Iron Man Of The Month

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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
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Iron-Man Dan McCorkle and his beautiful Huber Engine. After retirement from running his Pennsylvania J-1 Steam Locomotive, Dan McCorkle took his beautifully restored New Huber Engine to the Jim Whitby Old-Time Threshers & Sawmillers at Fort Wayne, Indiana

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!

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
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