Reading - Construction of the Reading T-1s

The year of the first T-1 (1945) also happened to be the 100th anniversary of locomotive building in Reading, PA. But, there is something else remarkable about that year – it was during WWII and under government restrictions on the use of metals.

This was a boom time and a tough time for America’s railroads.  The US Government was insisting on transporting almost all of the war effort on the backs of the railroads, but this took a huge toll on the equipment.

At the time, railroads were not permitted to build new locomotives, but through an interesting loophole, work could be done on existing engines to “overhaul” and “otherwise improve” them.  Thus, the Reading railroad took several of their tired old Baldwin-built 2-8-0 consolidation type engines and “overhaul” them into massive 4-8-4 engines. 

The aged I-10sa 2-8-0s were built by Baldwin in 1923 and 1925 and were among the largest 2-8-0s in the US.

This wasn’t the first major rebuild of an engine that the Reading had ever done.  The shops in Reading made more than 600 new steam engines and rebuilt even more.  One such conversion was to take 2-10-2 engines and make them into 2-8-8-2 Mallet engines.

The Reading also created its own firebox – based on the Wooten firebox of 1877 – useful for burning the anthracite available to it, often in a mix with softer coals.  The Reading also developed the center cab style steam engine (aka camel-back) to improve engineer visibility.

There is some discussion about the history of the T-1s regarding their roots in the Lehigh Valley railroad.  At the time of the T-1 creation the Reading’s president, Revelle W. Brown, had recently been president of the LV and had been impressed with the LV’s speedy and powerful 4-8-4s (also named ‘T’ units).

The I-10sa’s, being some of the largest engines, also had some of the largest boilers for their wheel configuration.  It was noticed early on that with a simple 78-inch extension this boiler could be made very suitable for use on the newly designed 4-8-4 engines.

From the announcement of the conversions to when the first T-1 (2100) rolled out of the shops, only two months had passed.  At any time there were as many as seven or eight engines in progress with about two a month being completed.  I took from 1945 to October 1946 to finish the originally announced set of 20 engines, however in early 1946 the order was grown by 10 to a total of 30.  On April 22, 1947 the last T-1 was finished and placed into service on the Reading.

All but one of the first 20 engines were built with conventional driver journal crown bearings with Hennessy lubricators.  10 engines: 2119 and 2121 thru 2129 received Timken roller bearing driver journals.  All T-1s had Timken roller bearings on the leading and trailing trucks.

The T-1’s tender is also remarkable – it was similar in shape to the Reading’s 2-10-2 engines but could hold an identical 19,000 gallons of water and 26-tons of coal.  This size permitted operation without the need for frequent stops for water.

The T-1’s also featured Franklin Type E-1 boosters on the trailing tucks.  This permitted up to 16% increase in starting tractate effort.  They could operate up to 35mph and even came into use on the 2124 during the famous Reading Rambles where sticking brakes caused a stall on the hill out of Gettysburg.  Also, 2124s last run from Shamokin to Locust Summit saw the use of the booster.

One of the secrets of the T-1s that was a major surprise to me when I first worked with one was how large the smoke-box is.  Even after the extension to the I-10sa’s boilers there was apparently still some room to go and the designers created a massive 13 foot 3 inch long smoke box making it one of the largest smoke boxes ever on any kind of steam engine ever made.

The use of rebuilding the aged I-10sa’s was great for the war effort, but the final cost savings was also astounding.  All told the cost per engine was about $157,000 which is more than $75,000 under the cost of a “new” engine, even though what the Reading got was essentially a “new” engine.

Speaking of “new” it is interesting to note what was reused.  Well, the list is rather short including such things as whistles, water gauges, headlights, air pumps, and safety valves.  The final 15 engines built even had brand new fire boxes, but the first 15 had reworked fireboxes.

The re-use extended beyond the T-1 construction, however.  In an amazing feet of forward thinking, the Reading’s I-9sb 2-8-0’s were constructed on frames permitting 6” larger drivers than they had, so they got the I-10’s 61.5” drivers to speed them up (The T-1s received 70” drivers).  The new, faster, I-9sb's were renamed I-9sc’s.

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