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By Ronald T. Bailey,
modified for web presentation.

Curious visitors to the Railroad Museum's Rolling Stock Hall frequently gather beside a small steam locomotive that looks to be very old. But appearances are deceiving, as this profile describes.

The "ancient" engine was actually built in 1939 and is a near-exact copy of a much older original now residing in the Smithsonian Institution.

The story of the little locomotive is almost as interesting as the engine itself.


Featured Locomotive. Click to see them all

Many of our locomotives are the last-of-their-kind and have interesting histories.

Complete listing of all locomotives at Museum. Here!






Other John Bull Pictures

Early crew picture

1893 Trip to Columbian Expositiion

Replica, 1940 at New York World's Fair




Our retired ambassador

Before it was taken out of service, the John Bull replica was occasionally steamed up and run in the Museum yard.

In 1999, it was transported to several railroad museums across the country, enchanting visitors as it was operated by staff and trained volunteers. See pictures and details of the Railroad Museum's most gracious Ambassador here.




























The authoritative source on the John Bull is:

The John Bull: 150 Years a Locomotive. John H. White, Jr. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981.


Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, a world class museum of railroad history in Strasburg, PA.

Camden & Amboy John Bull Replica

John Bull Vital Statistics:

  • Driver diameter 54 inches
  • Weight (loco & tender) 44,000 lbs.
  • Length (with tender) 36 ft, 3.5 in.
  • Width 7 ft, 8 in.
  • Height (to top of stack) 11 ft, 4 in.
  • Boiler pressure 60 psi
  • Number of boiler tubes 82
  • Boiler tube diameter 13.5 inches
  • Built in 1939 by Pennsylvania Railroad
  • Originally boiler-certified and operable, now in retirement
Grif Teller painting of John Bull replica.
This is the story of two locomotives. Constructed over 100 years apart, they are of the exact same dimensions and appear in most ways to be identical. Both locomotives are wood-burning steam engines, and both repose, potentially operational, in two of the finest museums of the nation. The story of this remarkable pair of machines begins in 1831.

The Original John Bull
In that year, a sailing ship from England docked at the wharves along the Delaware River in Philadelphia. Amid the cargo of the ship was a 10-ton steam locomotive built by Robert Stephenson & Co. of Newcastle for the newly organized Camden & Amboy Railroad. After being reloaded on a river schooner, the locomotive was transported up the river to Bordentown, NJ, where the disassembled components of the machine were reassembled. On November 12, 1831, the new locomotive pulled several cars over a short distance on the yet-unfinished Camden & Amboy Railroad for the entertainment of members of the New Jersey legislature.

It was several months before sufficient track had been constructed on the Camden & Amboy to permit regular train service to begin. During this period of time, the railroad company started construction of several more locomotives patterned after the first engine. During the next year and a half the Camden & Amboy built 15 additional locomotives. The boilers, frames, and wheels for these locomotives were manufactured in New Jersey, while machined parts were imported from Stephenson in England. In order to distinguish the locomotives, the management of the Camden & Amboy Railroad assigned both numbers and names. Locomotive No. 1 was given the name Stevens in honor of the railroad's first president, Robert L. Stevens.

John Bull replica and C&A coach No. 3.
John Bull Replica with Camden & Amboy coach No. 3 from 1836, second oldest passenger coach in US, on long-term loan from Smithsonian, seen here at Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.
See larger view of passenger coach
Over time, however, No. 1 became more well-known as the Company's English-built engine, since the line's other motive power had been fabricated in the United States. Affectionately, the engine crews began to refer to the locomotive, not as the Stevens, but as the old John Bull, after the English peoples' personification of England as "John Bull."

Changes to the Original
As originally constructed by Robert Stephenson, the John Bull was a four-wheeled locomotive. The piston rods were connected to a crank on the rear axle, and the front drivers were connected to the rear drivers by outside drive rods. Because railroads in England were being constructed at that time with rails made of wood with metal stringers on the top, the original drivers of the John Bull were made of wood. President and Chief Engineer Stevens, however, quickly realized that wooden rails and metal strips would be inadequate for the heavy service and demanding terrain of American railroading. While sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to procure the locomotive, Stevens had turned his inventive mind to the problem. He devised the all-metal T-rail, which is still in use today. Predictably, the wooden driving wheels quickly proved impractical for iron rails. The Camden & Amboy quickly cast iron driving wheels as replacements for the wooden drivers. (A wooden driving wheel thought to be from the John Bull is on display at the Railroad Museum.)

Other problems were also quickly apparent with the John Bull as originally built. Because of the rigid 0-4-0 wheel arrangement, the locomotive had an aggravating habit of derailing on curves. This started a series of changes to the locomotive to better adapt it for service. Pilot wheels were added to the front of the locomotive and attached by wooden beams to the front axle, which was sprung to turn slightly. This vastly improved the ability of the locomotive to negotiate curves, but necessitated removing the driving rods which connected the front and back drivers. This effectively changed the locomotive to a 4-2-0 wheel arrangement, with only the two rear wheels powered.

The boiler of the John Bull is an unusual design specified by Robert Stevens. It consists of a cylindrical waist and a low dome over the firebox. It is similar to a type of early boiler, known as the "Bury boiler," which was designed to provide additional steam room directly over the hot firebox. The John Bull's boiler, however, is not as high as a Bury boiler, and therefore lacks the extra steam capacity. Worse, the shape of the Bury dome produced a weak vessel, necessitating lower steam pressures than could be obtained in a cylindrical boiler (eliminating any advantage of the additional steam capacity). The John Bull boiler shared this defect.

Originally, the steam dome on the John Bull consisted of a brass casting that was mounted on top of the boiler dome. When this dome was removed and a new steam dome was mounted on the front of the boiler, the appearance of the locomotive was significantly altered. The throttle and the dry pipes were also remounted on the back of the new dome on the outside of the boiler, resulting in thermal inefficiencies.

Other additions to the locomotive included a pilot or "cow catcher" to prevent obstructions on the track from going under the wheels, a whale-oil-burning headlamp (removed from a riverboat) to permit night operation, a whistle to signal the crew, a warning bell, an additional safety valve, a cab to protect the locomotive crew from the weather, a bonnet stack with baffles and screens to catch sparks, and an eight-wheeled covered tender to carry wood and water.

Years of Active Retirement
The result of all these alterations was to change the appearance of the John Bull from an early English locomotive to a more typical American-style locomotive of the 1850s. Eventually, the John Bull and its sister 4-2-Os were replaced by more modern power of 4-4-0 wheel arrangements. By the time of the Civil War, the John Bull had been relegated to switching duties and stationary boiler service. The locomotive was finally retired in 1866, and in what must be considered one of the first acts of railroad historical preservation, was placed in storage at Bordentown, NJ.

Number painted on side of John Bull replica.
Number painted on side
The Camden & Amboy Railroad merged with the New Jersey Railroad in 1869 to form the United New Jersey Railroad & Canals Company. Two years later the company was absorbed into the expanding empire of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The John Bull thereby became the oldest locomotive owned by the Pennsylvania system, and in 1876, PRR management decided to exploit this circumstance. The Railroad was mounting a major exhibit in that year, and the John Bull was displayed with some of the PRR's newest locomotives. Unfortunately, in an age absent of preservation standards, the Publicity Department of the PRR thought that the John Bull appeared too "modern." The shop forces at Bordentown therefore "back-dated" the locomotive. This involved removing the the cab, cutting the eight-wheeled tender down to an undersized four-wheel tender with a forward roof overhang, removing the bonnet stack and attaching a serrated straight stack reminiscent of a riverboat stack, and replacing the solid pilot wheels with spoked wheels.

In 1883, the PRR placed the John Bull on display at the National Railway Appliance Exposition in Chicago. The following year, the old locomotive was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution and moved to Washington, DC. In 1893, the Pennsylvania Railroad borrowed the John Bull back from the Smithsonian and reconditioned the locomotive at the Jersey City shops. As a publicity stunt, the locomotive steamed under its own power over the PRR main line to Chicago for display at the Columbian Exposition. Along the way the locomotive stopped at towns and cities served by the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The John Bull was again removed from the Smithsonian Institution in 1927 for use under steam in the Baltimore & Ohio's Fair of the Iron Horse. Five years later, the PRR borrowed the John Bull again for the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. In 1939, similar arrangements were made to use the locomotive at the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair, but this time there was a difference.

Birth of the Replica
Changes in curatorial philosophy led the Smithsonian to prohibit the steaming of the John Bull at the fair. The locomotive was simply too old and too valuable as a museum artifact to risk damage through such use. Thus, during the Fair's 1939 season, the locomotive was displayed statically and was pulled across the stage by a cable, but was not operated under steam. This limitation did not satisfy management of the powerful Pennsylvania Railroad. Orders were sent to the PRR Engineering Department in Altoona to precisely measure the John Bull and then to replicate the original in time for the 1940 season of the New York World's Fair.

With authorization to proceed from none other than the President of the PRR himself, workmen at the Juniata Shops in Altoona began the meticulous replication of the John Bull in the fall of 1939. Substituting only a modern, welded all-steel boiler shell and a steel firebox formed of a stamped single sheet with rounded corners, the skilled craftsmen of the Pennsylvania Railroad exactly duplicated the John Bull in every detail. Even the same materials as employed in the original locomotive were used in the replica. Iron bolts in the original were duplicated in the replica. The same species of wood that had formed parts found on the original were again used. Brass was machined to the exact dimensions of brass parts found on the original locomotive. Nothing was added that did not exist in the original with one exception. The crosshead pumps of the original John Bull could supply water to the boiler only when the locomotive was in motion. Because the replica would be stationary for considerable periods of time while displayed under steam at the World's Fair, the PRR added a small injector for both convenience and safety. Finally, the replica was painted exactly like its older inspiration. The John Bull replica was completed and rolled out of the shop in late November or early December 1939.

The John Bull replica replaced the original John Bull at the World's Fair in 1940, and the original was returned to its home within the walls of the Smithsonian Institution, presumably nevermore to venture outside. When the Fair closed in the fall of 1940, the John Bull replica was placed in storage where it remained for the duration of World War II. After the war, the replica was next used in filming a promotional movie for the Pennsylvania Railroad entitled Clear Tracks Ahead. In 1948, the replica was pulled from storage again and dusted off for display at the 1948 Chicago World's Fair.

After Chicago, it was stored on a flatcar at Northumberland, PA, with other locomotives and cars that became known as the Pennsylvania Railroad Historical Collection. The John Bull replica was taken from storage for several special events and celebrations during the ensuing years, returning each time to its home in Northumberland. By the early 1960s, the affairs of the Pennsylvania Railroad had become troubled, resulting in the ill-fated merger with the New York Central Railroad into the Penn-Central Railroad.

Demise and Rebirth of the Replica
As the financial woes of the Penn-Central deepened, the John Bull replica and the other artifacts in the PRR Historical Collection slowly deteriorated from exposure and lack of proper maintenance. When the Penn-Central management began rapidly divesting assets to avoid bankruptcy, the Pennsylvania Railroad Historical Collection became only so much surplus property. Fortunately, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania acted to acquire the Collection, including the John Bull replica, and began construction of the Railroad Museum in Strasburg.

When the John Bull replica was acquired by the state, it had not been operated for years. Much of the wooden frame of the tender and other wooden parts had rotted and had to be replaced before the engine could be cosmetically restored for display. The replica was placed on Track 1 in the new museum building which opened in 1976.

Meanwhile, the 150th anniversary of the original John Bull was approaching, and the Smithsonian Institution began to consider activities to commemorate the event. John H. White, Jr., Curator of Transportation, conceived the idea of actually steaming the venerable machine. The locomotive was carefully checked, moved to a branch line near Washington, and in October 1980, was operated under its own power.

In 1982, William H. Withuhn, a Smithsonian Fellow (and now Curator of Transportation), arrived at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania to serve as Acting Director "on loan" from the Smithsonian. He was a member of the team that had restored the original John Bull to operatin two years earlier. At Strasburg, he found what was virtually a new John Bull locomotive. He immediately initiated an effort to restore the replica to service. Working closely with the Museum's Acting Curator, the late Benjamin F. G. Kline, Jr., Bill Withuhn and several volunteers began work on the restoration project in November 1982.

All through the winter of 1982-83, restoration of the John Bull replica progressed in the Museum's unheated Rolling Stock Hall. Other than deterioration of wood parts and some of the iron bolts, the engine was in remarkably good condition. Some of the bolts, however, had rusted so badly that they had almost dissolved. The boiler was tested by the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co. It was hydrostatically tested to 120 lbs and authorized ultimately for 60 lbs of steam pressure. Research on the John Bull by the Smithsonian curatorial staff revealed through paint chip analysis the original color of the wooden boiler lagging. This color was replicated by the DuPont Corporation for the woodwork of the locomotive and tender. The safety valves manufactured by the PRR Juniata Shops in 1939 were also exact replicas of the original valves and were not highly reliable. Linn Moedinger, Chief Engineer of the Strasburg Rail Road, fashioned modern replacements. The addition of a water glass and a second injector completed the minor modifications made in the interest of increased safety.

As mentioned earlier, the John Bull replica had been built by the PRR as an exact copy of the original John Bull. The replica incorporated, therefore, the "back-dating" changes made by PRR shop crews in 1876, including the serrated stack. While the restoration project at Strasburg was underway, Bill Withuhn located drawings of the John Bull's original bonnet stack by Issac Dripps, Master Mechanic of the Camden & Amboy Railroad. Using the drawings as a guide and the serrated stack as a base, the bonnet stack of the John Bull was replicated. Appropriately, as a finishing touch, the stack was installed the night before the John Bull replica was steamed up in May 1983.

John Bull stack and headlight.
Stack and headlight
The John Bull Replica Today
The John Bull replica has been used for special occasions on the neighboring Strasburg Rail Road and for short distances within the confines of the Museum train yard. It has also performed for an orientation movie for the California State Railroad Museum. But the John Bull replica's most well known operation (since the New York World's Fair) occurred in 1986 when the locomotive was shipped to Vancouver, British Columbia, to participate in the Great Steam Expo, part of Canada's Expo `86 World's Fair. With Ben Kline as engineer and Earl Kinard as fireman, the John Bull replica was featured in a daily parade of locomotives ranging from the tiny Tom Thumb replica to immense 4-8-4's. In 1999, it again made a round of visits across the country.

The John Bull replica is a surprisingly powerful locomotive for its size. The sharp bark of its exhaust sounds like that of much larger steam engines. Although it is a replica, it should not be thought of merely as some kind of toy. It is a real steam locomotive, duplicating not only the appearance but also the operational qualities of the original John Bull. John H. White, Jr., now retired from the Smithsonian Institution, has operated both the original John Bull and the replica locomotive, and has declared that both engines respond identically.

Historically, the John Bull replica represents a type of steam locomotive that helped make railroading possible in America. As part of the Railroad Museum Collection, the replica also stands as testimony to the skill and craftsmanship of the shop employees of the Pennsylvania Railroad who created and preserved this marvelous machine. The John Bull replica is a faithful and colorful tribute to our industrial heritage.

As of 2008, the John Bull replica's boiler is not certified for operation, and given the expenses of complying with new steam boiler certification regulations, it is in retirement. With new funding, it may yet run again someday! See our Philanthropy page.
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