Locomotive #35

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Photo by John Hartman

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Photo by Mike Hartman

WK&S #35 was one of two experimental gas-electric boxcab locomotives built by the Mack Truck Company.

The two locomotives started out as electric freight motors for the Southwest Missouri Railway of Joplin, Missouri. Built in the 1920s, the freight motors included trolley poles and secondhand trucks from discarded interurban cars. One may have been built by General Electric and the other may have been built in house. In any event, they were both more or less identical. The units were used to haul ore between lead mines and the processing plant.

The Mack Truck Company had been involved in the self-propelled passenger car business. Then they decided to try their hand at industrial locomotives. Around 1939 both freight motors were acquired by Mack and shipped to Allentown, PA. Mack experimentally converted the units to gas-electric power with a pair of six cylinder 150 hp Mack EP engines and GE GT-1503 300 volt generators. The generators were experimentally wired in series for a theoretical output of 600 volts. But they didn't load evenly and it never really worked. The two locomotives may have been numbered 3 and 4 or 4 and 5 depending on different references I've read. No numbers appear in any old photographs I've seen. At this point I'm not sure which locomotive was which. In any event, neither locomotive found a buyer and Mack left the locomotive manufacturing business. Nevertheless, both locomotives were retained as in-plant switchers at the Mack #5 division shipping center in Allentown. Both locomotives remained in service at least into the 1950s before being retired.

Around 1967 one of the Mack boxcabs was acquired by the Rockhill Trolley Museum of Rockhill Furnace, PA. The other boxcab (future WK&S #35) remained in Allentown. In 1968 the Rockhill unit was switching the East Broad Top's dual-gage yard at Mount Union and then spent some time on the New Hope & Ivyland. But by 1971 the unit had been discarded and moved to storage at Penndel, PA.

In 1978 a WK&S volunteer, who was also a Mack employee, arranged for the donation of the remaining boxcab and it was trucked from Allentown to Kempton. After arriving at Kempton, it received traction-motor repairs, an overhaul to one of its two engines, a new cable control system, and a modern 26L automatic airbrake system. The locomotive weighed about 35 tons so it was given the number 35. Restoration was complete by 1982, but the locomotive suffered from the same uneven loading problems and was difficult to synchronize. It worked okay for switching but tended to overheat on longer runs. Then in 1986 one of the engines failed from a loss of oil pressure. Despite the loss of an engine, #35 was still used occasionally for switching. It also continued to be advertised through the late 1980s as available power for one or two car charter trains. If the locomotive was ever actually used in this capacity, it was a rare occurrence.

In 1986 the WK&S acquired the other Mack boxcab unit. That unit was delivered to the WK&S on the same day as Reading caboose #92830 which had also been stored at Penndel. The locomotive no longer had trucks and was placed on the ground by the back track switch. But it did include two engines and other spare parts that the WK&S hoped could be used to repair #35. Some progress to that end was made, but the project never really made it off the back burner.

Attention was diverted from #35 when the WK&S acquired Whitcomb locomotive #602 in 1988. Number 602 has had some reliability issues of its own, but it was certainly a step up. Any hope for #35 was put to rest when the WK&S acquired GE locomotive #7258 in 1997. Number 7258 had the potential to be a truly reliable locomotive. So #35 was stripped and its valuable trolley trucks were sold off to the Shelburn Falls Trolley Museum. The sale helped defer the cost of restoring #7258. The carcass of #35 was placed on a pair of shop trucks and moved to storage.

The WK&S was leaning toward scrapping the remains of both Mack units. But then the units were sold in 2008. One unit was eventually scrapped. But the new owners combined parts to cosmetically restore the other.

Below are two more webpages about the past and future of WK&S Mack #35...

JC McHugh (External Link)

SBIII (External Link)

Although I never got to run #35 I liked its looks. It reminded me of another one of my favorite locomotives, the CNJ boxcab #1000 located at the B&O Museum. It also had a pretty neat Reading-inspired paint job. I remember poking around the WK&S a few years before I became a volunteer. The guys were working on #35 and conducted a light test run to N. Albany. I was offered a ride and I obviously didn't pass it up!

Many of the parts stripped from #35 are still on hand. Around 2009 the Mack's 26L automatic airbrake system was used in the reconstruction of the railroad's newest acquisition, GE locomotive #734.

The three photos below show one of the Macks (future WK&S #35) at Allentown. The first photo may be from the 1950s. The second two are probably closer to 1978.

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Future WK&S #35 at Allentown.

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Future WK&S #35 at Allentown.

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Future WK&S #35 at Allentown.

The next picture shows the other Mack unit at Mount Union on the East Broad Top from around 1968. Note what appears to be a Mack logo on the side. Also note the fuel tank on the end platform. The fuel tank on the WK&S unit appears smaller with rounded corners.

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The other Mack at Mount Union.

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Stripped #35 resting on a pair of shop trucks.

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Stripped #35 resting on a pair of shop trucks.

The other Mack eventually ended up at the WK&S as a would-be parts donor. The four pictures below show what's left. Note that one engine is in the process of being removed, but that's as far as it got.

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April 4, 1986.

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The would-be parts donor.

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The would-be parts donor.

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The would-be parts donor.

In 2008 both Mack units were sold. The picture below shows #35 in down town Kempton being shoved on to a truck trailer for departure. The day is May 22, 2008. The same trailer just off loaded the tender for the railroad's new steam engine, Baldwin #4. The shop trucks under #35 were returned to the WK&S.

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Number #35 on the way to its new home.

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All that's left of the parts donor is a bare spot on the lawn.