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Steaming the Last Baldwin

Steaming the Last Baldwin

Steaming the Last Baldwin covers the railroad upon which it runs, Western Maryland Scenic based in Cumberland, Md., and expands to cover the history and production of one of the big three American locomotive builders: Philadelphia-based Baldwin, which produced 1309 as its last domestic product in 1949.

United States
Kalmbach Publishing Co. - Magazines

in this issue

3 min
… and steam’s last shall be first….

By the best estimates we have, steam locomotive builders made more than 175,000 engines in the United States between 1831 and the early 1950s. For more than a century, steam locomotives were part of everyday life in America. And then, after a relatively short challenge by a new technology, the diesel locomotive, they were gone. The fight was brief and decisive: The diesel needed less work to maintain it for service, whether it was daily preparation or long-term maintenance. Case closed. Steam power just couldn’t compete. An era in transportation history ended. The shareholders and the accountants cheered, and the workers and the fans mourned. Builders and railroad buyers concluded their relationships. Nobody planned to build the last of the country’s steam locomotives. But someone had to make the last…

25 min
hitting it with a hammer

In 1904, the American Locomotive Co. built a locomotive for the Baltimore & Ohio that incorporated a new concept: It was an articulated compound locomotive known as a Mallet after the originator of the idea, Frenchman Anatole Mallet (Mal-lay). Mallet had built two small articulated compounds and demonstrated them in an exhibition in Paris in 1882. It took 22 years for this idea to jump the Atlantic Ocean. An awesome sight in 1904, the biggest thing on rails, it had two engines under one long boiler with an 0-6-6-0 wheel arrangement. The boiler was rigidly attached to the rear engine and the front engine was hinged at its rear so it could move laterally under the boiler to negotiate curves. The weight of the front end of the boiler rested…

17 min
taming the beast of the east

LET’S ADDRESS THE ISSUE straightaway: Returning a nearly 70-year-old big steam engine to regular service in the early 21st century is not a conventionally rational act. In today’s forward-charging scrum of technology, economy, and competition, it is hard to make the case that a machine like former Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 No. 1309 should even continue to exist, much less be painstakingly returned to as-built condition. The same is true for almost every operating steam locomotive out there, especially the big ones. Conventional wisdom argues that parts are impossible to find, critical skills have disappeared, the technology is obsolete, and why would any railroad want to run something so demanding and labor-intensive? Clearly, there has to be some sort of alternative logic. We’ll delve into that later, but first, let’s explore…

4 min
rewheeling the last baldwin of cranes, heroes, and invocations

In 1995, when Steamtown opened as a National Park Service site in Scranton, Pa., after years of debate and derision, there was a ceremony. At the conclusion of the speechmaking, ribbon cutting, and other hoopla, a priest was invited to the podium to give the benediction. A July thunderstorm was brewing just over the next ridge. But he was unhurried. I recall well that in his blessing he specifically called out a certain group for attention. “And to those who said this day would never come,” he said to a breathless crowd on that hot, humid July day, waiting to see what words this clergyman might dish out. After a suitable pause, he finished: “We say, ‘God bless you.’” We all got it. There was no ceremony or benediction June 10 at…

17 min
in steam

British poet, writer, and Nobel prize winner Rudyard Kipling was no stranger to steam locomotives. In fact, he wrote a celebrated short story about one. But that piece was not his work that came to mind in late December 2020 in the frigid, cramped, single-track carshop where a volunteer crew was tirelessly working to bring back to life the last Baldwin-made steam locomotive for domestic service. The Kipling piece that was foremost was the 1910 poem “If,” specifically these lines: Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools Rudyard Kipling, meet No. 1309. Your poetry could have been written about this restoration and its many twists and turns. Most assuredly, Chesapeake & Ohio Class H-6 2-6-6-2 No. 1309 was broken during…

14 min
saving wild mary

The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad has endured almost every challenge known to railroad preservation, and persevered. A half-dozen times, it faced promising futures or bleak prospects, survived existential crises, and carried on by sheer grit and determination. Anyone seriously involved in railroad preservation understands what I am talking about — we’ve all been in tight spots before. The idea of a heritage railroad between Cumberland and Frostburg dates to the early 1970s. The Western Maryland Railway was being absorbed into the newly formed Chessie System, and WM trackage duplicating B&O routes soon would be abandoned. Maryland’s industrial economy was in accelerating collapse, distressingly common throughout New England, Appalachia, and the Rust Belt. Chessie halted service on the WM main lines out of Cumberland in 1975 and closed the once-substantial WM shops and…