By Otto M. Vondrak/photo by Jim Boyd
Consolidated Rail Corp., otherwise known as Conrail, was scarcely a year old when Railfan Editor Jim Boyd snapped this photo of former Ironton Railroad Baldwin DS-4-4-1000 No. 751 working the yard at Allentown, Pa., in early 1977. The Ironton was a scrappy little shortline that served the region’s cement quarries around Catasauqua, Coplay, and Siegersville, Pa., interchanging with the Lehigh Valley and the Jersey Central. When Conrail began operations on April 1, 1976, what was left of the Ironton was integrated as well.
The new company took on the gargantuan task of rationalizing and revitalizing the Northeastern rail freight network while inheriting a fleet of more than 4,800 locomotives in various states of repair. The vast majority of units conveyed to Conrail were standard-issue from the catalogs of EMD, General Electric, and Alco. However, a handful of Baldwin diesels managed to make their way onto the roster as well, adding an eclectic flavor to an already diverse fleet. A latecomer to the diesel market, Baldwin could never shake its allegiance to steam, and never found solid footing for its limited line of products. As a result, diesel production ended in 1955, leaving engines like No. 751 an orphan.
During Conrail’s first year, anything that was capable of moving was pressed into duty, including the sole survivor of the Ironton fleet. Emerging from the Eddystone plant in July 1949, No. 751 served faithfully for 27 years before it joined the Conrail roster. According to a news item by editor Boyd in the Spring 1977 issue, “the little Ironton unit was so tenderly cared for and is in such good shape that the crews who have worked on it really like it.” Crews claimed it was a good engine that “pulled like a mule.” Despite such thoughtful words, the end was near.
Only two other Baldwin diesels were active on the Conrail system, and they had been retired by the end of 1976. Locomotives like the modern SD35 in the foreground represented the future. Standardization was the name of the game, and the unique Baldwins were the first to go. Ironton 751 (officially Conrail 8354) was off the roster by 1978, and a colorful chapter of Northeastern railroading history quietly came to an end.