By Eric Berger
The resurrection of one legend of steam by the American Steam Railroad Preservation Association took a big step forward this month just as the group is preparing to honor another one at its annual Legends of Steam banquet on October 28. This year’s chief honoree is veteran steam preservationist Steve Wickersham, who has personal ties to the legendary steam engine that will serve as his costar that night.
Legendary 4-8-4 Reading 2100 has been the focus of ASR members since its arrival at their Cleveland roundhouse in 2015. The locomotive gained railfan fame as one of the engines used in the Reading Rambles from 1959-64, one of the first and best known steam excursion programs operated by a Class I railroad after dieselization. After nearly a decade awaiting rescue at Streigel’s scrapyard, 2100 and sister 2101 were saved by Ross Rowland, though 2100 would initially serves as a parts unit while 2101 would return to service as AFT 1 hauling the American Freedom Train in 1976.
Wickersham worked on the AFT 1 restoration and operation along with previous Legend of Steam honorees Rowland and Doyle McCormack. He went on to leading roles with the Chessie Steam Specials and with Chesapeake & Ohio 614 on the Chessie Safety Express and tests related to the ACE3000 project. His presentation will include his inside stories about these and other steamy experiences, as well as taking questions from the audience.
The 2100 would ultimately get two of her own very brief moments in the spotlight operating on shortlines in 1989-90 and 2005-06 but is now on track toward greater glory nearing the 100th anniversary of her initial construction by Baldwin as a 2-8-0. Conversion to a Class T-1 4-8-4 would occur at the reading shops in 1945.
Attendees will also get a chance to see the recent progress on 2100. Final work to install nearly 300 new 2-inch boiler tubes that arrived this summer was completed by a professional welding team in mid-October. Much of the initial work was completed by volunteers, who ASR President Rob Gardner credited with saving the restoration effort tens of thousands of dollars. The ASR website shows that the group needs just $170,000 more to reach its $700,000 fundraising goal.
Gardner said a new lid for the steam dome is on order, which will be followed by hydrostatic testing. “We are hoping to get that done by Thanksgiving,” he said.
A few tickets to the banquet remain available online at americansteamrailroad.org/product/legends-of-steam-steve-wickersham-banquet/. All proceeds from the event go toward the ongoing restoration of the 2100.