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  • Andrew Fitz

PRR E6s Atlantic No. 460, The Lindbergh Engine

Updated: May 17, 2019

No. 460's vital statistics:

Engine weight  243,000 lbs.Tender weight   167,650 lbs.Cylinders  23 1/2 x 26 inchesDriver diameter  80 inchesBoiler pressure  205 psiHeating surface  3509 square feetTractive force  31,275 lbs.Tender capacity, coal  15.8 tonsTender capacity, water  7150 gallonsAtlantic Class wheel arrangement 4-4-2Built  1914 at PRR Juniata Shops; retired 1955

Major claim to fame: spectacular race against a plane in 1927.

E6 passenger locomotive, as exemplified by the Museum’s No. 460, was the first major class of Pennsylvania Railroad steam power developed under carefully thought out scientific principles. Designed by Alfred Gibbs, General Superintendent Motive Power Lines East, the E6 was developed to cope with the heavier all-steel passenger trains that were entering service on the PRR in the early 1900s.

Not satisfied with the K2 Pacific (4-6-2) developed by his Lines West counterpart, David Crawford, Alfred Gibbs set out to design a locomotive that would be less massive and lighter than the K2, but would retain the K2’s power output. He believed that the four-driver Atlantic type (4-4-2) was still a valid concept for the PRR’s high-speed passenger service between New York and Washington, but he also realized that the existing E2 and E3d class Atlantics were too underpowered for the new fleet of all-steel trains.

Gibbs found the solution to the problem after studying the performance of the new H8 class Consolidation type (2-8-0) freight engine introduced in 1907, which employed the largest boiler ever applied to a PRR locomotive up to that time. According to his calculations, a similar-size boiler applied to an E3d frame would produce the desired results.

Starting work in 1909, Gibbs drew up specifications that duplicated the E3d’s cylinder size, boiler pressure, driver diameter, and firebox grate area, but called for a larger boiler to take advantage of the 55.5 ft grate area.

In designing the new boiler, Gibbs worked carefully to achieve optimum proportions to meet the anticipated steam demand. The outer shell of the boiler was modeled after the H8, but internally, it differed, having 460 two-inch-diameter tubes that were 13 feet 8 inches long.

Convinced that the K2 Pacific was much too heavy and thus sluggish at speed, Gibbs carefully calculated the weight on the E6 drivers to obtain an engine that was neither too light and slippery, nor too heavy as was the K2. Gibbs searched for innovative ways to reduce overall engine weight. One was the valve system that employed a "lightweight" Walschaerts valve gear and hollow steam-valves formed from specially heat-treated steel to provide strength.

To ensure that his new creation tracked well at high speed, Gibbs installed a novel suspension system that equalized the front pilot truck and the first set of drive, wheels separately from the rear drive wheels and the trailing truck. This resulted in an exceptionally smooth ride and greatly lessened rail head pounding by the drivers.

The first E6, No. 5075, emerged from the PRR Juniata Shops in Altoona in December 1910, closely followed by Nos. 89 and 1092. The latter was equipped with Young rotary piston valves in an effort to reduce fuel consumption, but it was discovered that complicated maintenance and high repair costs negated fuel savings, and the Young system was replaced by the Walschaerts valve gear.

Both Nos. 89 and 1092 were equipped with a superheater that produced a significant improvement over the initial design of No. 5075. Based on a Baldwin Locomotive Works device, the superheater was a system of tubes that loop back into the boiler flue tubes to further heat the steam adding more energy to the steam. The “superheated” steam enabled the engine to operate on less steam, reducing both coal and water consumption resulting in significant operating economies.

The effect of the superheater on the E6 design was astounding. During four years of testing at the PRR Altoona Test Plant, the superheated E6 demonstrated a 30% increase in power, with a corresponding 23% to 46% drop in water and coal consumption, depending on train weight and track gradient. By late 1913, the new E6 had been scientifically refined to the point where fleet production was justified. Following approval by the PRR Board of Directors, Alfred Gibbs supervised the construction of 80 more engines, which were placed in service between February and August of 1914. The first production locomotive, No.1794, was assigned to the Philadelphia Division for service on the PRR’s top “name” trains, including the Broadway Limited and the Manhattan Limited. The Museum’s engine -- No. 460 -- was the last E6 to roll from the production line.

Description of No. 460

The most noticeable part of the engine is its massive boiler which measures 85.5 in. diameter at its widest point. Designed to operate at 205 psi of pressure, the boiler contains 460 two-inch-diameter, 15-foot-long boiler tubes that provide 3,509 square feet of heating surface. A Belpaire-type firebox provides 54.7 square feet of grate area for the combustion of coal. Immediately below the smoke stack is a pair of 23.5 x 26 (inch-diameter x inch-stroke) cylinders -- one on each side. The smaller diameter upper cylinder contains the steam-valve that is operated by the lightweight Walschaerts valve gear.

The valve gear enables the locomotive engineer to control the engine running direction and by setting the valve timing (cut-off) control the engine’s power. Looking at one side of the locomotive, the main drive-rod connects the piston-rod/crosshead to the main crank-pin on one of the two pairs of 80-inch-diameter drive-wheels. The axle-link (side-rod) drives the second pair drive-wheels. All running gear is carefully counterbalanced for safe operation at high speed. Immediately preceding the drive wheels is a two-axle pilot or pony truck with 33.5-inch-diameter wheels. This assembly safely guides the locomotive into curves and through switches. Behind the drive wheels is a trailing truck with a single 50-inch-diameter wheel set.

Unlike the pilot truck, a carryover from the earlier E2 and E3d engines, the trailing truck was specifically designed for the E6. It features a cast single-piece truck frame with integral brackets that secure key components, such as brake rigging, pedestals, and friction plates. This KW truck, as it was known, is a great improvement over earlier designs where parts were merely bolted to a fabricated frame and thus were subject to loosening because of constant vibration.

Located above the KW truck, just forward of the cab on each side, are long, narrow cylindrical air reservoirs that store air for the braking system. These tanks are supplied by an air compressor located on the fireman’s side of the engine just above and between the main drivers. Directly above the air reservoir on the engineer’s side is a long steel bar running from the cab to the valve gear. This is the control rod for the reversing system. Unlike most PRR steam locomotives in the Museum Collection which have air-powered reversing devices, No. 460 has a manual system controlled by a large hand-turned wheel in the cab. Although obsolete even by 1914 standards, the manual reverse remained in use on all E6 engines until their retirement in the early 1950s.

The double-window cab is also a carryover from prior Pennsylvania Railroad engine classes. The E6 class was the last to use this type of cab. Also, unlike most of the engines in the Museum Collection, the E6 is not equipped with an automatic stoker. To the very end of their operations, the E6 locomotives depended on the strong backs of their firemen for coal supply.

Attached to the locomotive is its tender, which holds 16 tons of coal and 7,150 gallons of water. Known as a water bottom type because of the location of the water below the coal bin, the E6 tender was classified by the PRR as a type 70-P-66. This designation refers to the 7000-gal water capacity, passenger service assignment, and the 66-in, height of the firing deck above the railhead.

Two interesting features of the tender deserve mention. First, there is an air-operated water scoop attached to the tender floor and visible between the two trucks. Controlled by the fireman via a lever on the tender deck, the scoop could be lowered into a water-filled trough installed between the rails of the track at strategic locations. This enabled the locomotive to pick up water “on the fly,” thus eliminating the need for time-consuming water stops en route. Second, the E6 tender introduced a new type of truck assembly that was called the “dolphin beam” type because it emulated the sleek swimming motion of a dolphin as it moved over switches and rough sections of track.

No. 460's life at work

There is considerable documentation covering the history of E6 No. 460 prior to its final movement to Strasburg for display in the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. Along with most of the E6 fleet, the locomotive initially was assigned to passenger service east of Harrisburg. Nearly half of the fleet, including 460, were assigned to the PRR’s New York Division, operating out of the Meadows enginehouse in New Jersey, adjacent to Manhattan Transfer, where DD1 electric locomotives replaced steam for train movements under the Hudson River to and from Penn Station in New York. Between their construction in 1914 and their replacement by the larger K4 Pacifies (4-6-2) in 1920, the E6 locomotives were the premier passenger engines on the PRR’s prestigious New York-Washington “corridor” run.

After 1920, the E6 engines, among them No, 460, were relegated to secondary service, including the hourly ‘clocker’ locals between New York and Philadelphia. During this period, because of their outstanding speed characteristics, the E6 locomotives were also assigned to special charter runs. It was in this service that the Museum’s E6 No. 460 earned its lasting fame.

The famous race that gave it its name. In May 1927, a young ex-Army Air Corps pilot, Charles A. Lindbergh, made the first successful non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris, and thus became the world’s hero of the hour. Upon his return to the United States (by ship), “Lucky Lindy” was summoned to Washington on June 11 by President Calvin Coolidge for an official welcoming ceremony during which he was promoted to colonel and awarded a medal for his remarkable feat.

In those pre-television days, such events were filmed by news organizations and prints distributed to movie theaters across the country from New York where most news films were processed. Manhattan’s famous theater district usually was first to receive the newsreels, and producers sought to “scoop” the competition by being first on screen with the latest news.

The International News Reel Company engaged the Pennsylvania Railroad to rush their film of the tumultuous Lindbergh reception ceremonies to New York by special train. To gain a “leg up” on their competitors who hired airplanes to fly film to New York for processing, International leased a B60 baggage car and converted it to a rolling film studio where the raw film was processed, edited, and copied en route. This enabled them to rush finished reels directly to theaters when the special arrived at Penn Station. (International had done this once before with films of President Coolidge’s inauguration in 1925.)

Any available PRR passenger locomotive could have been assigned to head the “Lindbergh Special, but E6 No. 460 was chosen because it was fresh from an overhaul at the Wilmington Shops. At 12:14 pm on that June day, No.460, tied to the converted B60 baggage car and a lone P70 passenger coach, set out for New York 216 miles away. With orders to run as fast as safety allowed, the special and its elite crew made railroad history. Within minutes of leaving Union Terminal, the train was doing 95 mph. Slowing briefly through Baltimore, it was soon back up to a steady 85 mph. At one point, an airplane chartered by a rival film company swooped down, buzzed the train for a short distance, wagged its wings in salute, and sped off north, presumably well ahead in the race.

The special, in the meantime, was forced to make an unscheduled water stop near Wilmington because the tender scoop failed to drop properly. The three minutes needed to take on water allowed the crew to repair the scoop, and the special was off again, roaring through Marcus Hook and Chester at speeds up to 115 mph -- the highest of the trip. Temporarily slowed by curves and traffic through Philadelphia, the train quickly regained speed, averaging 85 mph over most of the last lap to Manhattan Transfer, where it finally screeched to a halt at 3:10 pm.

No. 460 had made the 216-mile run from Washington in two hours and 56 minutes -- a new record. A DD1 electric engine took over for the final dash under the Hudson to Penn Station. There, ten canisters of finished film processed in the baggage car were rushed by taxi under police escort to local theaters. Within 15 minutes of the Lindbergh Special’s arrival, scenes of “The Lone Eagle’s” triumphant return were projected on Manhattan screens—an hour before other films of the same event were screened, thus giving birth to the legend that E6 No. 460 had actually outraced the airplanes.

After being cut from its train, No. 460, forever after known as the “Lindbergh Engine,” ran light to the Meadows enginehouse for inspection prior to its return to routine service. The locomotive continued to operate out of Meadows until March 1937, when it was loaned to the PRR’s subsidiary Long Island Rail Road, assigned to the Morris Park Enginehouse in Queens. A frequent assignment was heading LIRR summertime express runs on the Jamaica-Montauk Point mainline. These trains served an “upscale” clientele traveling to the various prestigious vacation communities on the eastern tip of Long Island.

In January 1939, No. 460 returned to the PRR for service on the New York Division, although it was occasionally used on the Long Island as a short-term “loaner.” In the spring of 1942, the engine was transferred to the Atlantic Division, where it served on a variety of commuter and secondary runs between Camden and Bay Head, New Jersey, via Toms River.

No. 460 was leased to the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines (PRSL) in 1953 for commuter service out of Camden, along with summer assignments on the Ocean City-Tuckahoe shuttle runs that connected with Philadelphia-Wildwood mainline express trains.

Back on the PRR Atlantic Division in January 1954, No. 460 once again returned to the public spotlight when it headed a widely publicized railfan excursion between Newark and Atlantic City. Specifically requested for that event, the “Lindbergh Engine” hauled several-hundred admiring rail enthusiasts on the last passenger train to traverse the venerable Camden & Amboy branch between South Amboy and Camden (the route of the original Jo/in Bull, a replica of which is displayed at the Museum). When the special reached PRSL tracks, the crew opened up the old locomotive, topping 80 mph at several points along the to Atlantic City. After returning the railfan special to Newark, No. 460 resumed its regular Camden-Pemberton commuter assignment until October 1955, when it was finally retired.

Retirement and Preservation

On January II, 1956, No. 460 was officially dropped from the active equipment roster and transferred to the growing Pennsylvania Railroad Historical Collection at Northumberland, PA. Stored inside an unused portion of the roundhouse, the engine was left to deteriorate by the financially strapped PRR -- then nearing bankruptcy.

While awaiting an uncertain future in Northumberland, the once-famous “Lindbergh Engine” found a friend, a former PRR management trainee named William Volkmer, who had been assigned to the facility as a general foreman. A devoted steam enthusiast, Volkmer took an instant liking to the venerable old speedster, and saw to it that the engine received periodic lubrication and paint touchup whenever shop workloads permitted.

Meanwhile, an event was taking shape that would ensure the ultimate preservation of this and other now-priceless artifacts of the steam era. In 1963, the Pennsylvania State Legislature passed a bill establishing an official state museum of rail transportation. To be administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), the new facility was scheduled to receive a significant portion of the PRR’s now-extensive (and famous) historical collection of locomotives and rolling stock, including E6 No. 460. The remaining portion of the collection reportedly would go to the National Museum of Transportation in SL Louis.

When word of the pending disbursement of the PRR Historical Collection made the rounds, a group of New York area railfans, led by well-known enthusiast Ron Ziel, sought to persuade the PRR to donate No. 460 to a proposed tourist railroad and theme park to be built on Long Island. PRR Vice President David Smucker, citing an agreement to place the locomotive in the yet-to-be-constructed Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, referred the New York group to Bureau of Museums Director William N. Richards. Director Richards, in rejecting Ziel’s request for transfer of No. 460 to the proposed Long Island enterprise, stated that the PHMC would “stick firmly to our original plans and make No. 460 a part of the permanent collection.” He further stated that “this particular locomotive is of great importance to the series which we intend to display.”

With its future home thus assured, preparations were made to move No. 460 and the other locomotives in the collection to the new museum’s site at Strasburg. On October 4, 1969, a “train of locomotives” that included the “Lindbergh Engine” left Northumberland for the last time. Unfortunately, No. 460 developed an overheated pilot truck journal bearing and had to be cut from the train at Harrisburg. After repairs were made, No. 460 rejoined the collection at Strasburg several days later.

The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania opened its doors to the public in 1975, and E6 No. 460 was placed on prominent display in a highly visible location in the trainyard, along with a number of other Pennsylvania Railroad locomotives, including K4 No. 3750 and M1b No. 6755. However, the state still did not legally own the Pennsylvania Railroad Historical Collection because of complicated bankruptcy proceedings involving the Penn Central Transportation Company which had been created by the merger of the PRR and the New York Central in 1968. During the decade between the collection’s movement to Strasburg and the final legal agreement that transferred official title to the collection to the Commonwealth, the locomotives and cars in the trainyard gradually deteriorated under continued exposure to the elements. By then, No. 460 was badly rusted and its boiler jacket and lender in dire need of major sheet metal repairs.

In 1982, a volunteer Museum support group called the Friends of the Railroad Museum was organized and chartered the following year by the Commonwealth. One of the FRM’s specific objectives was to provide essential labor and funding to begin the cleaning, stabilization, and cosmetic refurbishment of the outdoor exhibits. In that same year, a Lancaster County rail enthusiast, William George Homer, teamed with Museum Curator Benjamin F. G. Kline to begin the removal of several decades of rust, grime, and faded paint from the E6.

By the fall of 1984, with the help of FRM volunteers, the “Lindbergh Engine” refurbishment was complete. The locomotive had been thoroughly cleaned, holes in its boiler jacket patched, rotted wooden window frames and doors replaced, and coats of rust-inhibiting primer applied. New plates of sheet steel were welded to fill the long gashes on both sides of the tender. A 1920’s style headlight and marker tights were installed, along with a replicated steel keystone number plate and builder plates (the originals are secured inside the Museum).

After several applications of standard PRR Brunswick Green paint, No. 460 once again resembled the famous “Lindbergh Engine” in its prime. To further commemorate its memorable feat, No. 460 was removed from the place it occupied for so many years and was coupled to a refurbished B60 baggage car and a P70 coach located on the main display track along the trainyard fence -- a reincarnation of the illustrious Lindbergh Special that ran to fame in June of 1927.

Since then, it has been relocated several times on the museum property, and has undergone additional restoration work. In 2008, with its asbestos cladding having been fully removed to current standards, the Friends of the Railroad Museum once again demonstrated its commitment by undertaking a special fund raising campaign to complete the full cosmetic restoration of this amazing locomotive.

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