News & Reviews News Wire Reading & Northern 4-8-4 repaired, set for next excursion

Reading & Northern 4-8-4 repaired, set for next excursion

By Dan Cupper | October 12, 2022

‘Firing table’ component in firebox is replaced on No. 2102

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Steam locomotive passes through town under cloudy skies
With an empty hopper train, Reading & Northern 4-8-4 No. 2102 passes through Nesquehoning, Pa., on April 26, 2022. After a mechanical issue on an Oct. 8 trip, the locomotive has been repaired and is ready for its next scheduled excursion. Dan Cupper

PORT CLINTON, Pa. — Reading & Northern Railroad’s Class T-1 4-8-4 steam locomotive is repaired and ready to pull a sold-out Oct. 29 excursion after a malfunctioning component in its firebox sidelined it during a trip on Saturday, Oct. 8.

After a six-year, $2.4 million restoration, the former Reading Co. engine has been performing flawlessly all summer, hauling freight trains and four “Iron Horse Ramble” passenger excursions on a portion of R&N’s 400-mile network in east-central Pennsylvania.

On Saturday, the engine was set to pull a Reading-to-Jim Thorpe, Pa., fall-foliage passenger run, about a 135-mile round-trip. It departed R&N’s Outer Station in Reading as planned, but clogged ports in the firing table in the engine’s firebox prevented it from continuing. The engine was cut off and relieved by a pair of SD50 diesels at R&N’s headquarters and shops at Port Clinton, about 17 miles into the run. The trip retraced the same route as that of the four earlier 2102 passenger excursions.

“The cooling holes on the firing table were blocked and it overheated (melted),” R&N CEO Andy Muller Jr. told Trains News Wire. “There were no fingers to shoot coal around the firing table and the coal piled up.”

A firing table is a flat piece of steel alloy weighing about 50 pounds and the size of “half a garbage can lid,” Muller said. Using a jet of steam, it distributes coal throughout the firebox after it’s fed by stoker from the tender. The table is designed with channels and “fingers” that spray and deflect the coal in different directions to provide an even pattern of combustion across the grates. The firing table openings, Muller said, were blocked by dirt or debris.

“The engine has been performing perfectly [until now],” he said. “It was very simple, the last thing we’d ever expected would have happened.

“All the people who understand these steam engines are dead. We were not quite understanding that particular section of technology, but we understand it now. It was a ‘nothing,’ but a major ‘nothing.

“It’s already fixed, and we’ve got extra firing tables,” said Muller.

A former Reading Co. freight-service engine, No. 2102 is one of 30 Class T-1 engines rebuilt in 1945-46 from earlier 2-8-0 engines in that company’s Reading, Pa., shops. Authorized for 65 mph in the Reading timetable, T-1s weighed in at 220 tons.

While others in the fleet were scrapped, No. 2102 was one of four T-1s that Reading set aside to operate in its Iron Horse Rambles from 1959 to 1964. Later, it pulled excursions under a variety of owners and sponsors in the Northeast and Midwest, including after Muller acquired it for R&N predecessor Blue Mountain & Reading in 1986.

After Saturday’s incident, Reading & Northern earned praise on social media for its quick handling of the disruption and even more for its transparency and customer relations in the aftermath.

Muller posted an apologetic notice on line, writing: “We had the perfect conditions for a Fall Foliage ramble. The weather was beautiful, the leaves were stunning and vibrant, and the energy of the  . . . staff was bolstered by our wonderful passengers. What could possibly go wrong?”

Describing himself as “just as shocked and disappointed as all of you,” he explained, “Think of this as a nail coming out of a horseshoe. It is a simple fix, but the horse would still be unable to run.”

He also pledged that customers — who pay a premium to ride behind steam, above the fare for R&N’s diesel-powered and Rail Diesel Car trips  — would be contacted and receive some form of compensation. Further details, Muller said, will be posted on the road’s Facebook page.

As R&N announced previously, the companion Oct. 9 and Oct. 30 fall foliage trips over the same route were, and will be, powered by the road’s F7A-B streamlined passenger diesel units, Nos. 270 and 275, which R&N purchased from Norfolk Southern, where they were used to pull NS’s office-car fleet. R&N also owns another steam locomotive, No. 425 (Baldwin, 1928), which runs on selected excursions.

The railroad also operates scheduled passenger trains from Jim Thorpe into the Lehigh Gorge State Park, usually with GP30 or GP38-2 units. It also runs shorter fall foliage trips, Santa Claus specials, and both scheduled and chartered RDC trips.

3 thoughts on “Reading & Northern 4-8-4 repaired, set for next excursion

  1. What great response by Mr. Muller. He sure knows how to treat his customers. And he tells it like it is. Would that there were more like him.

  2. The firing table, or distribution table as some call it, is part of the mechanical stoker.

    The stoker itself is powererd by a two-cylinder steam engine usually under the cab floor. It uses an augur to deliver coal from the tender to just under the fire door ion the backhead, depositing it on the firing table which is an actual table inside the firebox. Five steam jets pointing in five different directions blow the coal on the firing table and spread it throughout the firebox.

    The timetable speed limit on the T-1’s was 65 MPH, a little slow for 70″ drivers. I have personally clocked Rambles at 75 MPH (Hamilton watch and mileposts) on the New York Branch. Given the attention Management gave the Rambles, it had to have been authorized.

    2120 to 2129 did have steam and signal lines for passenger service but a T-1 was too big to run into Reading Terminal in Philadelphia, or Reading Outer Station (a different place from RBMN’s Outer Station) which ruled out all of RDG’s scheduled passenger trains. 2126 did work a leg of a fantrip from Reading to Catasauqua.

    The four surviving T-1’s weren’t set aside for the Rambles. in 1959, 2124 had flue time as well as steam and signal lines as well as cab signals. [2100, 2101 and 2102 had never been fired up after an overhaul]. Huntingdon St. Coach Yard had plenty of cars. A successful fantrip from Jersey City to Reading, with a shop tour and 1251, 2100 and 2124 on display, had sold out so RDG decided to run three trips with the equipment they had. There was a total of 51 Rambles plus trips on L&HR and B&O.

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