Iron Man Of The Month

Steam Engine Recordings

Whenever Iron-Man D. B. McCorkle got tired of running his Huber Engine at Jim Whitby Reunion, he'd saunter over and ''set a spell'' 'neath the shag-bark hickory, and chat with me. I presume the record I'm holding was one made up with the mighty chug of Ma

Content Tools

I somehow could sense that Dan McCorkle wanted me to have a good recording. I had the feeling we were cooperating as if we had rehearsed it several times before. Dan didn't even reverse to take up the slack, but filled his cylinders first, then eased back the throttle just right. The first few barks came mightily from the stack, the ninety-hoppers full of coal groaned and began moving forward at a surprising rate of speed, considering they were on an incline and a curve - all nine-thousand tons of 'em. There was the four-whistle signal for the Indiana-Ohio stateline crossing, punctuated by the steady one, two, three, four rhythm of the powerful exhaust, getting faster by the second without a driver slipping. The big locomotive had gathered her load, like a hen gathers her chicks. The exhausts had now settled down to that slower rhythm that tells the trained engineer that he's now moving his entire consist from locomotive to caboose. Closer, louder, sharper came each succeeding exhaust from the huge stack as Dan coaxed the throttle further back and shortened the stroke of the Baker-designed valve. He was now getting close by us as he pulled the whistle cord for the four drawn-out blasts to announce his approach at the main street crossover of the New York Central double-rails. Finally the huge drivers slipped, but the exhaust remained sharp and clear as Dan eased the throttle - for McCorkle was never the engineer who over-loaded his cylinders to the point of muffling his exhaust and losing power. The draft of the stack remained clean and smokeless, signifying a clean smoke-box throughout the slippage after which the big locomotive settled back into its distinct one, two, three, four rhythm once again - only succeedingly faster by the yardage, then the car-lengths. Dan waved in passing, his immaculate engineer's cap and white engineer's gloves as resplendant as the engine he was running.

Engineer D. B. McCorkle inspects valve gear of 500 ton PRR J-1 locomotive. 500 hp. heads 90 cars of westbound coal. - While waiting on No. Eleven to clear the main, Dan McCorkle takes time out to look over the giant Baker Valve Gear of his mighty PRR J-1 locomotive. This valve gear was adapted from the old Baker Thresh Engine over to railroad locomotives - and was one of the best. Years ago, Mr. A. D. Baker explained to me how he developed this Baker Valve Gear over to railroading, and they equipped 15,000 railroad locomotives with it in America. McCorkle never left with his locomotive till everything was inspected and ready for the run.

I had just witnessed a superb handling of a huge coal drag with a giant steam locomotive at the head end, throttled by an engineer who cared for his engine and studied its manifold mechanical-thermal idiosyncrasies with the same tender concern that a mother fondles her child. My mind went back to an earlier recording I had made years before on a cold winter's night from a bedroom window a mile away, using an older-type disc recorder. There was the same sharp exhaust, the same whistle artistry, the same masterful control of the mighty locomotive when the drivers began slipping. I didn't know Dan McCorkle that long ago, but now I knew it was Dan that was in that cab. For only one engineer ever handled a locomotive like that through Union City - and that engineer was Dan McCorkle.

As I played the tape back for Dan at the next summer's National Threshers at Montpelier, Ohio, his was a face to study. I could tell his fingers were 'feeling' for the throttle, as the sharp, clear exhausts barked from the stack music of that taped recording.

'That locomotive was starting a 9,000 ton load, on a hill and a curve,' remarked Mac. 'It could handle much more than that, up to one-hundred and twenty five loads at a speed of sixty-five miles an hour in level country.'

Pondering that 9,000-ton load that McCorkle's J-1 was pulling out of town, the thought struck me that it would require an equivalent of some nine-thousand one-ton coal trucks to convey a similar consist. What a traffic jam that would be on the public highways! What a tremendous responsibility in moving the nation's vital life-line of supplies, dependent upon the mere artistry and maneuverability of a solitary engineer's throttle arm in the dramatic, pre-diesel days of steam.

'That Dan McCorkle was a wonderful engineer. He really knew how to handle a locomotive,' said Leo Clark of Washington, I11. - well-known engineer photographer of The Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad and more recently an Iron Man of the Month in the pages of Iron Man Album. 'Those J-1 locomotives on the Pennsylvania Railroad were a big hunk of power. It would take at least three or four diesels to do what one of them could handle.'

'A J-1, with booster, could develop five-thousand horsepower in starting a heavy train,' explained McCorkle. 'With tender loaded they weighed five-hundred tons. I pulled the first diesel on the Pennsylvania from Chicago to Logans port, Indiana - the cab was comfortable, but the thrill was gone.'

A similar feeling was often conveyed to me at the Jim Whitby Old-Time Threshers and Sawmillers Reunion near Fort Wayne, Indiana, by the late John Stevens, engineer on the Pennsy. 

'Those J-1 locomotives were a wonderful engine and could handle a tremendous load,' said Stevens with tears in his voice. 'After I was assigned to diesel, I felt like I was just driving a tractor -not a locomotive. Just the other day I was starting a heavy train, the diesel went red too long and burned the motors out. That cost the railroad another $35,000. That would never have happened with a J-1.'

It was always a pleasure to visit a spell with Iron-Man Dan McCorkle when he used to bring his beautifully-restored Huber to the Old Time Threshers and Sawmillers at the Jim Whitby Farm near Fort Wayne, Indiana. Jim, being also a crack engineer on the Fort Wayne division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, often handling throttle on such name trains as the Broadway Limited, and being a member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, he always hosted brother McCorkle in grand brotherly style.

And when Dan McCorkle tired of running his immaculate, converted oil burning New Huber, there were the moments each day he'd saunter over and 'set down' 'neath the spreading shag-bark hickory tree to see what was the latest I had fetched along to the Old-Time Threshers, in way of brass-crafted scale model locomotives for folks to see. There was the model of the famous J-l, which Dan was so familiar with. And the others, such as the PRR E-6s and the famous K-4 - both crack passenger-haulers with records in handling fast schedules. Too, there were the PRR M-l and M-la locomotive models, the H-l0b consolidation and others - all of which Dan McCorkle had throttled over the years.

Dan was always generous in his praise of some far-off oriental craftsman who had built the particular model he happened to be inspecting.

'The fellow who built this model really knew his engines,' he'd often remark, pointing with his throttle fingers to such details as snifter valves, headlight generators, smoke-box fronts, throttle and reverse linkage, valve gearing and cross-head guides, thence praising the general outlines of the entire locomotive model. 'Fellow'd have to be a real mechanic to make that,' he'd say -showing no little surprise when I'd explain it was made off American blueprints by the Japanese. But Mac always seemed to appreciate anyone who put forth the efforts at preserving the beauty of his beloved American steam locomotive prototypes, whatever the nationality.

And always before Mac decided it was time for him to get back to his Huber, there were the questions I'd ply, bringing back the reminiscences of a great engineer at the throttle of a mighty J-l.

'We often hit crows on the wing,' said he. 'I never could understand why, but crows seemed to fly right into our big locomotive when we were racing along. If they were flying diagonally to our course, they kept right on coming, expecting our J-l to turn out of their way. They didn't appear to comprehend that we would keep right on going in a straight line and they'd fly right into the boiler, killing themselves.'

At another time Mac told me of one of those experiences that forever haunt railroad engineers in their dreams.

'A car drove out in front of my locomotive,' said he. 'When we finally stopped our train we went back. As we examined the wrecked car, a woman rolled over and looked right up into my eyes and said, 'You got me, didn't you?' Then she rolled back and died.' Those were the painful episodes of railroading that all members of the B. & L. E., including the McCorkles, wish never would happen.

But there are the other tears, not tears of tragedy, but tears of happy memories when Dan McCorkle's big J-l came chugging its heavy consist up the high-iron, whistling at each crossing along the way.

'My how I miss hearing those steam locomotive whistles,' said one little Amish mother, wiping a tear from her eye as she and her brood listened attentively to a record of McCorkle's throttle artistry at the Jim Whitby reunion. 'They used to sound like that right back of our farm.'

'Mac, you must've been that engineer that wailed out those beautiful whistles across the distant countryside that haunted me as I lay in bed, night after night,' said I to McCorkle who happened to be listening too. 'Ill never forget them. I could hear them for miles and miles.'

'I probably was,' replied Dan, long lost in the mem'ries thereof. 

A seat of honor in our Iron-Man Hall of Fame to Dan McCorkle, a superb engineer and his mighty J-l for not letting us forget the great days of steam railroading.

'That was the happiest day of my life, when you climbed up into my cab that morning and took my picture at the throttle,' says Mac.

And to me, Mac, raised in a little town where steam railroading was king, it was the happiest day of my life - being up in the cab of a throbbing J-l with a hero of my boyhood days, a real-for-sure locomotive, enginner!

<>