The Age Of Steam

By Staff
article image
Santa Fe's No. 2903. Built in 1943 and weighing 340 tons, these locomotives could haul passenger trains at 90 miles per hour and heavy freights up to 60 miles per hour.

The first British locomotive to run in regular service in this
country was the John Bull, imported by the Camden and Amboy in 1831
and later used as the model for Old Ironsides, the locomotive
Matthias W. Baldwin built in Philadelphia for the Philadelphia,
Germantown and Norristown. The Mohawk and Hudson brought in another
John Bull from its namesake country. The latter engine, tested
gingerly late in 1831 by the road’s chief engineer, John B.
Jervis, was deemed too heavy, with its weight of more than six
tons, to run safely on M&H tracks, which were made of timber
faced with iron. This problem was overcome by substituting a swivel
front truck with two axles and four wheels for the rigid front axle
with single wheels. The ‘bogie-truck’ designed by Jervis
was an impressive example of the skill and ingenuity of American
engineers and mechanics, and U.S.-made locomotives soon outnumbered
British – built engines on American railroads.

The chief engineer of the Philadelphia, Germantown and
Norristown, Henry R. Campbell, invented the four-coupled locomotive
in 1836. Named the Blackhawk, it had the 4-4-0 wheel arrangementa
four-wheel leading truck, four driving wheels coupled, and no
wheels behind the drivers.

In 1840 the Gowan and Marx, a 12-ton 4-4-0 Philadelphia and
Reading locomotive, pulled a train of 101 freight cars almost 40
times its weight at a speed of ten miles an hour. In the same year,
Matthias W. Baldwin developed a special steam-tight joint which
permitted 120 pounds of pressure in his engines. He also began
experimenting with coal as fuel and started to investigate the
possibility of making wheels of chilled steel instead of wrought
iron. Another locomotive manufacturer, Septimus Norris, added a
third pair of drivers in building the Chesapeake 4-6-0 which went
into service on the Reading in 1847.

Until the mid-1850’s, when locomotives began using coal,
wood was the fuel that kept the engines running. Locomotive tenders
were small and stops had to be made frequently at woodpiles and
fuel stations. When the train paused to ‘wood up’, the
conductor, brakeman, engineer and firemanand sometimes several of
the passengers formed a line and passed the logs from one to
another up into the tender. The roads used a great variety of logs,
preferably oak and hickory, which measured from 18 to 48 inches
long and from a couple of inches to a foot in diameter. A single
locomotive consumed some 1500 cords of wood a year an amount of
some consequence in those days of roads that ran just a few miles
when it is considered that a cord is a solid pile of wood eight
feet long, four feet wide and four feet high.

Wood gave way gradually to coal as fuel, and the 60’s saw
the substitution of steel for iron in railroading. Steel fire
boxes, steel tires shrunk onto iron wheels, and steel tracks all
accelerated the development of the steam locomotive. The Mogul
2-6-0, built to haul freight for the New Jersey Railroad and
Transportation Company in 1867, won immediate popularity because of
the greater weight it carried on its drivers, and the Consolidation
2-8-0 with its fourth pair of drivers was the standard locomotive
for hauling freight for more than 25 years.

A whole new series of locomotives with wider fire boxes, bigger
boilers, greater steam capacity, and wheels behind the drivers were
developed in the last decade of the old century. These were the
Atlantic 4-4-2, the Pacific 4-6-2, the Prairie 2-6-2, and the
Mikado 2-8-2. Before the new century began, a 4-4-2 locomotive
built by Samuel Vauclain pulled a six-car train 55 miles on the
Atlantic City Railroad at an average of 70 miles an hour, at times
reaching the remarkable speed of 115 miles an hour.

The new century ushered in more locomotive improvements. A pair
of drivers added to the freight-hauling Mikado produced the 2-10-2
or Santa Fe type, used on that road, and the Pacific passenger
engine became the 4-8-2 Mountain type. The Mallet 0-6-6-0 got steam
for its two engines from one long boiler; the front engine was
hinged to enable the locomotive to negotiate curves easily. The
Mallets grew into 2-6-6-2’s, 2-8-8-2’s, and, on the
Virginian Railway, into 2-10-10-2’s with 20 driving wheels.

New methods were developed to produce more and better steam in
the boiler, and further progress came with the invention of the
automatic stoker, which spread a thin and uniform fire over the
grates of the big new engines. The Lima Locomotive Company built a
locomotive in 1925 with a four-wheel trailing truck carrying a
bigger fire box with greater heating surface, steam capacity and
horsepower, and a new series of locomotives roared into
railroading. Classifications of these engines ended in 4: the 2-8-4
Berkshire, originally built for the Boston and Albany; the New York
Central’s 4-6-4 Hudson; the 2-10-4 Texas, used on the Texas and
Pacific; the 0-8-4 Union; and many 4-8-4’s combining the power
of freight service with the speed of passenger service.

Mallets of the 2-6-6-4 and 2-8-8-4 types pulled strings of cars
a mile long at 70 miles an hour. The Pennsylvania 6-4-4-6’s,
with 6500 horsepower, could pull a 1000-ton load at 100 miles per

New methods of steel-casting made it possible to cast the engine
bed or framework, previously composed of several hundred separate
parts, in a single piece. Streamlining also made the steam
locomotive more efficient by greatly reducing wind resistance and
thus saving horsepower.

But improvements that made steam locomotives bigger and more
efficient were not enough to sidetrack the approaching
diesel-electric locomotive. The diesel engine was invented by Dr.
Rudolf Diesel, who built a single-cylinder, 25-horse-power unit in
1897. Dr. Diesel disappeared mysteriously while crossing the
English Channel in 1913, 12 years before the Central Railroad of
New Jersey put the first diesel-electric, a switching engine, in
regular service in this country.

The first passenger trains to use diesel-electric power
successfully in main line service in the U.S. went into operation
on the Burlington and Union Pacific railroads in 1934. Diesel
freight locomotives were first placed in regular service on the
Santa Fe in 1940, and during the 40’s, a lamentable decade for
steam railroad buffs, the steam locomotive began its decline.

Within 10 years after World War II had ended, many railroads
were operating with diesel locomotives exclusively and more than
three-quarters of all railroad service in the U.S. was being
performed with mobile electric power produced by diesel

Need Help? Call 1-866-624-9388
Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment