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A Study Of . . . Railroad Engines / Chesapeake & Ohio's Coal-Fired Steam Turbine #500; pic 1

pic 1: c+o's coal-fired steam turbine #500

This ain't no Thomas The Tank Engine!  There were three coal-fired steam turbine engines such as this built by Baldwin Locomotive for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad in 1947/1948. Number 500, pictured above, was delivered first, in 1948, and immediately took a goodwill inaugural tour through-out the C&O system, heading a super-first-class, state-of-the-art Budd-built passenger train named the Chessie. These engines were monstrous for their day, each one being 106' long, with a 48' water tender. They stood 16' 4" high, and from front coupler to rear coupler, they measured almost 30' more than C&O's massive H-8 Alleghenies and 23' more than a Union Pacific Big Boy. Engine weight was 428 tons, exceeding that of an H-8 by 43 tons. A 6,000 h.p. steam turbine churned out electric power for eight traction motors mounted in a 4-8-0-4-8-4 wheel arrangement. Coal was carried in the nose ahead of the cab, and the boiler faced backwards, with turbine and generator at the far rear. From the outside, however, it was difficult to tell what was where, as the exterior was streamlined, from the forward-slanting orange nose to the stainless-steel flanked tender. The whole train was far too opulent both inside and out to be called simply a streamliner, and hence, was dubbed a dreamliner. But unfortunately, it never sailed. The C&O had drastically over-extended itself financially, not only in trying to get this project off the ground, but in other areas as well, such as rolling stock upgrades after WWII, capital improvements, etc, and in an era of rapidly-dwindling passenger revenue, and with freight revenue also starting to dip, the deficit was just too great. After the successful public relations tour of the C&O system, the train never began a regular run, and just . . . vanished . . . without any fanfare whatsoever, not even one single mention as to why this well-publicised super-train would never see the light of day. The passenger cars were sold off to various other railroads, and the three turbines were quietly put to work in low-profile passenger service. As it turned out their performance was less than spectacular: operating and maintenance costs were high, and power output and availability was uncertain at best. They wheezed unsteadily for two years, and in 1950, they were retired and turned back to Baldwin. One of the few things that remain from the whole endeavor is this post card.  (The information and much of the wording in this caption comes from an excellent article in the July 1968 issue of Trains magazine, entitled, "This Was The Train That Was (But Never Was)", by Geoffrey H George)

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