 0-4-0 Camelback is a unique, unusual and significant type of steam locomotive that is a welcome addition to the Age of Steam Roundhouse,” said William Strawn, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Jerry and Laura Jacobson Foundation, Inc., the organization that provided the funds to build AoSRM. “This tiny switch engine rolled on just 4 driving wheels and was able to negotiate tight curves to move railroad cars at factories or waterfront docks. The #1187 was the last Camelback used in regular freight railroad service (1962), and in 1967, with a special Strasburg RR train, made its last run under steam. We are adding another one of a Jerry’s goals to our steam collection,” Strawn added.

Camelback #1187 is a former Philadelphia & Reading Railroad 0-4-0 steam switcher that was specially designed to burn the smokeless anthracite “hard coal” found in eastern Pennsylvania. The Camelbacks needed a special, wider firebox to burn anthracite coal with its lower heating value than found in other types of coal. Consequently, engineers had to operate these locomotives inside a separate cab that was mounted on top of the boiler. It was this hump-back appearance resembling the desert-dwelling animal that gave rise to their nickname, “Camelback.” Firemen shoveled coal into the wide firebox in the usual manner, but from their own small, open-sided cab located at the back of the locomotive. Therefore, the engineer and fireman had to work in two separate cabs on the same locomotive. Perched in his tight cab located atop a Camelback’s hot boiler, the engineer roasted during the summers, and working in his tiny, open-air cab during the winters, the fireman froze.

From 2008-2012, Jerry and Laura Jacobson of Sugarcreek constructed their historically accurate Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum. The late Mr. Jacobson was the owner and operator of the 550-mile Ohio Central Railroad System. Jerry loved old-time steam locomotives and acquired 22 of them for his private collection, believed to have been the world’s largest, privately-owned collection of steam locos. Mr. Jacobson sold his railroads, and spent the remainder of his life constructing his 18-stall roundhouse and back shop complex to restore and display his stable of iron horses. Today, Mrs. Jacobson kindly continues Jerry’s “love of locomotives” tradition and generous support as begun by her late husband.

“Even though #1187 appears in rough shape, AoSRM has all of its parts except for its wood cab that has rotted away,” said Tim Sposato, Chief Mechanical Officer at AoSRM and who shepherded #1187 to its new home in Ohio. “Luckily, included with the locomotive’s purchase is the original drawing of #1187’s cab. That will be a huge help in AoSRM’s cosmetic restoration of this rare little switcher.”

Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum acquires a rare steam locomotive

EG Brooke camel back #1187 1958

The Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum in Sugar Creek, Ohio, is happy to announce that it was the high bidder for an unusual “Camelback” steam locomotive in a sealed-bid auction held on July 15, 2020, at the Strasburg Railroad in Pennsylvania. The amount of the winning bid was not disclosed.

A rare Camelback type of locomotive, #1187 is a former Philadelphia & Reading Railroad 0-4-0 steam  switcher constructed in 1903 that was specially designed to burn the smokeless anthracite “hard coal” found in deposits across the eastern part of Pennsylvania. It was the last Camelback steam locomotive in regular Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) service, and is one of only three such Camelbacks still in existence, all the others having been scrapped and melted down by the mid-1950s.

“The addition of this historically significant locomotive to the museum’s collection was important due to our founder Jerry Joe Jacobson’s long desire to acquire, restore and display it at the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum,” stated Executive Director Noel Poirier. “We are ecstatic and proud to honor Mr. Jacobson’s legacy by successfully acquiring #1187.”

Because of the special firebox construction needed by these Camelbacks to burn anthracite coal with its lower heating value than found in other types of coal, the engineer had to sit and operate his engine in a cab mounted on top of the boiler instead of being attached in its usual location at the back end of the boiler. It was this hump-back appearance resembling the desert-dwelling animal that gave rise to the Camelback nickname of those steam locomotives having this unusual construction.

The fireman shoveled coal into the huge firebox in the usual manner, but from his own small, open-side cab located where the locomotive’s larger cab was normally located. Therefore, engineer and fireman had to work in two separate locations on the same engine, a situation that could be dangerous during the operation of the locomotive. Perched in his cab located atop a Camelback’s hot boiler, the engineer roasted during the summers, and working in his open-air cab during the winters, the fireman froze.

Construction of the beautiful Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum was completed in 2012 by Jerry and Laura Jacobson of Sugarcreek. The late Mr. Jacobson was the owner and operator of the 550-mile Ohio Central Railroad System. He loved old-time steam locomotives and was fortunate to acquire 22 of them for his private collection. In 2008 Mr. Jacobson sold his railroads, and spent the remainder of his life constructing this beautiful, 18-stall roundhouse and back shop complex to restore and display his stable of iron horses, which is believed to have been the world’s largest privately-owned collection of steam locomotives. Mrs. Jacobson continues that “love of locomotives” tradition and generous support begun by her late husband.

“Even though Camelback steam locomotives were operated primarily on a dozen railroads back East, they were also used on railroads out West, in Maine, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and even up in Canada,” Mr. Poirier added. “During the 1880s, three Camelbacks were operated on the predecessor of the railroad that borders our Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum property here in Sugar Creek.”

The Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum offers summertime tours, occasional fire-ups of some of our steamers, and many other special events. We are a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Please visit our website at: , or visit us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Bessemer & Lake Erie No. 643 Update

Boiler and Chassis separated
643's Tender in the Back Shop
The Tender's "Doghouse"
Previous slide
Next slide

The winter months and holidays have slowed the movement of B&LE #643 running gear and boiler arrival to the Roundhouse.  However, behind the scenes efforts continue to work out all the intricacies with local and state authorities for using roadways.  Several decisions are also being evaluated regarding the use of railroad flat cars.    Labor and cost are driving factors in this decision making.     We feel that work should be resuming shortly, weather permitting.

Meanwhile the No. 643 tender was inspected and repaired as needed.  The coal bunker and stoker auger system has been thoroughly cleaned of coal, scaled rust and other debris.  This area was painted with good a rust preventive primer and finish coated with gloss black.   The upper elements of the tender that were removed to lower the height for road travel have been carefully reinstalled in their original locations.

The use of the original stoker motor was very beneficial in helping clean the bunker out.  We were very pleased with its performance as it took little effort to start up and run flawlessly for several days of use.

The Brakeman’s cabin, also known as the “doghouse”, was repaired while it was removed, including the rusted areas in the well area in which it sits.  After several good coats of paint in the well, the doghouse was re-bolted to the tender deck.   

The bottom of the tender cistern has eight washout plugs and these have been removed and the water compartment is currently receiving a complete descaling and flushing out of loose scale and flaked rust.  The tender journals looked very well maintained but were still cleaned and had fresh oil applied.  Plans are in place for the entire tender body to be sandblasted to grey metal and repainted using high quality industrial paint.         

In conclusion, Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum would like to thank all of you that have donated to, offered support for, and well wishes for this complicated yet exciting project. 

More updates will be forthcoming as we gain momentum in the next phase.       

It has been a very busy few months at the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum! Our talented team has been working on a number of restoration / conservation projects and educational initiatives.

Passenger Cars

Open-window coaches #3659, #4979 and #5010 were sold in our October 1, 2019 auction, and should be moving to their new owners during November.

AoSRM’s former Canadian National/Via combine #9300 has had its old roof repaired with a new rubberized/fiber roof. Built as a coach by Canadian Car & Foundry in 1954, this car was rebuilt by CN as a 52-seat combine and is air conditioned.

Former Pittsburgh & Lake Erie wreck train diner White Castle is also receiving repairs with a rubberized/fiber roof. This car was built in 1918 by Pullman as open-section sleeper Aukland, ending its career in P&LE’s 6-car wreck train outfit. All 6 of the cars are in AoSRM’s collection.

Our crew/tool car #5012 Conneaut (a former Wabash RPO/coach) will soon receive the same type of roof repairs as applied to White Castle. Built in 1920, the post-steam-era career of Conneaut saw its use behind more fantrip steamers than probably any other fantrip-era crew car.

Previous slide
Next slide

Steam Locomotives

Boiler work on former McCloud River RR 2-8-2 #19 is nearing completion. Smaller items to seal-up the boiler—washout plugs, boiler studs, water glass fittings, globe valves and a host of others—are being installed for #19’s upcoming hydrostatic test. The locomotive’s front tender truck is being reassembled, which includes installation of the newly reprofiled wheel sets.

Former Morehead & North Fork 0-6-0 #12 was shined-up, fired-up and steamed-up to and from the spiffed-up Sugarcreek depot to participate in the village’s annual Swiss Festival. Each fall, Sugarcreek transforms itself into a lively Swiss village, celebrating the rich cultural heritage of the village’s founders. The recently refreshed depot featured roundhouse displays, information and AoSRM souvenir items. Accompanying jet-black steamer #12 for the long weekend was AoSRM’s beautifully restored, fire engine-red, ex-Wheeling & Lake Erie steel caboose #0222.

The big news this month is that the big, 23-ton/27,000-gallon tender from our big Bessemer & Lake Erie 2-10-4 #643 has arrived safely at the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum. Lifted off its big Buckeye 6-wheel trucks and devoid of everything removable to reduce weight, the 49-foot long tender was loaded onto a highway trailer at #643’s storage site in McKees Rocks, Pa. Snaking under tight-clearance overhead bridges and see-sawing around sharp street corners, doubled-headed highway trucks were needed to urge the big load up the steep on-ramp to Route 51 at the start of the journey to Ohio. Wonderful cooperation was extended by all on-line police and sheriff departments to be sure that this tender movement occurred without incident. The tender arrived in Sugarcreek on the afternoon of October 18, 2019, was easily unloaded the next morning, and set upon its Buckeye tender trucks once again.

Meanwhile, work continues in McKees Rocks to separate #643’s huge boiler and piping from the massive 2-10-4’s frame, cylinders and driving wheels. Removed #643 parts are catalogued and moved to Sugarcreek by the truckload (4 so far) for installation onto the 2-10-4 when boiler and frame have been reunited. This #643 project is similar to constructing an H-O model locomotive, but in a scale of 12-inches to the foot. We’ll update our progress in future Roundhouse Reports.

Previous slide
Next slide

Winter Programming & News

The Roundhouse may be locked up for the cold winter months, but we are welcoming a lineup of knowledgeable presenters sure to please any off season visitor with discussions on a variety of railroad topics. Join us at the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum throughout the off season for our Winter Speaker Series in the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum Depot Visitor Center scheduled monthly December through April 2019-2020. Our first speaker is Mr. Ted Goodman, architect of the Roundhouse, who will discuss the design process and construction of the roundhouse from its foundation to its roof. Click here for details.

We’re also having a holiday sale on all Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum merchandise purchased from our online store! Just enter WHISTLE as a coupon code at checkout and receive a 10% discount!

Santa Comes to the Roundhouse

Visit Santa at the Roundhouse on Saturday December 14th between 12 pm and 2 pm! Enjoy complementary hot cocoa and cookies in the Age of Steam Depot, observe a special holiday model train display, and have your picture taken with Santa surrounded by our historic collection of steam locomotives in our authentic 20th century Roundhouse! Click here for details.

Vortic Watch Railroad Edition Winner!

Almost 5000 people entered to win the inaugural season Age of Steam Roundhouse / Vortic Watch Railroad Edition wristwatch. We are happy to announce that the watch was won by Lea Reiter of California. Congratulations Lea! Thank you all for your support of the Roundhouse Museum and our mission. We hope to partner more with Vortic Watch in the future, so keep an eye out!

2019 Tour Season

Just some of the people that helped make this first season of public tours a success! Thank you to everyone who visited, volunteered and contributed! Tickets for next season are on sale now!

Latest News on the Bessemer & Lake Erie No. 643

Previous slide
Next slide

Disassembly and pre-movement planning for “The King” (former Bessemer & Lake Erie 2-10-4 #643)

The first highway tractor trailer filled with parts removed from former Bessemer & Lake 2-10-4 #643 (nicknamed “The King”) was unloaded last week at Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum in Sugarcreek, Ohio. This huge steam locomotive continues to shed weight, as riggers removed both sand domes, two air compressors, air tanks, lubricators, piping and smoke box door, to name just a few of the detached components. All parts were carefully tagged, cataloged and photographed to insure their expedited and correct reassembly once the boiler, running gear and frame have arrived at #643’s new AoSRM home.

So far, we were pleasantly surprised that most nuts and bolts were loosened with plenty of penetrating oil applied, combined with the sheer human and mechanical pressures applied to remove them. A few holdouts had to be carefully heated or even torched off to surrender their unrelenting grip. Disassembly work occurs under the direction of Tim Sposato, AoSRM’s Chief Mechanical Officer, who, for more than 25 years, has shepherded the care and restoration of all 22 steam locomotives in our collection.

Michael Venezia, project manager for the transport of #643 from its current location in McKees Rocks, Pa., has been meeting with local city officials, crane operators and heavy-haul trucking companies to conduct various route-studies that will provide the ultimate highway designation that is best capable to move the enormously heavy #643. The safe highway routing is the biggest challenge in moving this big 2-10-4, and remains in a very fluid situation. The sheer tonnage could unintentionally damage various underground utilities as we begin these movements, thus making route and engineering studies critical components to our success. Pre-movement meetings and necessary approvals are underway, and there is a very strong likelihood that the locomotive’s frame, driving wheels and running gear might actually move by rail on a many-axled flatcar. Current plans call for moving the tender, boiler and all removed component parts by highway truck. We will keep you updated as final movement decisions are made.

Our film crew has been on site to capture the history and drama of this epic undertaking. All footage— including disassembly, special moments, interviews, historic film, reassembly, restoration and eventual display—will be edited and ultimately formatted into a comprehensive documentary that will be shown at AoSRM. The film crew will employ drone cameras during the heavy lifting, loading and movement phases of the #643 moving project, which will add a great dimension to the finished documentary. So that we may assemble a more complete and accurate record about “The King,” we ask that anyone who has worked with #643 during the past 30 years to share their remembrances, stories and photos of their experiences by contacting AoSRM through our website:

The Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum wishes to thank AGF Company, property owner where B&LE #643 has resided for many years. Their continued support and gracious hospitality have—and will—continue to help the AoSRM team work safely and efficiently as we accomplish our monumental goal. Additionally, the McKees Rocks Police Department and city officials have shared their expertise and support to help us stage and plan all movements of “The King” to its new throne in Sugarcreek, Ohio.

More updates to follow.

Bill Strawn, President and Board Chairman
Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum

[wpedon id=1955]

The initial study of how best to move Bessemer & Lake Erie 2-10-4 #643 from McKees Rocks, Pa., to The Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum in Sugarcreek, Ohio, has been completed by AoSRM employees and our 643 project manager. Nicknamed “The King,” the 643 will be carefully disassembled into smaller component parts, and then loaded by cranes onto super-haul truck trailers for the all-highway journey to Ohio.

Site preparation in McKees Rocks has begun in order to accommodate the staging of the heavy lift cranes and the 200-foot long super trailers that will be required to move 308.23 tons of iron horse history! B&LE 643’s tender will be moved first, after its wheel sets have been removed and shipped separately due to tonnage and height restrictions along the route. Currently, survey crews are driving and mapping several potential highway routes that will be presented to the Departments of Transportation of both Pennsylvania and Ohio for their approval. This is a very extensive part of the pre-move process necessary to receive the permits that we must have for each truck movement. All underground and overhead utilities, bridges, tunnels, etc., that are located on the selected route must be identified. Because city streets and country roads were not designed to support such a huge load as the 643, any temporary relocation of–or potential damage to–these entities must have a solid mitigation plan in place prior to movement of “The King.”

To reduce tonnage where possible, our current plan provides for the 643 to be stripped of all external, bolted-on appliances (such as the air compressors, injectors, power reverse, etc.). All removed appliances–including the locomotive’s cab and the brakeman’s “doghouse” on top of the tender–will be shipped separately by truck. The boiler will be removed from the frame as one component, and the frame, cylinders and running gear will remain together as the second component, and each will be shipped on a super-haul trailer. Due to the extreme tonnage of each of these components, as well as the hilly highway terrain, each trailer will require a truck on the front to pull, and another on the back end to push, much like railroads do with diesels every day. It is quite possible that two trucks will be pulling and one pushing!

Some may question why B&LE 643 will not be moved by rail. The answer, again, is based on the huge locomotive’s extreme weight and rigid wheelbase length, both of which exceed the maximum bridge capacity and minimum curvature existing on the Ohio Central Railroad.

We will produce a video documentary telling the 643 story from start to finish, as “The King” proudly ascends his throne in the center stall at the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum!

Future 643 reports and updates will be posted on this website.

Bill Strawn
Board Chairman, Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum

[wpedon id=1955]