The days are getting hotter, the gardens are growing and the swimming pools are open forsummer! That means it’s time to enjoy another issue of the T1 Trail Blazer.
The distinctive prow of the T1, the ‘face’ of the locomotive, stepped out of the history books and back into existence for the first time since 1956 when the all-new prow for 5550 made its public debut at the annual meeting of the PRRT&HS in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania on May 19th and 20th. Fabricated by Gemini Industrial Machine of Dover, Ohio, the prow is complete with headlight, 5550 keystone, and grab rails. Trust supporters came from all over the United States to see this piece of aluminum artwork and one supporter drove seven and a half hours from Ontario, Canada just to see the prow for himself.
In addition to showing off the prow of 5550, The T1 Trust also presented two lectures during the PRRT&HS meeting. These shed light on the goals of the Trust as well as in-depth discussion of the Poppet valves and Boxpok driving wheels.
The T1 Trust is pleased to announce the realization of the cab for PRR T1 #5550. Slated to become the fastest thing on thirty-two wheels when finished, PRR T1 #5550 is no mere replica or restoration project, but rather the next locomotive in the PRR T1 duplex class.
In a homecoming of sorts, the cab for PRR T1 #5550 is shown here at Curry Rail Services in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. Pennsy faithful will celebrate the fact that the cab for 5550 was built in the former PRR Samuel Rea Car Shops, now occupied by Curry Rail. Among a growing list of T1 Trust Corporate Sponsors, Curry Rail is the premier provider of locomotive products to the railroad industry; for further details please visit the Curry Rail website.
The new T1 is a team effort, and a special thank you is also owed to defense contractor and T1 Trust Corporate Sponsor JAKTOOL of Cranbury, NJ. JAKTOOL spent hundreds of hours converting archival PRR blueprints into the CAD model used for construction of the cab. This CAD model was then sent to Gemini Industrial Machine in Dover, OH. Gemini, also a long-time sponsor of T1 Trust, used an extremely precise CNC waterjet cutter to produce the parts for the cab. The parts were then shipped to Curry Rail where final assembly culminated in expert welder Eddie Martin fabricating a piece of history.
The completed cab for 5550 represents a quantum leap forward in the birth of steam's newest superstar. If you would like to make a dedicated donation in support of the cab for PRR T1 #5550 please visit the T1 Trust’s website or send an email to email@example.com
The T1 Trust lost a wonderful supporter and advisor. William Lawrence (Bill) Withuhn passed away on June 29, 2017 surrounded by his family, at his home in Burson, CA. A memorial service for Bill took place at the First Congregational Church in Murphys, CA on July 2, 2017 and his ashes will be placed in Arlington National Cemetery.
Bill enjoyed a full life lasting 75 years. He entered the U.S. Air Force as a commissioned officer, having graduated from UC Berkeley in 1963. He become a navigator in the Air Force where he served for nine years. In 1969-1970, he flew over Vietnam in C-119 “Shadow” gunships supporting ground troops. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for saving his crew when a flare became tangled in the plane’s automatic flare launcher.
After leaving the Air Force, he went to graduate school at Cornell, and with a deep love for trains, particularly the history of the steam locomotive, Bill became Curator of Transportation at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in 1983. He spent nearly 30 years at the Smithsonian and during that time he was a prolific author. In "Requiem for a Heavyweight", Withuhn's epic series of articles on high performance steam, he described the PRR T1 as both "a horizontal spaceship" and "sex on wheels". Bill was a great friend to the T1 Trust, and will be sorely missed.
T1 Trust supporter John McDonnell’s father was a design engineer for the Pennsylvania Railroad, working at the Altoona Test Plant from 1923 to 1963. He had his hands on virtually all of the PRR’s steam locomotives including the fifty-two original T1s. His experiences are passed down through his son.
The T1 Trust: First off, I want to thank you for taking some time to talk with us. First question is, why don't you tell us a little bit about your early life, and where you grew up, and what your childhood was like?
John McDonnell: Okay. I grew up in a small town of Central Pennsylvania called Hollidaysburg, about five or six miles south of Altoona, which is where the Altoona railroad shops were, also the locomotive construction for the Pennsylvania Railroad. And then my father was a Chief Observer of tests for the Pennsylvania Railroad. And his father was a chief chemist for the Pennsylvania Railroad from about the turn of the century on, until the early '40s and during the war. My grandfather retired, but my father worked with them until about 1963.
The T1 Trust: Okay.
John McDonnell: And my childhood... I wrote an email to you about it... When I enjoyed going with my father and looking at trains, and riding on trains, and I guess that we used to go down on an overhead bridge and, I believe it was 7th Street in Altoona, where they had... It's just a walking bridge where you could stand there and watch the trains going back and forth each way. And he would identify the different locomotives. He'd say, "Well, that's a J1, and that's a K4." And I was always impressed when I did see a T1, they were really a unique locomotive and I just thought they were really neat. And I think that I had seen them up until they were retired when I was about 14 or 15 years old. But even when I was going away to college and I was 17, why they still had a few dozen of the T1s parked in the sidings in the yard in East Altoona and waiting to be scrapped. And I thought, "Boy, that's a shame. They ought to be saving one of those."
The T1 Trust: What were the T1s like to see in person? I don't know if you saw them in any performance capacity beyond just moving around Altoona, but do you recall any specific details, the sounds they made, things like that?
John McDonnell: Not really. I think that they were an impressive-looking locomotive, but any steam locomotive, [chuckle] it was pretty impressive compared to a diesel locomotive. I guess I was sorry to see the steam retired because... But they put out a lot of smoke. And I guess that you could always smell the coal smoke in Altoona and Hollidaysburg. And I remember back about the time I graduated from high school, they started to sandblast our courthouse in Hollidaysburg. And when they sandblasted it, nobody ever knew that it was a light gray. We always figured it was black. [chuckle] So, anyway, there was certainly were negative things about steam locomotives, but, just as a piece of machinery, they were really impressive, especially when I was younger like six, seven years old, when the driving wheels were taller than I was. When it would pull a passenger train into the station and you would be looking, it was... My younger sister got scared and would cry. But I was just really impressed with the piece of machinery. But the T1s, in particular, I don't remember anything any different than, say, a K4, or something, as far as the sound they made or the level of the sound or anything.
The T1 Trust: Okay. I just thought I'd ask. [chuckle]
John McDonnell: But that escapes me.
The T1 Trust: Let's see here. What should I do next? Let's see. How did you first find out about the T1 Trust and what are your impressions that have been formed so far?
John McDonnell: Well, I read about the T1s a few times, about Raymond Loewy, the architect who did the design, the streamlining on it, and it was something that... That and the GT1 were really nice-looking pieces of equipment. My father was never fond of the T1 because of the problems they had getting the proper maintenance done on them. You apparently had a lot of the streamlining required, some steel placed in areas that made getting into the bearings you needed to grease or oil, or check, made it more difficult. And sometimes I guess those maintenance steps would be passed over by the maintenance people as being too difficult, and it made the locomotive less than ideal. But as far as a good passenger locomotive for pulling big consistent high speed, especially between Pittsburgh and Chicago, or Pittsburgh and St. Louis, that was really what they were best at doing.
The T1 Trust: So I'm assuming, since he had opinions on the way the streamlining affected maintenance, your father did not... Did he have a hand in the design of the T1 or did he simply work on them?
John McDonnell: He simply worked on them. My father went to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad when he graduated from Yale in 1923. And he had been with the Pennsylvania Railroad through the whole Depression, but when the 1939, when Depression... Or 1929, when the Depression hit, he was demoted to being an engine house foreman in Havre de Grace, Maryland. And so he was just making sure all the locomotives got fired up and were ready to go in the morning and things like that. He worked the night shift, and he really didn't like those years of the Depression. And once, I guess in the middle '30s, things improved enough with the economy that he went back to Altoona and was made a Chief Observer of tests, and he did testing of the locomotives and of the rolling stock, and of the right-of-way. They had a dynamometer car that they would move along the tracks and check, make sure that the roadbed was smooth enough and everything to make the trains more efficient and run faster.
The T1 Trust: Let's see here. Do you happen to recall anything that your father might have said about the T1's performance at the test plant in Altoona?
John McDonnell: No. I remember down in the basement of the test department, they had a... [chuckle] WellI don't call it a treadmill. They brought the steam locomotives right into the basement of the test plant and fired 'em up, and saw just what their tractive force was and things like that. But I never saw that in operation, really.
The T1 Trust: Right.
John McDonnell: I visited my father at work, but he just had a desk in an upper floor, or second or third floor. It wasn't really a... He spent most of his time in the field actually, in places like New York or Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, or places like that. He had a nice pass, let him get on any train and travel anywhere. And he got me trip passes to travel all over the United States. And I did that quite a lot in high school and college until Amtrak took over, I guess. And then I still ride Amtrak occasionally.
The T1 Trust: Well, having that pass must have been a handy thing to have. [chuckle]
John McDonnell: Oh, yeah. I went out to Utah and Nevada. Back then, between major cities, you had three or four trains a day, and it was easy to get around and you just had to change railroads and sometimes change stations in a given city 'cause there wasn't always a union station. But anyway, it was pretty easy to get around, but on passenger trains and of course, by the, I guess it was the '60s, they were... I feel like the ICC was... Cancel an awful lot of the service.
The T1 Trust: Let's see. Did you ride on trains behind the T1s or no?
John McDonnell: Probably I did. Of course, by the time I was old enough to really recognize T1s as being a unique locomotive, they stopped using 'em on passenger service, but undoubtedly, I did up until I was probably eight years old before I really knew what a T1 was.
The T1 Trust: Right. Okay. Give me one second here.
John McDonnell: That would've been the early '50s.
The T1 Trust: Do you have any further recollections of your father's comments pertaining to the T1? Anything at all, even in a general sense?
John McDonnell: No. Wish I did. It'd be nice to sit down and talk to him now [chuckle] in retrospect. But anyway, no, I guess that I was just sort of disappointed when I really thought that they were such a cool-looking locomotive, and he kinda said, "Eh." [chuckle] "They're more trouble than they're worth, I think," would've been his opinion of them.
The T1 Trust: Well, I've worked in car dealerships and car mechanics are much the same way. You say, "Oh, that's a neat-looking car." "Oh, it's just a pain in the a** to work on." [chuckle]
John McDonnell: I’m sure it's a trade-off in any industry. I've worked in shipping all my life. I'm still a licensed ship captain, one of the oldest ones left, I think. And most of my career, I worked on steam ships. Back in the '70s and '80s, they pretty much converted everything and all the ships being built were diesel. And steam plants were run by steam turbines with a condenser, and I always asked my dad why they didn't do that kind of thing. Apparently, there were experiments with locomotives with the condensers and out in the desert where they had a big air condenser up in front of the boiler, but they never really effectively used them. And then you can build up a vacuum with a condenser and make it a lot more efficient.
John McDonnell: And another thing is that they don't require water so much. I know they use track pans and things on the Pennsylvania railroad, but anyway, the coal and water are necessary and getting those just load up the schedule of fast passenger train. And diesels are a big advantage, as far as maintenance and fewer stops, but I had a few other things you'd asked about... You asked another question about how I became aware of the T1 besides my father telling me. But the T1 Trust, I just got it because I've had a dream about the T1... Oh, I guess, it was three or four months ago. And I said, "Yeah, I'd like to find out more about them, whatever really... " I knew they'd all been scrapped, but I just wondered if there were some pictures of them and things. And that's when I came across your website.
The T1 Trust: It's certainly been a very interesting few years and we're hoping it's going to continue to be interesting.
John McDonnell: Well, I just was thinking when I saw that, I said, "Boy, that's a really ambitious project to really build one." I thought, "Well, even if you just collected a lot of photos and slideshows, and 8mm movies of them, that would be a big plus."
The T1 Trust: Well, last year, I was in Pennsylvania for the Trust and did some in-person interviews with a few of our donors, and one of our people has been helping us out at the State Archives and I got to see the extent of the documents that they've been digging through. And it's the fact that those sketches, those mechanical drawings survived at all is astonishing. I mean, could we have done it without them? Yes, but it would've been... We would've effectively been designing the locomotive from scratch.
John McDonnell: [chuckle] Yeah. That would've been a near impossibility. But I'm glad you have that assistance. And I know I toured down the test department in Altoona on 17th Street, that they have a... I think where the old Altoona shops were, they have a museum built there about the work that was done there in the shops, rolling oiler pipes and pouring the frames and things like that. Some pretty big machinery is needed for that kind of work.
The T1 Trust: Definitely.
John McDonnell: Yeah.
The remainder of John’s interview with The T1 Trust will be published in the autumn issue of the ‘T1 Trail Blazer’.