Black Diamond Inspection Locomotive

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Please note: This page has been revised as of January 3, 2012, due to new information provided by Mr. Ron Goldfeder.

The inspection engine, though considered by some to be a bit of an oddity, appears to have been commonly used by railroads in the latter half of the 19th century and the first two decades (or more) of the 20th century. Many of them are odd looking beasts, often looking like a cross between a carriage and a steam locomotive.

Many of the northeastern railroads used them, but they were found elsewhere as well. They were often built in the railroad’s own shops, but some were commercially built as well. The book The Locomotives that Baldwin Built by Fred Westing (Bonanza Books, 1966, out of print) shows several photographs of inspection engines, though they are not always called that. They were most often used to transport VIP's on inspection trips to various parts of the railroad, but were sometimes used by the paymaster to carry payroll to crews working on the railroad as well. They could be used for almost any function that called for moving a small number of people over the railroad. Though not inspection locos, some railroads used similar engines for low-density passenger lines, perhaps pulling an extra coach. A photo in the Fall, 2008, issue of Classic Trains (page 32) shows a similar locomotive being used with one or two coaches on the Big Stone Gap and Powell Valley in Big Stone Gap, West Virginia.

The inspection engine was typically quite small, and often carried less than 10 people. The boilers and other mechanical systems were also quite small. They were typically not designed for speed, nor were they intended to pull heavy cars. In today’s terms they would be a simple automobile converted to hi-rail use. Speed was also not a big concern, as is evidenced by the small diameter driving wheels, small cylinders, low boiler pressure, and short rod throw.

While detailed history is scarce, and perhaps a bit confused, the Reading Railroad and its corporate relatives (most notably the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Co.) appears to have owned at least 14 of these unusual engines. According to information and research provided by Mr. Goldfeder they are:


2-2-0 or 2-2-0T built 1845, off roster by 1847
1st Ariel 2-2-2 or 2-2-2T first used 1846, retired 1856
1st Witch 2-2-2 or 2-2-2T first used 1847, scrapped 1855
Gem unknown first used 1848, repaired and renumbered to #893 in 1884, scrapped 1886
Stag 2-4-2 or 2-4-2T first used 1851, number #892 in 1871, scrapped 1886
2nd Witch unknown first used 1855, rebuilt as 2-2-2T in 1868, wrecked 1905
2nd Ariel 2-2-2T first used 1856, renamed Alpha in 1871, scrapped 1879
Transit 2-2-2T first used 1867, became 2nd #102 in 1900, scrapped 1905
3rd Ariel 2-2-2T first used 1872, became 3rd #103 in 1900, wrecked and scrapped 1902
Black Diamond 2-2-2T built 1889 (Baldwin), currently at Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, MO
3rd #1 4-4-0 built 1898 (Baldwin), renumbered to 2nd #101 in 1900, rebuilt 1903, scrapped 1929
3rd #100 4-4-0 built 1902 (Baldwin), renumbered 3rd #102 in 1912, scrapped 1925
3rd #103 4-4-0 built as Sitka in 1871, renumbered #328 in 871, #116 in 1900, rebuilt as inspection engine 3rd 103 in 1903, scrapped 1912
4th #100 4-4-2 built 1913, scrapped 1929

Mr. Goldfeder used several sources not available to me when this was first written to paint a more accurate picture of the history of these interesting locomotives. One important resource was Steam Locomotives of the Reading and P&R Railroads by Wiswesser.

During my research, I uncovered a letter from 1940 that attempts to give a history of the Reading’s inspection engines. I have not been able to determine the author of the letter, but the source of the information is declared to be ‘old annual reports’. While the letter adds a few details about some of the engines, it appears to be far from complete. The information in the letter regarding Gem completely contradicts Wiswesser’s data. Also, the information regarding the Black Diamond, while showing the difficulty of such research, appears to be incorrect as well. Another letter from 1949, from Howard Hill, Superintendent of Motive Power for the Reading Company, shows even more confusing information.

As Wiswesser states regarding the Black Diamond, it is probably the oldest, and perhaps the only, inspection engine still in existence. While information is a bit confused, here is what I have been able to piece together regarding this engine.

The Black Diamond, which is currently at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, MO, was built in August, 1889, by the Baldwin Locomotive Works (#10174) of Philadelphia, PA. It was originally built for the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company (P&R C&I Co.). It was the fourth of five engines named the Black Diamond by this company. According to a 1949 letter from M. W. Smith, President of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, it bore Baldwin Construction Number 10,174. The technical specifications were as follows:

Boiler 20 ½" diameter, containing 33 2" tubes and 4 1 3/4" tubes, tube length 6' 8 1/4"

Pressure 160 pounds

Cylinders 8 1/4" X 8 ½"

Driving wheels 42" diameter

Weight 26,350 pounds

Length approx 20'

While the body is made of wood, it was “sheathed with steel plates”. The passenger seating area contained four revolving chairs and a central box seat. Interior woodwork was walnut and the seats were upholstered in leather. The locomotive was painted “raw umber and gold”. The wheels and pilot bars were red.

Another document (undated) shows some additional information regarding the locomotive.

The engineer’s area is very compact and crowded. There is evidence that, due to the close quarters, a “small boy” was typically used to fire the locomotive. Most likely, this would have been a boy of 13 or so, who was apprenticing for the railroad.

We have been unable to determine when this locomotive was last used, but we can say with some degree of certainty that it ran at least until 1906. It is likely that it ran into the 1920's or later, but I have been unable to find any concrete evidence of this.

By 1948 the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis had contacted the Reading Railroad regarding the donation of equipment. The trail again picks up with a 1948 letter from the Railroad to the Museum offering the loan of the Black Diamond to the Museum. Apparently the Museum was interested in other equipment, possibly a “Camelback” locomotive, but the Railroad was only interested in a sale of such equipment. It appears that discussions and preparation for the move of the locomotive continued for over a year.

At some point prior to shipping to the Museum, the Railroad did at least a cosmetic restoration of the Black Diamond. It is not known if the locomotive was in operating condition when delivered to the Museum, but photos of the time show that it was freshly painted and in relatively good condition.

The locomotive was finally shipped to the Museum on April 20, 1949. Apparently it was still listed as owned by the P&R C&I Co. and had to be signed over to the railroad before it could be shipped at no charge. It apparently was loaded in a gondola car and routed over the Reading, Western Maryland, B&O, and Missouri Pacific. It arrived at the Museum on April 29, and was unloaded by May 3. Photos of the time show that the locomotive was unloaded by making a ramp of a section of track and wheeling the loco down that ramp.

Much ado was made over the arrival of the Black Diamond at the Museum as is evidenced by this newspaper clipping of the time. Apparently there was a sign of some sort on the floor of the Black Diamond which had the year “1868" painted on it. This sign led to some errors in publications of the day. A letter from the Superintendent of Motive Power and Rolling Equipment of the Railroad dated May 19, 1949, clarifies that the sign did not belong with the Black Diamond.

As has often been the case with even the best-intentioned museums, the collection outstripped the Museum’s capabilities to properly house and protect it from the elements. Over the years the beautiful restoration job done by the railroad in the 1940's fell victim to the weather. It appears that a coat of paint was applied at some later time as there is little evidence now of the detail and ornamentation in that restoration paint.

When the Railroad entered receivership in the 1970's, everything underwent scrutiny. In February, 1976, Alfred W. Hesse, Jr., Vice-President, Law, for the Reading Railroad sent a letter to the Museum requesting return of the Black Diamond to the Railroad. The stated intent was for the locomotive to be located at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg. While the paper trail here is very thin, on December 3, 1979, the Trustees of the Reading Railroad signed a bill of sale to the Museum for the Black Diamond in the amount of $5,000. On December 21, 1979, a St. Louis businessman and philanthropist, donated 69 shares of Proctor & Gamble stock to the Museum, with the stipulation that it be used to cover the purchase of the Black Diamond from the Reading Trustees.

Time and weather have not been kind to the Black Diamond, but it could be much worse. The locomotive is currently in a shelter along with several other pieces of equipment. A plastic mesh fence has been set up around it and a corrugated metal roof has been built over the locomotive. It is set far enough back from the open sides of the shelter and amid other equipment so that all but the most wind-blown rain and snow can get to it. The paint is peeling in places, but most of the wood appears to be in decent condition. Most of the painted metal parts have some rust on them, but seem to be in reasonably good condition. The front steps appear to be in the worst condition, having rusted through in spots and being unsafe.

The interior of the locomotive is in good shape. It appears that someone started working on it a few years ago, evidenced by a soda can left in the window. The working area of the locomotive also appears to be in good condition. While I doubt that it could be restored to operating condition, a quick look inside makes one think it might be possible. However, the long years of idleness suggest that the boiler may no longer be safe. A lot of work and testing would be required to make it run again.

I am working on a set of drawings for the Black Diamond, based on measurements, photos, and data I have collected. My ultimate goal is to develop a set of drawings of the actual locomotive, plus a set of drawings sufficient to build a working scale model. Please check back periodically for progress updates and more photos.

If you have the opportunity, please visit the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis and take a good look at the Black Diamond. Please feel free to email me with your comments or any additional information you may have on the locomotive. If you live in the St. Louis area and are interested in it, please contact the Museum regarding volunteer opportunities. Perhaps in time we can see the Black Diamond as it was intended.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: On December 15, 2011, the Black Diamond was moved to the shop at the Museum of Transportation. Even though it had not been moved in several years and the side rods were still connected, the locomotive moved with no serious problems. Care was taken to insure that no damage was done during the move.

The purpose of the move is to strip, repair, and paint the locomotive. The handrails and grab irons were easily removed, as none of the bolts had rusted after all these years. They will be re-plated. As they were removed some chips of the original "raw umber" paint was exposed. Some wood has rotted and will be replaced. The front steps will be repaired or replaced, and other metal will be repaired as necessary. The painting will attempt to restore the locomotive to its original colors and appearance as much as possible.

While the boiler and other mechanical items appear to be in decent condition, there will be no attempt made to restore the locomotive to operating condition. All moving parts will be lubricated to allow the unit to be moved easily.

Museum officials tell me that they expect to have the work finished by the end of February, 2012. Upon completion the locomotive's new home will be in the new Visitor's Center at the Museum, which is scheduled to open in February, 2012. If you are in the area, please stop in and visit the Black Diamond.


Our thanks to the Museum of Tranportation for their cooperation with this information and their permission to publish these photos.