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steam engines 89 and 475 on the train tracks side-by-side

Photo courtesy of Christopher R. Pollock.

Whether you’re a railfan or not, you can’t deny the profound history that steam locomotives played in American history. At one point in time, steam was the “it” method of transportation.

Strasburg Rail Road’s equipment roster is full of historic steam engines and unique motive power that you can experience yourself. Read on to learn the history of 5 iconic steam engines and how Strasburg Rail Road acquired them. 

steam engine 31 on the tracks of strasburg rail road

Photo courtesy of Chris Muller.

1. Locomotive No. 31: Built in 1908, Acquired in 1960

Locomotive No. 31 is Strasburg Rail Road’s second-oldest locomotive in stock. Built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1908, this steam engine spent her early years on the Grand Trunk Railway and later on the Canadian National Railway (CN) until she was retired in 1958 and worked as a switcher.

As Strasburg Rail Road’s early stakeholders were looking for the perfect locomotive to revive passenger services to the railroad in 1959, they discovered locomotive No. 31 in the CN yard. After some negotiation, CN agreed to transport the steam engine to Pennsylvania to run on the Strasburg rails. 

This steam engine arrived at Strasburg Rail Road in 1960 and with her first passenger departure later that year, she earned the pedigree of the first steam locomotive to revive revenue-generating passenger services in America. 

Locomotive No. 31 paved the way for the restoration of steam engines. Though she hasn’t operated since 2009 due to federally mandated inspections, No. 31’s impact on passenger services makes her one of the most historic steam engines that Strasburg Rail Road owns.

steam engine 90 traveling down train tracks near a forest

2. Locomotive No. 90: Built in 1924, Acquired in 1967

Bought by Strasburg Rail Road in 1967, Locomotive No. 90 was originally built in 1924 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia. She was designed with a 2-10-0 wheel configuration to haul sugar beets, molasses, and other freight along the Great Western Railway (GWR) in Colorado.

What makes Engine No. 90 so unique is her Decapod wheel configuration. By design, Decapod steam engines are great for hauling freight up mountains and steep grades. However, their lack of trailing wheels makes them hard to reverse. 

For that reason, and the fact that most American railroad companies didn’t have a need for hauling grades of steam engines, Decapods became nearly non-existent in the US. Locomotive No. 90 is now one of two operating Decapods left in America. 

Despite her deceivingly small stature, No. 90 is Strasburg Rail Road’s most powerful steam engine on the roster. She’s still an active steam engine and is most often used to pull excursion train cars across the tracks. She is a true fan favorite!

a vintage photo of engine 89 flooded on the train tracks after a storm

3. Locomotive No. 89: Built in 1910, Acquired in 1972

Locomotive No. 89 was built in Canada in 1910 by the Canadian Locomotive Company. She spent most of her life running for the Canadian National Railway, but was retired and placed in storage in the late 1950s. 

In 1961, No. 89 was bought by a train collector, F. Nelson  Blount who relocated it to New Hampshire. It started running again in the mid-60s for the Green Mountain Railroad. In 1972, it was relocated again, this time to join Strasburg Rail Road’s roster. 

On her journey here from the New England states, No. 89 got caught in Hurricane Agnes. The effects of the flooding left Strasburg fearful that Locomotive No. 89 was doomed. But, hope was restored when it arrived at Strasburg Rail Road. Their mechanical services team repaired the damages and No. 89 emerged stronger than before. 

Now, she’s considered the fastest steam engine at Strasburg Rail Road, and she’s used for both passenger and freight services. If you’re interested in seeing photos of No. 89 during Hurricane Agnes, they can be found in “Images of Rail: Strasburg Rail Road.” 

steam engine 475 is sitting on a train track outside of Strasburg Rail Road train station

4. Locomotive No. 475: Built in 1906, Acquired in 1991

Built just two years before No. 31, Locomotive No. 475 was manufactured by Baldwin Locomotive Works to run for Norfolk & Western Railroad. She is the oldest and second-largest steam engine on Strasburg’s roster.

Much like engine No. 90, No. 475’s wheel configuration sets her apart from the rest. She uses a 4-8-0 design, which is so unusual that she’s the only 4-8-0 class still operating in North America!

She arrived at Strasburg Rail Road in 1991, and departed from the station with her first passenger train in the fall of 1993. Her size and power make her an all-purpose locomotive that Strasburg can rely on for passenger and freight services. 

You can find No. 475 in the movie, Thomas and the Magic Railroad, which was partly filmed on Strasburg Rail Road in 1999!

5. Thomas The Tank Engine™ (Built in 1917, Acquired in 1998)

We can’t end this blog without mentioning Thomas! Before he became Thomas the Tank Engine, Thomas was a regular steam engine that ran on the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal (B.E.D.T.). His former identity was B.E.D.T. No. 15, built by H. K. Porter, Inc. 

Most of his life, steam engine No. 15 was utilized as a switcher, hauling freight for boats and ships. In 1963, all B.E.D.T. locomotives were retired. Two years later he was purchased by the Southern Appalachian Railway where he ran on occasion, until ultimately retired and stored for display for 23 years. 

No. 15 was bought by Strasburg Rail Road in 1998 where it underwent a complete cosmetic restoration to replicate everyone’s favorite cartoon steam engine: Thomas! He’s equipped with moving eyes and a mouth powered by CGI. 

As of today, he is the only steam locomotive replica of Thomas in the United States that can operate independently. He is used several times a year for Strasburg’s famous Day Out With Thomas events.

Book your tickets to America’s Longest Operating Railroad to ride aboard some of the nation’s most historic steam engines.

motorcar no. 10 sitting outside or the train station at strasburg rail road

6. (Honorable Mention) Motorcar No. 10: Built in 1915, Acquired in 1960

Motorcar No. 10 was built in 1915 by a small shop in Maryland called Sanders Machine Shop. It was built for the Lancaster, Oxford & Southern Railroad (LO&S) to replace their old steam locomotive, which at the time, required frequent and expensive maintenance. 

No. 10 was designed like no other locomotive at the time. She is a self-propelled motorcar, which LO&S hoped would help reduce the crew costs and restore financial comfort. 

Unfortunately, LO&S never overcame their financial troubles and Motorcar No. 10 only ran for three years before operations were seized. The railway was sold as scrap tin in 1919, leaving No. 10 idle.

Soon after, Motorcar No. 10 was bought by Grasse River Railroad and remained there until 1960 when it was sold to Strasburg Rail Road. After years of restoration, No. 10 resumed passenger services in 1997. 

Many railway experts believe No. 10 is the only one of its kind, making it a prominent addition to Strasburg’s roster. In 2009, it was converted to a diesel locomotive. Though less active, No. 10 is still used occasionally for limited-time experiences.