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Edition #118, January 15, 2010

The Call

Photographer: Kevin N. Tomasic

                                                                                 Photo by Kevin N. Tomasic

The Call

The call came in to my office in the late morning-it was from my friend Ken Bitten, who was the stores manager at Chessie’s Glenwood shop. “You better get down here, 614’s in the shop for work”. I told him I’d be down to see him after work. ”Just come to my office and I’ll get you in” he said.

At the time 614 was running all over the Chessie System in steam excursion service and owing to improper lubrication, had scored a piston during a run. The closest shop that could perform the necessary repairs to the crippled steamer was at Glenwood yard, near Pittsburgh. At this late date (1980) Glenwood’s backshop was down to doing inspections and running repairs to the fleet of units working the yard and locals, which radiated out of Pittsburgh and down the Monongahela Valley. Its glory days were long gone.

I got to Glenwood about 3:30 in the afternoon and stumbled into Ken’s small, cluttered office. He handed me a hard hat, grinned and said “Let’s go out to the shop, you’re gonna like this”. We dived into the dark cavernous shop and after a couple of turns, there she was, 614 with her cylinder heads removed. The cylinder liners were removed and a couple of old heads were turning her pistons on a belt (!) driven lathe. Looking up I saw that there were long jackshafts running the length of the shop. These jackshafts were powered by one huge electric motor from back in the day when motors were extremely expensive. At each machine (lathe, drill press, boring mill, etc…) there was a wide leather belt, which transferred the power from the jackshaft down to each of these machines. This system was unchanged from the days when Glenwood was a shop which could build whole steam locomotives for the B&O, now it was an anachronism in the days of high powered machine tools with computerized controls.

I don’t know if this was the last locomotive repaired at this shop, but it was definitely the last steam locomotive that Chessie repaired there-614 was alone in the shop that day, there weren’t even any diesels in to keep her company.

A few years later, the ex B&LE 2-10-4 #643 called the building home, but by then the machines, belts and jackshafts were long gone and the old machinists who’d worked on 614 were pulling pension checks. Glenwood shop was just a place to keep an old steam engine dry.

It was one of the best phone calls I ever got.

Kevin N. Tomasic

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