Story by M.T. Burkhart
PORT CLINTON, Pa. – One of America’s best-known steam locomotives is on the verge of a comeback. Reading Company 4-8-4 2102 has been undergoing a thorough rebuild for the past four years in the Reading & Northern’s shops in Port Clinton, Pa.
This week, a dozen people, many of them employed full-time in the steam shop, worked with the shared goal of having the big locomotive in service at some point in 2021.
The Reading’s 30 T-1 “Northern” type locomotives were built in the company steam shops between 1945 and 1947 from various components harvested from existing 2-8-0 locomotives, including boilers and fireboxes. After toiling in heavy freight service and being replaced by diesels, some of the locomotives were given a reprieve in 1959 with the Reading’s popular Iron Horse Rambles excursions that barnstormed the system.
Working on the Blue Mountain & Reading, T-1 4-8-4 2102 is seen at South Hamburg, Pa. awaiting departure to Temple in the summer of 1990. Photo by M.T. Burkhart.
The rambles ended in 1964, but 2102 continued in various fan trip duties before landing at the Blue Mountain & Reading in the mid-1980s. There, the big Northern could be seen many weekends stomping up and down the former Pennsylvania Railroad branch between Hamburg and Temple but made occasional off-line trips as well. That era’s “railfan weekends” in Berks County were legendary and always featured 2102 where it participated in night photo sessions and passenger duties.
The locomotive’s flue time expired in 1991, and by then the Reading & Northern had its hands full with recently acquired freight trackage in the Anthracite Region. The locomotive sat unused for more than a quarter-century until January 2016, when the railroad announced it would be rebuilt. For the past four years work has progressed at the well-equipped steam shop in Port Clinton. The pace has increased over the past year, with railroad personnel and contractors working five and six days a week to finish the job.
By March 2020, a new cast fire door frame came from a local foundry along with new grate holders, fingers and side bearers, the railroad said. The stoker equipment was rebuilt along with a new steam dome lid, and 729 stay bolts were replaced. Over the summer, the locomotive passed its federally mandated hydro test, and many other components are being rebuilt and refurbished, included the feedwater heater and pump. The locomotive will also have new tri-cocks, water glass valves/plugs, firebox bricks (which were specially cast) and plumbing. The tender and cab are also set to receive attention. Some running gear work remains.
Reading 2102 is seen in the Port Clinton shops. The boiler is back on the running gear, which still needs some work. Photo by M.T. Burkhart.
“We’ve pretty much done everything,” said Ryan Bausher, steam shop manager. “There are a lot of small things left.”
A question on the minds of many is what paint scheme the locomotive and tender will wear when it rolls out of the shop. The railroad is not quite ready to announce that, but Matt Fisher, the railroad’s passenger general manager offered a few hints. It won’t be blue (like 4-6-2 Pacific 425) but it will have a hint of the old Rambles scheme.
When it enters service, the plan is to use 2102 on longer day trips, Fisher said.
Three other Reading T-1’s remain – 2100 is undergoing a restoration in Cleveland; 2101 is on display at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore in its American Freedom Train livery; 2124 is on display at Steamtown National Historic Site in the scheme it wore in Rambles service.
Bill Frederickson works on a weld on Reading & Northern T-1 4-8-4 2102 in the Port Clinton shop. Photo by M.T. Burkart.