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Old Steam Locomotive


Railroad Photographs

From the steam locomotive & railroad library of L. B. Radka

(This Web page is dedicated to the efforts of Lucius Beebe)

A locomotive climbing out of a smoke-filled tunnel in Virginia

Old steam locomotives and their railroads demanded powerful action, and for
model-railroading buffs or students of old technology, these dynamic railroad
photographs should add more steam to the memories of a bygone
era than the idle illustrations so often found pasted upon the Internet. As time
permits, in no particular order here, Larry Brian Radka has decided to try to
rectify the situation a little by sharing some movement. The action consists
mainly of black and white images, often tinted to reduce monotony. Beside his
short descriptions of each of the photographs, pertinent definitions of

railroad terms and historical details will occasionally ride along to help fulfill
this short but nostalgic trip on the rails.

Now that we have made it through the tunnel, we will leave Old Virginia and
resume our pictorial journey with the two struggling locomotives to the south,
in the photograph above. In his description of this "exciting action
photograph" of a steam locomotive helping another up a steep grade, Lucius
Beebe wrote: “Fighting every inch of the way, No. 1341, a Southern Railway
system 4-6-2 is at the head end of the westbound Skyland Special as it toils up
the 4½ per cent grade east of Saluda, North Carolina. At the rear of the train
in this exciting action photograph by W. H. Thrall, Jr., is No. 5028, a 2-10-2
helping push the six mail cars, coaches, and Pullmans of the Special over the

The 4 ½ percent grade referred to in Beebe‟s description gives us a 237.6feet-per-mile horizontal rise of the railroad tracks. “A grade or gradient of
one per cent rises one foot for every hundred feet traveled horizontally,”
explained Martin D. Stevers. In Steel Trails, The Epic of the Railroads, he
went on to explain that “Another common way of measuring grades is to give
the rise in feet for one mile traveled horizontally. On this system, a one per
cent grade would be called a 52.8-foot grade, since this rise in a mile would
give one foot of rise every hundred feet traveled.” The weight of eleven mail
and Pullman cars and the steepness of the 3 per cent grade is so great for the
train in the photograph above that five steam engines were required to pull it
up the mountain. They are hauling the "Denver Limited" up Soldier's Summit
in the Rocky Mountains, on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. At Ibex
station, the line reaches an altitude of 11,522 feet.
It is noteworthy to point out here that the 4-6-2 and 2-10-2 figures mentioned
by Beebe above refer to the locomotives‟ wheel arrangements. In Railways of
To-Day, Cecil J. Allen explained them as follows: “The wheels supporting a
locomotive are of two kinds. There are, first of all, „idle‟ wheels, which have no
function beyond that of helping to distribute the weight of the engine evenly
over the tracks. And then there are the „coupled‟ wheels, which comprise the
driving wheels proper, and one or more pairs of wheels of the same diameter,

connected to the driving wheels by means of coupling rods, which ensure that
the whole of the coupled wheels move in unison. The notation referred to
consists of three figures, the middle one of which indicates the number of
coupled wheels, and the first and third of which show the idle wheels in front
of, and behind, the coupled wheels respectively. If there are no idle wheels
behind the coupled wheels, the last pair of the latter being located under the
driver‟s cab, a cipher must be used in the notation accordingly; similarly, if the
leading pair of engine wheels are not coupled, the first figure of the notation is
„0.‟” The Mallet, which uses two sets of coupled wheels, of course, is an

In Steel Trails, The Epic of the Railroads, Martin D. Stevers explained in 1933
the locomotive wheel arrangements and their classifications illustrated in his
illustration above as follows:
“The Whyte or wheel plan classification is not only convenient but it reveals
much of locomotive history, purpose, and use with its simple numbers. First
comes the number of leading truck wheels (both sides); then the drivers; then
trailing wheels. Thus, a six-wheel switcher, without leading or trailing wheels,
is a 0-6-0. Originally, the firebox was carried between the last drivers, as in

the long used „American‟ 4-4-0. Later, to get more power, additional drivers
supported a longer boiler. But when even the „Decapod‟ 2-10-0 was not strong
enough, wider fireboxes were supported on two trailing wheels. Now four
often are used. The names usually are for the regions where the type was first
used. The electric locomotive „C‟ denotes a motor unit, while the Mallet
designation is self-explanatory. Many types have been omitted, only these
being shown which illustrate the development.”

One of Allen's colorful depictions, of the English Mail expresses No.
401 above. is hauled by a 4-6-0 express locomotive.

These photos demonstrate the massive coupling and size of locomotive wheels.

The huge passenger locomotive illustrated in the lower photograph is of type
4-8-4. This means that it has four "idler" wheels in front (two pairs), followed
by four pairs of driving wheels, then two pairs of small idlers in the rear. The

small wheels are nceessary to distribute the weight of the locomotive. The big
wheels (70 to 80 inches in diameter) are drawn by a rod connected to the shaft
of the steam piston. The cylinder in which the piston moves is located
between the small forward wheels in this type of locomotive.
Below, we see a smaller, thirsty steam locomotive with fewer wheels about to
take on water, a serious concern for many railroads throughout the United

“In his Railroad Album, Highliners, Lucius Beebe discussed some of the water
problems for steam locomotives as follows: “One of the most potent
arguments by Diesel engineers in favor of the internal combustion motor for
train power is the difficulty, in some railroading divisions in the West and
Southwest, of obtaining suitable water for steam locomotives. Water in many
localities is characterized by such a high mineral content that it must be
chemically treated before introducing it to engine boilers and tubes. In some
part of Texas, the Texas and Pacific Railroad pipes its water for distances of
250 miles. In northern states, winter weather creates the problem of
preventing water in trackside tanks from freezing, while to avoid the delay of
water stops some railroads, like the New York Central, replenish their tenders
on fast through trains from track pans, and the Pennsylvania equips its
limiteds with tenders whose tanks carry as high as 30,000 gallons at a time.

At Lucin, Utah, this Southern Pacific fireman is swinging a water spout over
the tank of a Vanderbilt-type tender to fuel the Overland Limited on its
westward run toward the High Sierras and the Pacific.”

Speaking about this photograph which is in the Denver Public Library
Western Collection, Beebe wrote: "At some remote date, to which the
costumes of the spectators furnish the only clue, this Colorado Central (later
C. & S.) narrow-gage locomotive seems to have left the straight and narrow
without, however, apparently doing much damage to the track or railbed. The
scene is the outskirts of Central City, in an age when Central was pleased to
consider itself the metropolis of the 'richest square mile in the world.' It is
safe to assume that traffic was resumed within a few hours."

That water spout would probably have been frozen solid and covered with
snow if it were located anywhere near the engine in the photograph above. It
shows an old steam locomotive with a huge rotary snowplow spinning snow
away from the rails of the Bernina Railway in Switzerland, which reaches
7,400 feet above sea-level. This type of plow has cleared snow drifts 17 feet, 9
inches in depth and keeps the railroad open for traffic throughout the
winter. Below it, to show the possible size of such a plow, we have included a
static picture of one mounted in front of an old electric train belonging to the
Riksgrans Railway in Sweden. Note the large searchlight above it, to light
up the snow-covered way.

The command of cold weather over hot locomotives is exemplified
above. These snow and ice covered engines were photographed just after their
long wintry runs in New York State.

Above, we see one of the Rio Grande Southern's "Galloping Goose" railcars
that was used to keep the wintry tracks open. "Recently," wrote Lucius Beebe,
"a 'Galloping Goose,' left mementarily unattended by its operator, coasted
wildly down the east slope of Dallas Divide for a distance of fourteen miles and
around a number of sharp reverse curves without jumping the track. No. 7 is
shown here in the house track at Ridgeway, Colorado, where the Southern
connects with the Montrose-Ouray line of the Denver & Rio Grande Western.

The observation car above was provided with bookcases, a writing desk, and
even a stenographer. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company's Broadway
Limited was a twenty-four-hour train that ran between New York and
Chicago. Before the railroads were built, it took a week to go from New York
to Buffalo, nearly three weeks from New York to Chicago; and trips from New
York to the Pacific coast were never thought of, except by hardy pioneers, who
expected their good-bye to be forever. The busy man in 1917, after his
noonday lunch and final instructions from his superintendent, could depart
from Chicago on the limited and arrive in New York twenty-one hours later. It
took, however, four days in 1917 to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific

Yet, the traveler had all the comforts of home on his railroad journey, in fact,
much more than the average home at the time. A modern first-class train
consisted of a baggage car, one or more day coaches, Pullman sleeping cars, a
dining car, a library and smoking car combined (probably outlawed by the
Nicotine Nazis today); and day trains often contained a parlor car. The library
was equipped with a bathroom and barbershop. Trains were solidly vestibuled
throughout, thus excluding noise and dust as one passed from car to car. The
train was warmed by the engine's steam in the winter; and, at night, electricity
lit up the train.

Some people were not fortunate enough to enjoy such railroad luxuries, but
didn't bother to pay for them either. Economic circumstances forced them to
ride in the back of the bus. Here are a couple of pictures of hoboes riding the
rails. Many were free spirits—traveling light—always on the move, grabbing
rides on passing trains, heading home or leaving some place in search for
adventure or work. For some interesting hobo history and the story of a
modern-day hobo, be sure to visit Hobo Ed‟s Web site.

Ed rode freight trains when he needed to achieve mobility, and his favorite
freight train route was along what is referred to as the „highline‟; from
Spokane Washington to Helena Montana via the Northern Pacific Railroad in
a boxcar. Ed‟s rail name was Diamond Ed.

The old C. P. Huntington below sailed around the Horn in 1863 and was
pressed into service. The Southern Pacific loaned this pioneer in early
California railroad history to the centennial exhibit at the California State Fair.

With 15,000 of its former employees in the armed forces during World War II,
the Southern Pacific relieved the labor shortage by employing women as
blacksmith helpers, rivet heaters, turntable operators, engine wipers, scrap
sorters, stationary firemen, crew and yard clerks, cutters, machine tool
operators, and other occupations. One of the 4,000 females, “Railroadettes,”
employed at the mechanical and stores departments of the Pacific Lines was
Edna Keepers—shown below using a steam and chemical solution to clean a
Southern Pacific locomotive at Eugene Oregon.

A caption for this 1939 photograph of the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation states:
“NEW ROUTE—Southern Pacific train disappearing into the new tunnel bored
for main line north because tracks had to be relocated for excavation of base of
huge new Shasta Dam which will retain waters of the Sacramento River in
canyon near Redding.”

Beebe tells us that "Here is M. V. No. 93, a well-shopped Mikado with tender
tank attached, rolling a short cut of high cars eastward at Carpenter's Bluff,
Texas, with a full head of steam and safety valves popping."

This Niagara type locomotive, from an original painting by Howard Fogg, is
chugging along at eighty miles an hour as it scoops up water from track
pans. The Twentieth Century Limited is making New York Central's run
along the Hudson River at New Hamburg, New York.

Above we see New Hope Steam Railway‟s Locomotive #40 (2-8-0), built by
Baldwin in 1925, rounding one of the many curves over tracks of the New
Hope and Ivyland Railroad in Pennsylvania.

Here we see a colorful postcard image of Norfolk & Western's 2-6-6-4
storming through Ford, Virginia. That may be an old carbon arc light hanging
on the pole in front of the station?

This is the Baldwin-designed back head of a freight and passenger service 4-84 steam locomotive built at Philadelphia for the Denver and Rio Grande
Western Railroad.

Above, we see a photograph of one of the Northern Pacific
Limited's observation lounge-cars of the early 1900's. "Pintsch burners had
given away to floriated electroliers, electric fans presaged air-conditioning,"
wrote Beebe, "but the fringed curtain, the potted plant (on the extreme left)
and the velvet table-cover still survived as vestigial traces fo an earlier
Victorian scheme of decoration."

The photograph above is from the February 17, 1912 edition of Scientific
American. Its article "How Railroad Men are Made" describes the scene as
"Apprentices engaged in practical work on a mammoth modern locomotive,
carefully supervised by capable instructors." Notice the student working on
the electric generator in front of the smokestack. It powers the adjoining
Edwards carbon arc searchlight (headlight).

Carbon arc searchlights were often used on trains around the turn of the
twentieth century. Above we see a good example. It is the special train of
Prince H. R. H. Henry of Prussia in the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul
Railway station at Milwaukee, March 4, 1902. “The photograph was taken at
9 p. m. by the light of the searchlight headlights,” stated the 1902 edition of
Our Wonderful Progress. “This is the latest device for averting collisions, as
the piercing rays can be seen for many miles along the track and flashing
against the sky.”

I hope you have enjoyed your look at these old steam locomotive and railroad
photographs from my small collection.

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