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Whither (or is it Wither?) the K4s?
by Jim Wrinn
Scranton, Penn., was never a household word to me, in the steam sense, when I was growing up. Names like Altoona, Cheyenne, Roanoke, Conneaut and Belen were well known to me on account of their incredible history, their part in 1960s and 1970s steam restoration projects, or both. It was only after the Steamtown collection moved in the late 1980s to Scranton, in northeastern Pennsylvania, that I began to pay attention to this former Lackawanna shop town.
Today, it ranks right up there with Chattanooga, Williams, Coshocton, Chama, Durango, Cass, Elbe (Wash.) and yes, Cheyenne, as the premier places for steam restoration in America at the dawn of the 21st century.
I visited the former Lackawanna back shop the weekend of Sept. 23-24 as a participant in the Association of Railway Museums 40th annual meeting. What a magnificent place and what an incredible sight to see three large steam locomotives and one small but significant one under restoration. While ex-Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 No. 2317 put on a show powering the twice daily excursion runs to Moscow, Pa., inside workers were chipping away at their projects.
Here's what was going on:
Baldwin Locomotive Works plant switcher 26, an 0-6-0, was inside the shop for a crown sheet replacement and tubes. The work was just getting started on this engine from the Class of 1929.

Canadian National Mikado 3254, a 1918 product, was nearing the end of its overhaul. Jacketing was going on the boiler.

Boston & Maine 4-6-2 3713 was under going a slow restoration as funds allow. The local NRHS chapter has taken this project under its wing. The staybolts that need replacement had been marked and the boiler barrel had been ultrasounded. This relatively late, modern engine, built by Lima in 1934, will be a workhorse...one day. A couple of projections place the work at about $240,000 and I've seen some thoughts that the engine could be in service by 2007, the 50th anniversary of its last run.

Pennsylvania Railroad K4 1361 was disassembled to a point only before seen among engines going to scrap. The symbol of the Railroaders Memorial Museum in Altoona is undergoing a heavy overhaul. Contractor Jeff Miller and volunteer Wayne Laepple were busy putting the finishing touches on a new smokebox. They've formed a new rear tube sheet and were planning to replace the lower half of the front tube sheet soon. With only two employees and a handful of volunteers regularly working on the project, it may be some time before the engine is ready, even though the projections call for fall 2001.
The K4 project presents some real questions and the first is about why there aren't more people coming out of the wood work to assist. While this must be the hands-down favorite of Pennsy partisans everywhere on account of it being the PRR's standard passenger engine, I would have figured there would have been more people to help. Several local volunteers come every Saturday, but it will take many more. Where is everyone else?
The other is the ultimate use of the engine. Word is that the engine will make some test runs at Scranton before returning to Altoona. That means a matter of months in Scranton, which has the mainline track and audience she deserves. With Norfolk Southern's anti-steam policy and a dearth of available shortlines in the area, it seems that prospects for regular operation are still up in the air.
It would be a shame to spend as much time, money and effort on the engine not to leave it in Scranton for at least a year. There, at least, it can serve as a rolling billboard for the Railroaders Memorial Memorial Museum in front of an audience of almost 180,000 Steamtown visitors. Unless some shortline near Altoona can physically and financially accommodate the engine after its return to the mechanical heart of the old PRR, she'll become just one more hanger queen. She'll become an engine that is not only dressed up but also fixed up and still has no place to go.
Jim Wrinn, quickly closing in on age 40, is a staff writer for The Charlotte Observer and a volunteer with the N.C. Transportation Museum. He came along too late to see Southern Railway's bread and butter passenger locomotive, the Ps4, run. He hopes to have better luck with the Pennsylvania's legendary passenger locomotive.
What's your reaction? Send your comments to mail@steamcentral.com.
From Dave Peterson, President of the Locomotive & Tower Preservation Fund:

"As president of the group that removed SOO 2719 from Eau Claire's Carson Park and restored the former Soo Line 4-6-2 to operation, I, as well as the group received all kinds of suggestions of what to do, where to operate, etc. from many people who did not contribute to the success of the operation. Whether or not one group restoring an engine comes up to some else's expectations it not the point. The people who do the work and raise the money are the ones who really determine what to do with the engine. I, for one, am gratefull to any group that preserves a locomotive for the present and the future to enjoy. I am happy to know it is running somewhere."
From Jim Dyer:

"Seems simple to me. It's a helluva lot easier to move the people to where the engine's running, than to manufacture a railroad where the engine's sleeping. It's even in Pennsylvania, for crying out loud! Leave it at Steamtown for more than a year. Leave it there and, like paintings in art museums everywhere, put a little plaque on it saying it's on loan and if you enjoyed seeing it, please drop a few bucks in the box on the way out. And oh, if you must, free cab rides for the folks from Railroaders' Memorial."