As the warmth of summer slips into the rearview mirror, the brisk winds of fall returns once more, foreshadowing the cold winter ahead. But just as the seasons change, so comes a new issue of the Trail Blazer. Enjoy.
The T1 Trust has purchased the last remaining 16-wheel PRR long haul tender in existence. Please take a moment to help preserve the tender for 5550. To learn more, please visit the T1 Trust’s website https://prrt1steamlocomotivetrust.org/station/index.php?route=tinfo/tinfo and make a tax-deductible contribution today. All donors who direct $500 or more to the 5550 Tender Preservation Fund will have their name engraved on a plaque which will be affixed to the tender.
Acquired from the Western New York Railway Historical Society (WNYRHS), this is essentially a T1 tender minus the streamlining. The purchase of this PRR ‘coast-to-coast’ tender negates the need to build a new tender for the T1 locomotive, and saves the T1 Trust an estimated $3 Million.
The tender is in excellent condition with sealed hatches, minor surface rust, and well-preserved trucks. Jason Johnson, the T1 Trust’s General Manager remarked after thoroughly inspecting the tender, “I just can’t get over what great shape it’s in”.
The long haul tender was originally acquired by the WNYRHS to replace the gutted-out short tender for their PRR 2-10-0 I1sa locomotive. As part of the purchase agreement, the T1 Trust has agreed to fully restore the I1’s tender tank to its original specifications as part of the WNYRHS’s planned cosmetic restoration of the I1 locomotive. The T1 Trust has also made arrangements to store the tender at the WNYRHS’s museum site, the Heritage Discovery Center, in Buffalo, NY for up to 30 years at a cost of $1 per year where it will be displayed alongside the PRR I1. WNYRHS President, Joseph Kocsis, Jr. expressed much enthusiasm for the agreement, “We’re grateful to partner with the T1 Trust to make 5550 a reality. They bring a great deal of expertise to the table and we look forward to working with them in the restoration of our I1 tender and seeing the long haul tender return to its intended use”.
T1 Trust members will travel to New York to complete a renovation of the brake system and replace the oil in the roller bearings. In addition, the T1 Trust plans to sandblast, prime and paint the tender in the appropriate Brunswick Green (DGLE) paint scheme. About half of the work will be donated, and the T1 Trust is seeking donations to cover the remaining cost.
We all need friends and a steam locomotive’s tender wouldn’t be very useful without a stoker; this fearsome machine feeds coal from the tender into the firebox. The T1 Trust has received the needed stoker trough, gearbox, coal crusher, 7x7 motor and reversing valve; all of the parts needed to complete #5550's tender stoker unit. These hard to find parts were donated October 5, 2017 by Warren Lathom and Gary Bensman.
One of the most frequently asked questions we get is, “What about the frame?” Thanks to one of our corporate sponsors, JAKTOOL, that answer is quickly taking shape. Converted directly from original PRR blueprints, the CAD model of the frame is an extremely complicated piece of engineering. The image we see here shows the CAD model of the frame approaching 30% completion.
Given that the frame is symmetrical, the left side is simply a mirror image of the right, and therefore only a keystroke away.
Kudos go to JAKTOOL, one of the T1 Trust's Corporate Sponsors, for the progress they have made on the CAD model of the frame. JAKTOOL is a defense contractor located in Cranbury, New Jersey. The team there is donating hundreds of hours of CAD time to model 5550's frame.
– As our regular readers know by now, The T1 Trust takes a firm stand on preserving our history including the stories of those who worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Over the next few issues of the Trail Blazer, we will be featuring former PRR locomotive engineer and T1 Trust supporter Don Wolf. Having worked for the Pennsy, Conrail and finally Norfolk Southern, his career spanned four decades and he has been gracious enough to share some of his adventures on the rails with us.
The T1 Trust: So first of all, I want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to speak with me about this, and...
Don: Yeah, it's a real privilege, and it's something I believe in so it's a great thing to be part of.
The T1 Trust: Well, we appreciate that. It's certainly... It's been an amazing thing to watch... To watch grow on our end. I'm sure it's been fun for you as well.
Don: Yes, it's fun for me. I've only been involved in it maybe a few weeks at this point, and yet the reason I'm involved in it is because I feel like I've kind of been involved in it just about my whole life [chuckle] in a way. So to that extent, that kind of explains why I'm here and talking to you.
The T1 Trust: Well, let's... We'll start out by having you introduce yourself, and tell us a little bit about your childhood and the early years of your life.
Don: I remember, as I was getting into kindergarten in 1952, on a winter's night, that my father passed me up to a fireman on a Reading steam engine, it was a Pacific type. And I remember the fireman opening the firebox doors, and I saw the glow of the fire inside, and I couldn't have been out there more than a minute or two, but I still remember the experience. And he handed me back down to my father, and a few months after that, the Reading announced that they were going to... That the days of steam on all their passenger trains would be over. So my father took the whole family for a ride on the Newtown local from Philadelphia up to Newtown, and I remember seeing them turn the engine on the Y. And I was in kindergarten at this time, so I was old enough to have... Still have memories of this. But it's... I don't remember every detail anymore. Some years went by after that 'cause I well recall it was in November of 1956, I was almost 10 years old, and one day I was out for a walk, and two Baltimore and Ohio passenger trains came by about a minute apart in my... Right near where I lived. And I think at that... I think that was my watershed moment.
Don: I think that's when I really discovered that I was just fascinated, and I wanted to find out where all the trains went, where all the tracks went, and I began to gather a collection of railroad time tables, even obtained my copy of the Official Railway Guide. And my track-side leisure time landed me invitations inside of operating signal towers, and those lead to locomotive cab rides. And so I was really getting into it at that point, but in April of 1958, when the Baltimore and Ohio eliminated passenger service north of Baltimore, and I was living in Philadelphia, it was almost as if there was a death in the family as far as I was concerned. I needn't have worried, though, because in the fall of 1959, the Reading began a series of Iron Horse Rambles with their T-1 Class, which were 4-8-4s, and along with open window coaches, which were replete with lots of coal cinders, at sustained speeds of 60 to 70 miles per hour, it made quite an impression on me during my high school years. On one of those trips, I got to meet and spend a few minutes with Reading's president, who was E. Paul Gangler. Earlier in his career, as superintendent of motor power, he developed the 4-8-4 Class steam engines from smaller 2-8-0 Consolidation-type engines. And that was a very fortunate time for me to have met a railroad president, I was in ninth grade at this time and it made quite an impression on me.
The T1 Trust: So just a... Just a quick question. So the Reading made their 4-8-4s, they modified them from 2-8-0s?
Don: That's correct.
The T1 Trust: Interesting. Did not know that.
Don: They were older, smaller engines, yes, and they extended the boilers. I think they were able to use... Come to think of it, they were able to use the frames or they extended the frames in some way. There's quite a bit of literature on how it was done. It can be... It can be researched. That's correct.
The T1 Trust: That's fascinating. You just taught me something. [chuckle]
Don: Yeah. Yeah, it is. And so met the man that did it and designed it and went on to become president of the Reading, it was really a real thrill for me. It still is to this day, really. Well after graduation from high school in 1964, at age 17, I guess no one was surprised when I landed my first job on the Pennsylvania Railroad as a clerk in the Lost and Damaged Claim Department in Philadelphia. And along with this job came Pennsylvania Railroad employee pass privileges, and while I was working there, I made a 1965 transcontinental trip from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Philadelphia. I rode the Canadian National, the Great Northern, the Burlington, and the PRR from Chicago. And that made quite an impression on me. Soon after that, the following year, I was in the Air Force and, traveling in uniform, I made a trip from Fort Worth, Texas, to Philadelphia on the Penn-Texas. And I traveled from many other places during my years in the Air Force. The railroad was my vehicle of choice whenever I could. Anyway, I've had quite a time. I've worked with a number of railroads in my life. I don't know if I wanna get into naming all of them, and I don't know know that I really wanna get into a 46-year work history.
Don: Might be a little longer than you want for your... For this. But I will say this: My retirement in 2010 as locomotive engineer and conductor with Norfolk Southern was the end of an interesting 46-year career in transportation. I spent about half of it on a number of the nation's railroads in various crafts and management positions, and it's from this lifetime experience that empowers me to do my part, to pass the legacy of the 55-50 on to future generations. After all, successful grandparents always send the elevator back down for the younger generation.
The T1 Trust: I like that, that's a great line. [chuckle]
Don: I really look forward to being around when the PRR 5550 becomes a reality and I have every reason to believe that if it's another 10 years, I have a very good chance of seeing it.
The T1 Trust: Well, I've got a few specific questions on your time with the Pennsylvania Railroad and your career as a railroader so we can just kind of streamline that, and if you feel there's something that you want to add, go ahead and do that. But whenever you're ready, we'll get started with the questions that Brad has set up for you here.
Don: Well, I guess one of the... Well, my very first run as a locomotive engineer after I'd gone through the training program turned out to be on a foggy night in the Appalachian town of Hazelton, Pennsylvania. I knew it was going to be foggy, and when I went to work, I saw... On my way to work, there were banks with... Advertising the time and the current temperature, which was 30 degrees Fahrenheit. While I was in the office, meeting with the conductor and getting paperwork together, the temperature drops to 31, and all this fog and moisture and drizzle flash froze on the surfaces everywhere, on the grab irons, brake shoes, wheels, rails.
The T1 Trust: Everything.
Don: And the fog became quite dense. It was so dense that I could look through the windshield and barely see the tracks. So I said, "This is a fine way to start your first run as a locomotive engineer." [chuckle] Now fortunately I'd seen the railroad before as a brakeman and a conductor, and so I'd been around there a few years, so that was a big help, but when you can't see the tracks and you're driving for the first time, it's a... Well, [chuckle] it's a scary experience. Anyway, we got underway, we found our train in the fog, which was still quite dense. The conductor had to climb down and literally touch it to find the numbers on the cars, make sure we had the right train. We got it together and we had eleven miles of about 3% downhill. And as we came down the mountain, the fog eased up a bit, the visibility got a little bit better, and I began to see things that I could recognize again and I felt better about that. When we got down to Lehighton, we put our train away and there was another train there on another track to be picked up and taken back up the grade to Hazelton. And I decided after that experience that if I could do that with hardly any visibility, I was probably going to turn out to be a decent engineer.
Don: So I guess that's probably... Of all the stories... I never thought that that would've happened on my first run, not that I expected it to be spring time with fish jumping in the river and the sun shining, but it was quite a way to start a career. At least... Well, I was already working for Norfolk Southern, but my first run as an engineer, that's how it turned out. And I remember when I drove home, I remember getting ready to just drop into bed, it was around 9:30 in the morning. I remember I washed my hands and face at home, and just collapsed into bed and [chuckle] I was sound asleep for quite a few hours after that. So... [chuckle] But that was one of the more... I'm full of stories like this, but that's more of the remarkable ones.
The T1 Trust: That's a very... Certainly a memorable way to start your career, as you said. It's... I supposed it'd be not trial by fire, trial by ice perhaps, [chuckle] and fog.
Don: Yeah, that's right, that's right. [chuckle]
The T1 Trust: So when you hired on with the Pennsy, it was about eight or 10 years after the last T1 was scrapped.
The T1 Trust: What sort of firsthand accounts did you hear from the old timers, if any, about the T1s?
Don: I really didn't hear any about the T1 that I recall, and of course I worked in Philadelphia where GG1s were the big thing, E44s on the freight trains, a lot of electrics, and there were diesels. Of course K4 Pacifics and E6 Atlantics were in use well through to the mid-'50s, and I knew men who ran them. I can remember taking trips to Ocean City, New Jersey, in my childhood and we had some friends that had a porch at 9th Street, which was right across from the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore lines terminal, and I would see them fire the locomotives up and get them ready to... Well, I'd see them arrive, I'd see them leave for Philadelphia. And when it came our turn to take... Go home on the train, it was a Budd RDC car. My mother said to the conductor that my brothers and I wanted to go home behind a steam engine, and the conductor just shook his head and he says, "Well, lady, that's the price of progress." [chuckle]
The T1 Trust: Sad, but true.
Don: Yeah, and... Yeah, so their were K4s and E6s around and I did know some people who ran them, and I can tell you that they... Extremely fast speed runs up the coast of Jersey Shore to Camden and Philadelphia, but other than that, back to the T1 issue, I don't think they ventured east of Harrisburg very often. A few times I'm sure it's happened, but I was never fortunate to talk to anybody that ran one or had first-hand knowledge of them.
The T1 Trust: Well, let's see here... Aside from your initial run, what else do you remember most vividly about your time on the PRR? And what are some of your fondest memories from that chapter in your life?
Don: Outside of the office, it would have been riding the train, 'cause I mentioned earlier the trip from Vancouver to Philadelphia, which ended on the Admiral from Chicago to Philadelphia. Another time from Fort Worth, Texas, to Philadelphia when I was in the service. Now, these trains have... I've traveled frequently in sleeping car accommodations and had fine meals. The trip from Vancouver, I left there on a Sunday evening and I got to Philadelphia shortly before 1:00 PM on Thursday. I did not take the most direct route, I took time off to do some visiting along the way, stop-over privileges, and I took some circuitous secondary trains, such as on the Great Northern Winnipeg Limited from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Minneapolis. That's hardly a transcontinental train, there was maybe a half a dozen cars, I guess. But, however, you can't travel on those rails today so I'm glad that I did get to see it. And I remember, in the Air Force once... A number of times, that... One time I was on an Air Force flight to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, and I took a bus up to Wilmington and I got on the evening Keystone, pulled by a GG1. I sat in an open window P70 coach, the train was a few minutes late that night and they were trying to make up time on Baltic Rail, and it was quite an experience on a summer's evening to fly along at, I don't know, at least 80 miles an hour, it may be more, on bolted rail and open windows. So it's hard to come by today.
Don: There were trips... Other trips when I tried to get home, I would come into places like Westover Air Force Base at Springfield, Massachusetts, and come down on the train that way to Philadelphia. Also, I had one... Trying to get home for Thanksgiving one year, I was able to fly into Buffalo and I caught what was then Penn Central Train 64, it had been a main train on the New York Central from years before, but I had a sleeping car on that and I remember there had been heavy snow, it was late November of course, and I turned the lights out in my room and I put the shade up and put my head under the pillow, and the moon came out on all the new fallen snow, and I could hardly fall asleep at the beauty of Upstate New York at a high rate of speed as I laid in bed late at night, just watching the world go by and bathed in silvery moonlight. So those are some of my best recollections of that era.
The T1 Trust: It's been a while since I've taken a train trip, but your... My dad and I... My dad took me down to Sacramento when I was about five, we went to the rail museum down there, and we took Amtrak down and it was a real fun trip. I look back on that with very fond memories.
Don: Yeah, I'll bet you do.
The T1 Trust would like to thank Don for his support and taking the time to speak with us about his years on the rails. We look forward to sharing more of his stories over the next few months.
Like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 5550 needs fangs in the form of a tender and stoker. Your donations will help bring the only remaining Pennsylvania Railroad long-haul tender back to its proper appearance, original functionality and intended use. Click here to make a donation today!