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PRR No. 460.  How fast could an Atlantic go?

No. 460 in Museum Yard."You routed me onto the wrong track!" Alfred "Al" Eldredge complained to the towerman at Alan early one Sunday afternoon in 1953, after backing Pennsylvania Railroad Atlantic No. 460 onto the stub track at Camden's Market Street Wharf.

"I'm supposed to haul those ten Reading commuter cars back to Atlantic City; you've got me in front of these twelve Pennsy P70s. I'll never get them going up the grade from here!" The fully fueled locomotive and the P70s weighed a good thousand tons, and the grade sloped down to the Delaware River. Nary a word of complaint about the mix-up came from the engineer of the stoker-fired Reading Pacific G1 that had been intended to haul the P70s.

"Sorry, but you're going to have to try. We have too many moves jammed up to shift you around," came the reply from the tower. Not to be outdone, Eldredge responded, "OK, but you get me lined up, and pass the word down the line. If I make it out of here and anybody stops me, they own the train!"

Adding to the challenge that Eldredge faced was that taking slack in the terminal was prohibited, lest the bumping blocks at the foot of the grade be smashed. It was tough getting even a regular load started under that restriction.

The relationship between an engineer and the fireman on a steam locomotive was something that either made lifelong friendships or fractured all reason. These Atlantics were hand-fired; no mechanical stokers for them. Eldredge looked over at the fireman, his longtime friend George Bailey, with the obvious question on his face. Bailey, a small, wiry man, simply said, "Well, I'm as ready as I'll ever be." Eldredge responded, "OK, let's give it a try. You just fire. I'll operate the injectors, handle the scooping at Ancora, and look for the signals."

Being a man who knew the rules but who also knew how to get a train out of a tight situation, Eldredge did back up to take slack, turning the big reverse lever and laying sand as he did. Two demanding blasts of his whistle assured that the signals were lined up. With the cutoff in full forward, he opened the throttle and waited for the eternity between each initial blast. As Eldredge later put it, until they got to Atlantic City fifty-five minutes later, all he saw of his fireman was the blur of his back side. The confidence in each other they built that day was everlasting -- and once again, No. 460 had proven it was no ordinary engine.

" How fast could an Atlantic go? You'd never want to find out!" Eldredge could say with authority. The flat, straight tracks of southern New Jersey, connecting Philadelphia with Atlantic City, provided the ideal place to find out -- but even here, if the throttle was all the way open, the cutoff was never at maximum power setting. They wanted to live to run another day.

Article continues next column.

Speed was one of the Pennsy Atlantics' best-known characteristics. The United States steam speed record set by No. 7002 in 1905 -- when it was clocked at 127.1 miles per hour while making up lost time at Crestline, Ohio, at the head of the Pennsylvania Special (precursor to the Broadway Limited) -- left no doubt about that. But with the introduction of heavy steel passenger cars on the Pennsy in 1907, something more powerful than the 4-4-2 E2 class and more appropriate than even the 4-6-2 K2 and K3 designs was needed.

The speedy, reliable E6 design that evolved was, for its day, the answer.

No. 460 today has an electric headlight similar to the one that originally replaced its oil lamp. Its original circular number plate is now the keystone that was placed on it during its active life. Its tender is that of No. 1565, an E6s also built in 1914. When it was coupled to No. 460, or whether it was the tender whose scoop initially balked during the famous run of the Lindbergh Special,  is not known.

Today, all E6's are gone except for No. 460. It no longer speeds; in fact it no longer runs. Number 460 is not operable in the traditional sense. Mechanical evaluation and restoration would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the museum is not anxious to operate its precious distinguished survivors -- especially not this survivor of the Atlantics.

Indeed, whether it was for the Lindbergh Special run in 1927, for engineer Al Eldredge in 1953, or for admiring visitors of the twenty-first century, No. 460 has responded to every challenge.

Today, you see, it teaches history at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania -- about the ingenuity of mechanical inventions, the skill of real railroaders, and the power of inspiration.

No. 460's builder's plate.

Author's Note:  Most steam locomotives, including No. 460 and its sister Atlantic E6's, did not have speedometers. Engineers measured speed by timing their travel between mileposts along the right of way, using their carefully maintained railroad watches. Many engineers became adept at judging their speed even without consulting their watch. No. 460 achieved a speed of 115 mph during its race with the Lindbergh films in 1927. Engineers were often torn between the rulebook and the need to make up lost time. There are tales of engineers going so fast that they froze with fear of what would happen when they applied the brakes. Whatever, these Atlantics were marvelous machines!

Authorship: This piece is from a sidebar of an article by James Alexander Jr. on No. 460; published in Locomotive and Railway Preservation, January 1994. Information partially obtained from oral history interview with Al Eldredge Jr.

Side view sketch of No. 460.
Drawing Courtesy of Saturated Steam

No. 460 Main Page       No. 460's Lindbergh Special Race

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