Steaming the Last Baldwin, 1309: With these rings, I thee steam

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Saturday, September 26, 2020

I touched base Friday with the team working on Western Maryland Scenic Railroad 2-6-6-2 No. 1309. They are busy at the shop in Ridgeley, W.Va., working on multiple fronts at one time, in an effort to complete Baldwin’s last domestic product for all of us to enjoy in steam once more.


While work on the brake rigging, main rod brass, and the stoker are paramount in the effort to complete the massive engine, I was curious about some of the last parts from outside to arrive. Among these are four important but unimposing pieces with a total weight of 40 pounds that once they’re installed, we’ll likely not see them again any time soon: the fabulous four piston rings. As 1309 restoration specialist Wesley Heinz told me, “They are some of the smallest, lightest parts on a steam locomotive, but if they’re not there, your engine isn’t going anywhere.”


The rings, two 22-inches in diameter for the high-pressure cylinders, and two 35-inch rings for the two low-pressure cylinders, create a seal within the cylinder casting. As the engine warms, the seal, 10s of thousands of an inch, closes. They’re important because the sealed space, filled with steam, creates thrust.


The rings are 3/8s of an inch thick and an inch across. They’re milled on a Niles vertical lathe from an ingot of cast iron at a shop in upstate New York. The rings for 1309 were delivered Wednesday and will be among the last parts to go on the engine when they’re installed. For now, they remain wrapped in plastic on a pallet, but not for long.


“They’re 40 pounds,” Heinz says. “that make a big impact on a 400-ton locomotive.”


As they say, it’s all in the details.


Just a reminder, Trains readers, that you have made it possible to steam the last Baldwin. We’d like to thank everyone for the donations you’ve given in the last six months, including $50,000 from the John Emery Rail Trust. Because of you, the work resumed and is nearing completion. If you’ve made a donation before, please consider another contribution to cover the cost of final work, testing, and break in. If you’d like to make a first donation, it’s not too late. Together, we can steam the last Baldwin! We can launch the largest operating Mallet on a second life. We can return steam to Helmstetter’s Curve. When better days in 2021 roll around, we can enjoy the engine known at the railroad as Maryland Thunder.


Here’s the info for donations: or mail a check to Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, specified for 1309, P.O. Box 1168, Cumberland, MD 21503.


Thanks for reading, thanks for donating, and thanks for keeping steam alive for us and for future generations to. enjoy. Like you, I look forward to the day on the horizon when we can report that the famous Baldwin Locomotive Works’ final product for a U.S. railroad has moved under its own power for the first time since 1956.

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