The End of Steam

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The End of Steam-June 1958

Photo of the Month - May 2014

The last two Norfolk & Western class M steam locomotives left in Columbus, No.422 and 496. No longer needed they await the trip to the scrap yard. That is the N&W roundhouse in the background. Photo by Galen Gonser, June 1958.

        In the days of steam the N&W used a class M, 4-8-0, also known as a twelve Wheeler, to switch the freight house on Mt. Vernon Avenue in Columbus. Back in the day one or two railfans could get away with a visit to the train yards and even walk around the engine house as long as they stayed in the background. It was on one of those trips that Dave Bunge noticed a cold class M was taking up space in the Joyce Avenue engine house. He was told by one of the workers that they kept two class M locomotives in Columbus, one working the freight house and the other getting routine maintenance. Each month they would be swapped. Steam locomotives take a lot of maintenance time and that way they could work on the spare Class M during free time between maintaining the road locomotives.
        As the end of steam in Columbus approached the steam buffs at the Ohio Railway Museum figured if they were ever to acquire a second steam locomotive they better act fast. George Silcott was one of three ORM trustees. He agreed to contact the N&W requesting one of their locomotives for preservation at the ORM. Dave Bunge went along for the meeting with the Scioto Division superintendent. George asked for a class M. Since the museum members intended to fire up their new locomotive a class M seemed like the perfect locomotive for the ORM. It was already an antique being the oldest locomotive in operation at the end of steam in Columbus. It was also relatively light with those twelve wheels which nicely matched the 90 pound rail at the ORM.
        It turned out the N&W did not have any M's left that were in good enough condition that the museum could operate the locomotive without extensive repairs. The superintendent offered a class A, 2-6-6-4, a great locomotive, but way more engine than a group of volunteers could handle on a regular basis. As it turned out the N&W had a light Pacific, 4-6-2 in excellent condition in No. 578 and that's the locomotive the ORM got. The little band of volunteers were able to run 578 into the early 1980s.
        As for a N&W class M, the Strasburg Railroad in Pennsylvania has an operational M that was completely overhauled in the last few years. It brings back memories to see No. 475, a mate to the two M's shown above, still in operation hauling both passenger trains and recently switching freight cars.