Saturday, March 11, 2017

Old Locomotives

Who loves old trains? If you raised your hand, then you'll like today's post. 

Let's start with this nice photo of a huge locomotive (circa 1971) as it passes through some unknown location. This was known as the Nickel Plate Road 759, a 2-4-8 "Berkshire" type locomotive, built in 1944 in Lima, Ohio. It was a fast freight locomotive, and was in service until 1959, when it was placed into storage. I would imagine that by 1944, traditional steam locomotives were already on the wane, with diesel becoming increasingly popular.

In 1965 it was purchased by F. Nelson Blount for display at Steamtown U.S.A. in New Hampshire, where it was restored to operating condition. It was used for hauling his Golden Spike Centennial Limited for the 100th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. According to Wikipedia, it was used for numerous excursions until it was retired once more in 1977.

Here's a modern day photo of the same locomotive on display at Steamtown in Scranton, PA. It looks fantastic!

This next photo was taken in November, 1973 - once again, the location is unknown. This odd looking contraption is called the "Best Friend of Charleston", and according to my pal Mr. Wikipedia,  "It is widely acclaimed as the first locomotive to be built entirely within the United States for revenue service". It was built in 1830, and was used in regular passenger service along a six mile demonstration route in Charleston (South Carolina). 

The "Best Friend" was also the first locomotive in the U.S. to suffer a boiler explosion, killing the fireman (the engineer survived uninjured). Salvageable parts were used to build another locomotive known as the Phoenix, which ran up until the Civil War. 

SO... this is clearly a replica of the original "Best Friend". One operable replica was built in 1928 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road; I suspect that's the one shown in the photo below. 

Here is an early diagram showing the "Best Friend"...

I hope you have enjoyed these vintage choo-choos!


Nanook said...


I'd probably have another moniker for my "best Friend", had her boiler explosion killed the fireman-! But then again, you can't go by me. And if the USAF 1673 is any clue, it's known as "Little Blue", and is an 80-ton center switcher (Model R5-4-T) built in November, 1952 by General Electric. Unfortunately that won't help us ID its location in this picture.

Can't wait to hear from Steve D.

Thanks, Major.

Unknown said...

Love that big ol' living steel that is our heritage of steam locos. For what it's worth the Berkshire is a 2-8-4, not 2-4-8 ;cause the middle number indicates the number of driven wheels. It's hard to convey, at times with only a photo, just how big and hefty locos from the late steam era really are.

Unknown said...

And a fun fact to casually drop when you're hanging around with your train pals: Lima Locomotive Works (and Lima, Ohio for that matter) is pronounced Lye-muh not Leema or anything else. It always looked weird to me but I guess it's just the same as Lima Beans...

MRaymond said...

I don't know why but steam locomotives just scream power. I know diesel has more but diesels are "just there". Steam has presence. It must be all the exposed moving parts and clouds of steam.

K. Martinez said...

Steam, diesel, electric! I love all trains and locos. This one is a beauty. Whenever the opportunity arises, I love to walk around old rail yards and look for old freight cars (usually covered in graffiti). There's just something about railroads and the connection to our country's history that is fascinating and wonderful.

Luckily up here in Santa Cruz, we have two excursion railroads running that use both steam and diesel run by Roaring Camp Railroads. There's the Redwood Forest Steam Train (1:15 hours round trip) and the Santa Cruz Beach Train which has a Diesel loco (3 hours round trip). They are both awesome experiences if anyone ever gets the chance.

Patrick is correct about the configuration.

Major, you could post exclusively about trains and I'd still be a happy camper coming here to GDB. Thanks for a great post today.

Chuck said...

There were actually two full-sized replicas of the Best Friend of Charleston that were operating in 1973 - the 1928 replica, owned by the Southern Railway at the time, and a 1972 replica built by the Wings and Wheels Museum, located in Santee, SC until the collection was moved to Orlando in 1979 (and eventually auctioned off in 1982). That Best Fiend replica didn't make the move to Florida and is now on display in the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia.

This photo depicts the 1928 replica. The most obvious identifying detail in this photo is the "Southern Railway System" lettering on the side of the "tender." The original Best Friend didn't have a tender but pulled a flat car that carried a pile of cotton bales, required at the time by South Carolina law to protect passengers in the event of a boiler explosion (which, it turns out, was probably a good idea). The metal box on this replica conceals a gasoline engine used in backing the locomotive.

This replica did a fair amount of touring when it was owned by the Southern, traveling in a pair of specially-designed freight cars to exhibit locations like the one shown in today's mystery photo. Now owned by the City of Charleston, it no longer travels, having been installed in a specially-designed museum in downtown Charleston in 2014 (although it can be moved if necessary - the special freight cars are in the possession of the South Carolina Railroad Museum and used to store the replica coaches from the Wheels & Wings replica that couldn't fit in the display area in the South Carolina State Museum).

USAF 1673 was built in 1952 and originally delivered to the US Army. She was sold to the Galveston RR Museum in 1994, where it was on display until it was sold to the Ingenio Barahona sugar mill in the Dominican Republic in 2011. Here's how she appeared recently in operation, still in her badly-faded USAF livery.

Your photo was probably taken at Barksdale AFB near Bossier City, LA. This was the last duty station for USAF 1673 and also hosted KC-135 Stratotankers in 1973; the rear fuselage and rudder of a '135 is visible in the extreme right of the photo. Additionally, the roofline of the hangar barely visible behind the steam pipes looks remarkably like the hangars in this pre-WWII photo taken at Barksdale Field, although it is a standard design used at multiple bases during this era.

And tying this photo to a major area of interest of most GDB visitors, this Best Friend replica was on display at the 1948 Chicago Railroad Fair, visited by Ward Kimball and his boss, whose name, unfortunately, is lost to history.

Chuck said...

Ken, I had an opportunity to ride the Roaring Camp & Big Trees RR before the '76 trestle fire. Riding through the forest late in the afternoon behind an operating Shay is one of those childhood memories that sticks with you.

You ever hike up into the Santa Cruz Mountains to see the portals of the dynamited RR tunnels along the old South Pacific Coast right of way? That was on my "stuff to do" list (the term "bucket list" hadn't been invented yet) when I had orders to transfer to central CA back in '95, but they ended up being cancelled and I went to Charleston instead.

Steve DeGaetano said...

Not sure I can add very much. The Berkshire is an example of a Lima development called "Superpower." Those four wheels under the cab allowed the engine to carry a HUGE firebox, which allowed for far more power generation.

MRaymond, diesels are definitely NOT more powerful than comparable steam--which is why you see three, four, five or more diesels on the point of a long freight train, where that Berk could have done the job by herself!

(Useless techie trivia for the day: Steam locomotives are "constant torque, variable horsepower," while diesels are "constant horsepower, variable torque." Meaning a steam locomotive's horsepower will climb as she gets up to speed.)

Nanook, we have several examples of ex-military center cab diesels on our roster at the New Hope Valley Ry. I've run one once--sort of like running a big truck, with a nasally single-chime air horn and an air-ringer bell that clangs monotonously. Us steam guys aren't too sweet on diesels--of the center cabs, we demean them by saying "they go both ways." ;-)

MRaymond said...

Interesting about the difference between steam and diesel. I learn something new every day and have much greater respect for steam.

K. Martinez said...

One of the things I love about GDB is the wealth of knowledge shared by its readers. Great stuff today!

Chuck, I had no idea about those dynamited RR tunnels in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It's something I'll have to add to my list of things to do. And what's cool is it's right in my backyard. Thanks for sharing that bit of information with me.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, your comment reminded me of a guy I know - he had a friend who have him an exploding cigar. That was the end of their friendship!! I have no idea what a “center switcher” is, but… ignorance is bliss.

Patrick Devlin, you are right, I mis-typed. In fact, “2-4-8” is kind of ridiculous when you think about it. There is a train on display near me that has drive wheels that are taller than I am (and I’m over 6 feet tall) - that thing is HUGE.

Patrick Devlin, I’m glad you pointed that out, because I was definitely thinking “Lee-muh” in my brain.

MRaymond, they are just cool, that’s all there is to it!

K. Martinez, I have some photos from Roaring Camp, I need to scan those someday and put them up. I knew about the Redwood Forest train, but did not know about the Santa Cruz Beach Train. I wish I could post more about trains, but I probably have less than 30 slides to share!!

Chuck, I had the feeling that these photos would inspire you! I had seen that there were two replicas, though I was unclear as to whether one of them actually ran or not. As for the other info (such as the bales of cotton)… I usually include a lot less than I find, mostly because it frequently seems that people kind of skip through what I DO write. They’re here for the pictures, I guess. I will eventually do a 1948 Chicago RR Fair-related post, in which we will see the “Best Friend” again.

Steve DeGaetano, I always wondered why I would see several engines pulling one train - I just figured that today’s trains pulled a lot more weight than in the old days - sometimes when I am caught at a crossing, it seems like those trains are a mile long. Interesting that the steam locos were more powerful.

MRaymond, why learn anything when you can watch cartoons like I do?

K. Martinez, don't look at those old tunnels, get some dynamite and make your OWN tunnels!

MRaymond said...

Cartoons about steam.

DrGoat said...

Then there's the General. The 4-4-0 used by Disney in the Great Locomotive Chase. I have an old early snapshot I think I sent to you Major, of what I would like to think is Walt standing in front of it with his back to the camera. Or maybe it isn't, who knows.

Anonymous said...

Came for the comments by Steve D., leaving satisfied.

Also putting in a plug for my local train, the Skunk Train in Ft. Bragg. I've had many trips to Scout Camp on that bad boy.

Also the Sacramento Railroad Museum. My kids loved that spot. Someday, I'll have to go back with them.

Thank you Major, more fascinating stuff. I love GDB and the commenters. Thanks everyone.