It's time to fire up Baldwin's last steam locomotive

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Wednesday, February 5, 2020


The following appears in the Preservation column of the March 2020 issue. 

Dear Trains readers: 

For the first time in the 80-year history of this publication, we are committing to an ongoing fundraiser for a preservation project. We’re asking you to help steam the Baldwin Locomotive Works’ last engine built for domestic use: Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 No. 1309, a rare articulated under restoration at Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, a non-profit educational organization. 

This restoration stalled and shut down for lack of funding last August. “The locomotive is 85% complete,” says rebuild contractor Gary Bensman of Diversified Rail Services. “It’s tantalizingly close to completion.”

He and the railroad place the completion price at $390,000. Trainsand a consultant independently reviewed the work plan at the request of the railroad and see no potential for unanticipated additional major expenses at this late date. Out of $2.8 million spent on the engine so far, $390,000 is 13.9% of the total budget.

The remainder of the work is as follows: 

• $239,000 for labor, machine work, rewheeling, final upfit, testing, and break in. 

• $70,000 for a coal loader and ash removal system required by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection at the shop in Ridgeley, W.Va. 

• $43,000 for treated water storage. 

• $10,000 for a covered coal storage area. 

• $10,000 for a crane to set the locomotive onto its drivers. 

• $21,000 for contingency.

Once funding is secured, the project can be completed in less than six months, including a break-in period, Bensman says. 

A contributor has offered $100,000 to relaunch the restoration. Additional major grants are being sought, but the railroad enthusiast community can push this project to completion. 

We’re asking individuals, organizations, and corporations to donate to help raise $100,000 toward the effort. Trains has financially contributed to this project with its $10,000 Preservation Award in 2015, and Trains readers have kicked in another $50,000 in donations themselves. In early 2019, the John Emery Trust contributed $40,000 to the work. I have personally made my own modest donations. 

Built in 1949, No. 1309 operated until 1956, and its return to service at Western Maryland Scenic is seen as a breakthrough for the tourist railroad that carries forward the soul of the original Western Maryland Railway across 17 miles of mountain railroad, including world famous Helmstetter’s Curve.

Best of all, this could be a happy ending for a locomotive that deserves to run again. “This restoration project has had its shares of ups, downs, starts and stops, as we all know,” says Western Maryland Executive Director John Garner. “We will see it through to the completion stage. We believe steam preservation is very important to our industry but to the Western Maryland Scenic — steam is key. Steam is our foundation. Steam will return to the Western Maryland Scenic’s high iron because of individuals who understand the costs of steam preservation, who continue to appreciate the value of this locomotive to the heritage rail industry, and those who are willing to donate to the appeal. Indeed, it is time to steam this last Baldwin steam locomotive.”

No. 1309 was steam tested twice in fall 2018. It was acquired from the B&O Railroad Museum in 2014, but funding issues and an employee’s theft of expensive machined parts set back the project. The railroad has since increased security. 

In operation, No. 1309 will be the only articulated in regular operation in the Eastern U.S., and the world’s largest operating compound Mallet — that is, a locomotive that uses its steam twice to drive two sets of cylinders [Union Pacific Big Boy 4014 is a simple articulated]. The engine will operate on a regular basis and also will be available for photo freights chartered by Trains magazine. Trains also plans to cover the restoration in print and with an exclusive DVD. 

For now, No. 1309 lingers inside the former WM carshop at Ridgeley, W.Va., near Cumberland, waiting to see if people who care about steam step forward.

To help, send your donation marked for 1309 to Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, 13 Canal Street, Cumberland, MD 21502, or you can donate online at 
www.wmsr.com/1309

Trains will update this effort with regular reports in these pages and on our “News Wire” at TrainsMag.com. 

Trains is excited to see the restoration of this landmark locomotive, and I personally cannot wait to see it steaming around Helmstetter’s Curve with a string of freight cars on its drawbar. The time for No. 1309 to steam is this year. With everyone joining together we can make a significant locomotive run again. I encourage you all to join me in contributing to No. 1309.

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