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Dinosaur Garage: 1942

        Updated April 2021 with a better scan of this Kodachrome.
December 1942. "40th Street Shops (Chicago & North Western locomotive shops at Chicago)." 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information. View full size.

        Updated April 2021 with a better scan of this Kodachrome.

December 1942. "40th Street Shops (Chicago & North Western locomotive shops at Chicago)." 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by Jack Delano for the Office of War Information. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Cold Water

Steam locomotives were usually kept hot all the time between trips to the repair shops. There were some worries about stresses to the metal from frequent and fast cool-downs and fire-ups. Cylinders had cylinder cocks to drain condensate. Normal position was fail safe open, and steam or air pressure was needed to close them.

Build a steam locomotive today?

StefanJ asks if it is possible to build a steam locomotive today.

Yes, it absolutely is possible. In 2008 a group of railway enthusiasts in Great Britain did just that, building a LNER Peppercorn Class A1 60163 Tornado, the first mainline steam locomotive built in the United Kingdom since 1960.

In the US, a group called The T1 Trust is working to build a locomotive based on the design of the Pennsylvania Railroad T1. The T1 was the last steam locomotive built for the Pennsy. It was designed to be fast and to look fast with a streamlined casing designed by Raymond Loewy. They regularly achieved speeds in excess of 100 MPH pulling passenger trains with unconfirmed reports of speeds in excess of 140 MPH. While the terms “Best” or “Fastest” or “Most Beautiful” are obviously subjective, no one can argue that the T1 wasn’t in a class by itself.

Wondering about Steam

1. By modern engineering standards, any existing steam locomotives are woefully inefficient and mechanically complex. It can be done with modern manufacturing methods, an English preservation group built a new engine a few years ago, but the last semi-serious look at modern railroad steam power in the US came in the late 1970s/early 80s. In response to the energy crisis Ross Rowland proposed an updated steam engine, the ACE 3000, but it was never built.

As for cold weather, they stayed outside unless they were in a roundhouse for minor repair or inspection with the fires kept hot ("banked") between runs. Dropping the fire was a lot of work, reserved for heavy repairs that took the engine out of service - pesky thermodynamics - as the boiler had to be allowed to cool slowly, the work completed then reheated slowly.

You're talking live steam, so cylinders freezing wasn't likely, however they were equipped with drain valves to force out excess water rather than pressurizing and blowing off the cylinder head. Air compressors were prone to freezing; a friend's father worked for the NKP out of north eastern Indiana. In the winter, they'd soak journal waste (fabric packing material) in kerosene and light it with a couple of fusees (flares) so they could depart.

Steam Knowledge

There are lots of steam plants needing this type of knowledge - both mobile and stationary. Electric generating stations, ships (yes, they still exist), heating systems etc.

Nothing like the smell and sounds of welders, grinders and torches in a railroad yard though. Especially one having been in existence for over 100 years. Kind of like the blacksmith shop my grandfather used to own.


What a great experience to work in the foundry!!

Two things I have been wondering about for a while

1. Would we still be able to design and build new steam locomotives if need should arise? Yes, I know, thermodynamics haven't changed. And plans are probably available as well in some archive or other on some of the engines. We might also reverse engineer the few remaining museum exhibits. But just about every technology tends to have tribal knowledge that never gets documented anywhere, or if it does only in some obscure place.

2. What did they do with those engines during northern winters over night? I don't suppose they would risk parking then and have them all freeze up. Did they keep the fire going 24/7? What about hydraulic lock if condensate accumulated in the cylinders over night? Even if they kept the fire going in the boiler, that would not have done much for the steam pipes and the cylinders. Or did they have heated sheds (well, heated to no less than 32°F anyways) for every locomotive that was not in immerdiate use?

Shocked & confused

That hussy of a boiler in the middle distance with its bare lagging showing is sticking out its tongue. Wait, that's superheater tubing. Well as Emily Litella would say,"Never mind!"

Class H's Achilles Heel

Nice to see a clear picture in the foreground of the unique and troublesome "banjo frame" of one of the C+NW's otherwise great class H 4-8-4's. The frame curved around the outside of the trailing truck to make room for the large ashpan, but was a weak spot, since all of the pulling force went around the frame to the drawbar. This led to cracked frames. C+NW replaced the frames with conventional ones as part of major post war rebuilds. This design mistake was somewhat excusable, as this was a period of dramatic growth in the size of locomotives, with many new problems to solve.

Something to think about, that entire engine frame was cast in one piece, including all the little attachment points, and usually also included the cylinders. It was a technology that was incredibly strong and rigid, but in this case fooled designers into thinking that the banjo frame idea was not doomed to failure. European and UK manufacturers apparently never adopted use of large steel castings, sticking with weak fabricated underframes to the end.

Driver 8, take a break

The Union Carbide canister seen in the lower left quadrant of this photo in all likelihood contains calcium carbide powder, which would have been used in an acetylene generator. This powder, when combined with water, produces acetylene. This is then mixed with oxygen, and voila!, an acetylene torch.

Here's an image of good ol' 2808 three years before this shop time:

Next week, we'll discuss the use of uranium hexafluoride in producing fissile material. A great science project for the kids!

2808 and 2635

Seen from another angle (same photographer, might even be the same workman in the blue overalls with rolled cuffs)

RR shop

Dreimer, Lucky for you to have experienced working on these magnificent iron machines. I managed to help clean & polish N&W 611's main rods when she came through my town of Danville IL. It was my way of paying her back for all the great trips I had behind her in the previous yrs. And I was really happy to get a chance to work on her.

I was lucky enough to learn

I'm fairly young to have that knowledge, but I worked as a teenager in a "Locomotive Works" shop that specialized in maintaining the last of these machines. I worked in the foundry, and also learned how to cast all manner of things in brass, iron, copper, etc.

One of the main customers was the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railway. In fact all of the journal box covers were made by me, as well as a good portion of the luggage rack brackets in the passenger cars. All brass.

Steam Tech

Another great Delano photo. Notice all the blurred ghost men tending the engines. There used to be thousands of them. Now there are only a handful of men in the country with the knowledge to maintain steam locomotives. Amazing how quickly the technology vanished.

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