Kevin’s Komments08/06/2021


Camelbacks!  Mother Hubbards!  Way back when I was a teenager, I loved camelbacks.  I dreamed of a layout with a loco roster filled with camelbacks of all shapes and sizes.  Then I found out that it was impractical to have a camelback Big Boy!  Dreams sometimes fall hard!

The general theory was that you can see out the front of the locomotive better when the cab was placed mid-boiler.  The idea was great for switchers, but as boilers got larger, you couldn’t get enough room for the cab to straddle the boiler.  Most camelbacks were retired by the late ‘20s.

This first pic is what brought back those youthful memories. New York, Ontario & Western #273 was a 2-6-0 Camelback, probably class U. Rough build date is around 1903 to 1905.

Another NYO&W 2-6-0, #142, was built by Dickson Manufacturing Co. in 1883. Another photo found showed it in the scrap line in 1933 – so it survived almost the entire camelback era.

Another NYO&W 2-6-0, #142, was NYO&W #204 was a similar 2-8-0 camelback class P, built in 1900.  The NYO&W bought several class Ps and Us during the first few years of the 20th century.

The Reading Company, better known as Reading railroad or rail line, seemed to have large numbers of camelbacks.  This is #1559 – likely a class I, 2-8-0 built around 1905 to 1906.

RDG # 1412, was an 0-8-0, class E4b. Most of the Reading camelbacks were built by either Baldwin or the Reading locomotive shops.

RDG #939 2-8-0, class I2-a, was built a bit earlier – 1887, by Burnham Williams & Co.

RDG # 1335, 0-6-0, was part of a group of around 3 dozen class B-7a’s built between 1906 and 1913 by Baldwin and the Reading shops. #1335 is shown as built in 1906.

RDG #1177, an 0-4-0, class A-5a, was built in 1906.

B&O initiated development of the camelbacks with their camel locomotives. In 1844 through 1847, they developed a series of 0-8-0 locomotives nicknamed “muddiggers”. Because of the gearing, the cab was eventually built high on the boiler between the firebox and the smokebox forming the first camel locomotives. In 1855, the B&O built the first 4-8-0 called the Centipede (lower part of the sketch below. In 1864, they moved the cab from the front of the loco to sitting high on the boiler. The new cab placement turned the Centipede into another camel locomotive (upper part of sketch). These camel locos led to the camelback design.

The B&O continued with development of camel style locomotive, including #173, 4-6-0, was built by the B&O shops in 1873 (currently in the B&O museum).

I couldn’t find much on B&O 4-6-0 #217, but it appears to be from the same run of locos as #173.

The Philadelphia & Reading RR (P&R), predecessor of the Reading Co., built the first camelbacks in their Reading shops.  The wide firebox on the first camelbacks made them more efficient fuel burners than previous locomotive designs.  The first camelbacks were 4-6-0s.  P&R #308, a 2-6-0, was an early camelback.

P&R #96, a 4-4-0, is one of their early camelbacks.

The PRR built a few camelbacks…PRR class E-1 #700 was an Atlantic 4-4-2 passenger loco built in the PRR Altoona shops in 1899. PRR built three of these, #698, 700, & 820 to compete against the P&R in a speed competition. PRR referred to them as Mother Hubbards. After a few fast runs, they were put into regular service and then scrapped in 1911. The first of the PRR Atlantic 4-4-2s, class E, were the Mother Hubbards, but later class Es had the cab shifted back to what we consider a more traditional location – behind the firebox.

I couldn’t find anything on these two 2-8-0 camelbacks which are the first two of a triple-header leading a passenger train.  The third locos cab is definitely behind the firebox, but I can’t pick out the exact wheel arrangement – given the time period, for a passenger loco, probably a 4-6-0.

Number 791, a 2-6-2 was part of the Lehigh Valley roster.

LV also had some 2-8-0 camelbacks – here’s #784 getting a water fill.

Going back to those broken childhood dreams – Who said you couldn’t do a camelback Big Boy? Not quite a super large articulated from the late steam era, but still the general idea – This is an Erie class L-1, 0-8-8-0, an Alco, built in 1907.

In 1907, the three L-1 units built for Erie, 2600, 2601, & 2602, were largest locomotives of the day. This class, L-1, was nicknamed the “Angus” in homage to Angus Sinclair, publisher of Railway & Locomotive Engineering. They were used for pusher service.

…So maybe the youthful dreams are still attainable!



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3 thoughts on “Kevin’s Komments08/06/2021

  1. Nyet!  Camelbacks came about because of the wide firegrates needed for certain types of (presumably cheap) Anthracite coal.  Look at how some of those fireboxes take the entire width of the loco.  No place to put the people.       Monty  

  2. Monty sent this email (below) to me yesterday correcting my assumption on the camelbacks that the main reason for putting the cab mid-boiler was better view.  Quick research shows that the camelbacks were most prevalent on railroads that had best access to anthracite coal.  John Wooten designed the wide “Wooten” firebox to effectively burn anthracite “waste”.  So the increased efficiency was while using cheap inferior anthracite coal.  The ICC banned the construction of any new camelbacks 1927 due to safety issues – hence why most were retired by the late ’20s.  With the engineer stationed above the side rods, a loose or failing rod would swing through the cab.  Additionally, the fireman was exposed to the elements behind the firebox.  Unfortunately, I was unable to find an answer to George’s question of, “Who was stationed on the opposite side of the engineer?” – The fireman was behind on a platform on the tender.  So far, I’ve not seen a reference to who was opposite the engineer.  
    The B&O camels were a completely different situation than the camelbacks.  They had a wide firebox design, but it was due to an early inefficient boiler design – not because they were burning anthracite.  (The B&O was burning bituminous in their early engines.)  As shown in the diagram, the “Centipedes” initially had their cab in front.  (I’m not sure the location of the original cabs on the “Muddiggers”.)  The cab was moved above the center of the boiler to more evenly distribute weight over the drivers.  I imply that the camels led to the camelback design – but the camels were part of an earlier era when the entire locomotive design was still being worked out.  The camelbacks came after steam locomotives started trending to the modern design – the camelbacks were an offshoot designed for using cheap inefficient fuel.   

    …And just for clarification:  The Philadelphia and Reading (P&R) crews referred to the camelbacks as “Mother Hubbards”, hence why when the PRR started their little speed competition with the P&R, they also called their camelbacks “Mother Hubbards”.  Of course, the PRR had better access to bituminous coal, so they never went beyond the few initial camelbacks they built.  The B&O had co-use of the Readings line between Philadelphia and Bound Brooks, NJ.  The B&O crews referred to the camelbacks as “Snappers”  

    The advent of the mechanical stokers also played a part in the disappearance of the camelbacks.  The mechanical stokers forced the cab deck to be raised to clear the stoker.  With a raised cab, the camelbacks could be modified to a rear end cab unit where the higher deck cleared the stoker and grates, and the crew was much safer from side rods thrashing the cab.   The Central RR of NJ was another line that ran quite a few camelbacks because of their access to anthracite.   Thx, Kevin

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