Re: FGEX ex-PRR R7s

Richard Hendrickson

On Aug 9, 2012, at 10:12 AM, Bruce F. Smith wrote:

Richard makes a couple of excellent points and one completely off
the wall assertion.... I mean, seriously, comparing the PRR's
mechanical department to "vesties"? Rather than calling people
names, I favor a thoughtful analysis of the actions of railroad
management in the context of the times. My feeling regarding the
PRR is the first part (self absorbed) might well be true, but they
were regarded as anything but clowns or buffoons. The PRR's
mechanical department presents interesting contrasts. They were
outrageously conservative, yet at times extremely innovative. They
were among the 1st to use all steel construction in passenger and
freight cars. The X23/R7, the X25, the X28/29, the X31/32/33 were
all trend setters. No debate that the PRR, like many large american
companies (Eastman Kodak perhaps being the most recent victim),
suffered from the innovation impairing "our way is the right way"
mentality and among many SPF's the phrase "standard railway of the
world" is used with bemusement as well. However, think about the
subject car. What PRR did was to create a "standard" car in the X23
that was adapted to many uses, including increased height
automobile cars (X24), refers (R7), and stock cars (K7/K7a)... and
it was neither the first not last time they did it. Ultimately,
perhaps the duplexes best define the PRR's mechanical department.
Outrageously innovative locomotives, with performance to match (for
the most part) yet built when steam loco technology was just being
eclipsed by the diesel. (I know some argue that the duplexes were
failures, but much has been published that indicates that had they
not been competing against diesels, they would have been considered
very successful)
I don't disagree with much of what Bruce asserts here, and I won't
comment on the Pennsy duplex locos as I know relatively little about
them (though I will say that when the PRR finally, and belatedly,
embraced internal combustion, they bought small numbers [by Pennsy
standards] of almost every diesel model being manufactured in the US,
with the predictable result that they created a maintenance
nightmare). "Clowns" and "buffoons" would certainly be excessive,
and even "bozos," the term I actually used, was perhaps
insufficiently respectful. However, there's plenty of evidence that
the mechanical departments of other major railroads thought the
Pennsy mechanical department was wrong-headed, unjustifiably
opinionated, and did not play well with others.
BTW, weren't the AT&SF mechanical department the, ahem, "bozos" who
came up with the idea of a boiler that hinged in the middle? Really??
Really. But that was a looong time ago when the Santa Fe was also
having a love affair with compounds, owing mostly to their potential
for saving water on a railroad that traversed many miles of the arid
southwest where there was no water. That all changed with the
appointment in May, 1912 of John Purcell as head of the Santa Fe's
mechanical department. Only 42 at the time (Purcell had begun his
employment on the Santa Fe at age 14), he had previously been
superintendent of the Topeka shops and was all too familiar with the
frequency and complexity of repairs required by the Santa Fe's
compounds. He was also well aware of the potential for efficiency of
the Schmidt superheater, which had just been introduced in North
America and installed on five of the Santa Fe's 1309 class balanced
compound 4-6-2s. The results of that experiment were so successful
that every subsequent Santa Fe steam locomotive was equipped with a
Schmidt superheater and none were built as compounds apart from some
balanced compound 4-6-2s that were already on order. Most of the
compound mallets (including the hinged-boiler 2-6-6-2s) were rapidly
rebuilt as simple locomotives with superheaters, and other compounds
were steadily converted through the late 'teens and early '20s. By
the mid-1920s, Purcell had reshaped the Santa Fe's mainline
locomotive fleet to four well-designed types (4-6-2, 4-8-2, 2-8-2,
and 2-10-2) which were all similar, were well adapted to the Santa
Fe's varying operating conditions, and had as many interchangeable
parts as possible, thus greatly simplifying maintenance. He then
went on in the late '20s and 1930s to supervise development of the
Santa Fe's spectacularly successful 4-6-4s, 4-8-4s, and 2-10-4s,
finally retiring in 1941. Purcell's story is well recounted in Larry
Brashear's Santa Fe Locomotive Development published by Signature Press.

What does all this have to do with freight cars? Well, it was under
Purcell's leadership that the unique mid-'20s composite cars of
classes Bx-3, Bx-6, Fe-P, Fe-Q, and Fe-R were developed, surely as
innovative and successful a design as the Pennsy X23/R7. When they
became obsolete as box cars in the 1950s, hundreds of Bx-3s and Bx-6s
were converted to stock cars and in that role many of them were still
running reliably in revenue service through the 1960s. I would add
that the Santa Fe was a prompt and enthusiastic convert to the AAR
standard freight car designs while the PRR continued for a decade or
more to build freight cars of its own design which were essentially
inferior to the AAR cars (e.g., the X37).

Richard Hendrickson

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