Rewheeling the last Baldwin: Of cranes, heroes, and invocations

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Thursday, June 11, 2020

RIDGELEY, W.Va. – In 1995 when Steamtown opened as a National Park Service site in Scranton, Pa., after years of debate and derision, there was a ceremony. At the conclusion of the speech making, ribbon cutting, and other hoopla, a priest was invited to the podium to give the benediction. I recall well that in his blessing he specifically called out a certain group for scorn. “And to those who said this day would never come,” he said to a breathless crowd on a hot humid July day waiting to see what words this clergyman might dish out. After a suitable pause, he blurted out: “We say, ‘God bless you.’”

 

We all got it.

 

There was no ceremony or benediction Wednesday at Western Maryland Scenic Railroad’s shop in Ridgeley, W.Va., on Wednesday. There was still heat and humidity as crews from Diversified Rail Services and Hulcher lifted the restored boiler and frame of former Chesapeake & Ohio 2-6-6-2 No. 1309 and placed the locomotive on its two sets of drivers. And there was plenty of sweat and hard work to reunite the 150-ton boiler of Baldwin’s last domestic steam locomotive (1949) with its running gear after six years of work, twists and challenges, and plenty of critics. But enough of that. The day was about making progress to steam one of the most impressive engines ever restored in the Eastern U.S.

 

I have seen locomotives craned before, and it’s always a nerve-wracking, amazing experience, but I had not seen an articulated placed back onto its wheels until Wednesday. My first impressions were of two sideboom cranes lifting the engine’s cab high in the air so that the rear engine could be pushed into place. That was a breathtaking view. That process was downright simple compared to installing the front engine. To make the hinge pin fit, the crew had to put down wood blocks and wood shim ramps for the rear driver of the front engine to close a 9-inch gap between the hinge and the pivot point. Yes, I said, nine inches. Then there were still pipes to brake cylinders and the yoke for the valve gear that had to be maneuvered around so that steam pipes, furnace bearers, and a million other details that Baldwin packed into this monster would clear each other. By my best estimation, the whole process of installing the rear engine was a simple as walking down the street on a sunny day. The installation of the front engine was like walking backwards while juggling a Rubic’s Cube that you are adjusting before each toss in the middle of a whirlwind. But they did it. A little finesse here, a little tug there. A little on the crane. A torch here. And once it was done, and the sidebooms backed off, there it was: The complete engine for the first time at Western Maryland since it arrived in 2014. The shop crew posed with the engine and then stood back and admired their work, as they should.

 

There is much to say about the restoration of No. 1309. There will be time to write about that as the restoration moves forward. The heroes are what matter at this moment: the shop crews, the railroad, and the Trains readers who donated almost $120,000 to get Wednesday’s crane lift done. Another $1,200 was raised by generous viewers watching our Facebook live coverage. For now, the best thing to say is that like Steamtown in 1995, on June 10, 2020, Western Maryland did something that critics said could not be done. No. 1309 is 95 percent complete. There is still lots of money to be raised ($180,000 for the engine and an additional $100,000 for facilities) still tremendous work to be done (hang the air pumps, run piping, finish the cab, set the valves, test everything, etc.), but the good thing is that it will steam again. To those who said this day would never come, the folks at Ridgeley proved you wrong. To that, since I’m from the south, I’ll just say what needs to be said: “Bless your heart.”

 

To help steam the last  Baldwin, 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.

 

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