The Porter Locomotive
From Steam LocomotiveApril, 1960Starrucca
William S. Young, Editor & Publisher
This modern saddletanker, St. Elizabeth Hospital No. 4 (Porter
marks an ending point in locomotive history. Built to the order
of the Federal Security Administration,
it was the last Porter steamer (if we except 4 subsequent fireless
engines) to be delivered to a domestic customer.
The H. K. Porter Co. was the leading exclusive builder
of light locomotives in the U. S. Until its surviving construction
records became available not many months ago, little was actually
known of the Porter output, although observers could safely guess
that the greater number of Porters were industrial-type 0-4-0
tank engines. A study of the records now at hand bears out the
guessworkand it comes as no surprise that the very first
Porter was an 0-4-0T. If "dinky" was the root term,
"Porter dinky" became the term in practice among hundreds
of contractors and industrial customers, for it was the four-drivered
saddletanker, quality-built in numbers, that made the Porter reputation.
Tiny, homely, dirty, and as faceless as the thousands of obscure,
ofttimes temporary railroads on which it ran, the dinky nevertheless
deserves some study and recognition, if only for the job it did.
However, what may be most interesting in the Porter records
is not what they reveal about large numbers of run-of-mine-and-mill
dinkies, but the details given for more "exotic" locomotive
types. For Porter turned out Forneys, 2-4-0's, 2-6-0's, 2-8-0's,
2-8-2's, 4-4-0's, 4-6-0's and other designs, including a quantity
of back-truck engines.
Unfortunately, trying to-organize the Porter data into precise
figures is like trying to keep a bad boiler from leaking. The
records are vague, incomplete and sometimes in error. Some construction
numbers, including all but eight of the first 146, can be assigned
only to the unknown.*
*Certain other construction numbers, including the complete
series 7800-7899 and a few shorter series, were cancelled outright.
One number was given to a snowplow. A few engines, not identified
by type, were built and then scrapped in the Porter shops. Construction
number 5000 apparently was reserved, then never used.
Proof of Porter's frequent departure from the building of
stereotyped saddletankers are Louisiana Cypress Lumber Co. 2-6-2 No. 1
(Porter #6663, 4-1921), same
company's 2-8-0 No. 3 (#5565, 6-1914) and Virginia Blue Ridge
Ry. 2-8-0 No. 1 (#5630, 3-1915). The Virginia engine was scrapped
several years ago; Louisiana
Cypress No. 1 is still used for switching at the Ponchatoula,
La., mill on rare occasions and No. 3 is on public view there.
After building many small steamers, cabless and sometimes no
more than four feet high, for inside mine service, Porter began
about 1890 to build compressed-air locomotives for mines and other
customers; but the records do not give enough details to tell
air from steam in all cases. It is just as impossible to pinpoint
all examples of the fireless steam locomotive, which appeared
later. Some have been identified by their abnormal cylinder dimensions,
in which bore exceeded stroke.
Possibly the greatest deficiency is the records' general failure
to separate tank engines from straight engines. With information
added from other sources, about 12 percent of the 0-4-0's have
been identified as tank engines; obviously, many more were really
of that typea point that holds in varying degree for other
wheel arrangements given in the accompanying table.
Experience has proved that wheel arrangements given in the
original records for certain engines were entirely incorrect.
In some cases confusion results from the difference between Porter's
unique classification system and the Whyte system, the former
reading from back to front of an engine, the latter from front
to back, so that a 2-6-0 might sometimes appear in the Porter
records as an 0-6-2.
Thus the table of figures necessarily includes both surmise
and generalizations; but also, it is believed, a not untrue picture
of Porter's production.
Oldest, most famous Porter, Northern Pacific's "Minnetonka,"
arrives at New York World's Fair in 1939. Bui1t (Smith & Porter,
#84, 1870) for NP construction, she later became the informally
named "ol' Betsy" of Washington's Polson Logging Co.
(now Rayonier Inc.). Polson is said to have shrewdly traded her
back to NP for an 80-ton engine in 1933just in time for
NP to produce a restored "Minnetonka" at the Century
of Progress Exposition.
in 1900 erecting shop view are two 40-ton 2-6-0's for 3-foot-gauge
Arizona & New Mexico Ry., Nos. 12 and 14 (#2123-4).
PORTER IN BRIEF
The history of Porter of Pittsburgh as a locomotive builder
spans a period of 83 years, from construction number 1 in 1867
(a 42-inch-gauge 0-4-0T for New Castle R.R. & Mining Co.,
New Castle, Pa.) to number 8275 in 1950 (recorded, appropriately
enough, as steama meter-gauge 0-4-0 for a plantation in
Brazil). In the years betweenallowing for missing numbersPorter
delivered at least 7807 locomotives, of which most were steam,
284 were internal-combustion designs and at least 274 were compressed-air
locomotives. Outside the main series of construction numbers,
Porter either built or contracted for the building of electric
Porter began as Smith & Porter in 1866. Smith & Porter
and the lesser-known Pittsburgh firm of David Bell & Co. (of
whose locomotive production, if any, there seems to be no record)
preceded Porter, Bell & Co., which was organized in 1871.
Porter, Bell was succeeded by H. K. Porter & Co. in 1878.
The name was changed in 1899 to H. K. Porter Co., a new incorporation
with a capital stock of $1.6 million. After President H. K. Porter
himself, Hobart B. Ayers, the single-minded works manager in charge
of Porter's quality production for many years, is best remembered
as a major figure in company affairs.
Porter locomotives had some notable general characteristics
besides the famous medallion plate and cylinders cast with the
Porter name. Dome cover rings were discontinued at an early date
in favor of smooth domes which resembled nothing so much as beehives.
During the same eraand before the time of steel cabsmost
cabs were built of wood, with vertical tongue-and-groove bottom
panels like those of another Smoky City builder, the Pittsburgh
Works. Later the beehive steam dome covers and sandboxes gave
way to more prosaic designs.
Except in early years Porter seldom used alligator crossheads,
preferring the Laird and single-guide designs even for most of
its largest engines. In the absence of customer specifications,
a frequent Porter hallmark was the painting of the engine cab
number within a small circle. Porter probably built more locomotives
speculatively, for stock, than any other independent builder.
It stressed standardized parts and availability of stock engines
as selling points.
Although Porter contributed a good share of the motive power
for the early little lines of the West, it was not known as a
builder for American common carriers. But if the output for industrial
railroads dominated the home scene, export businessfor public
carriers as well as industrialswas of major importance.
Porter steam power went to every continent and to more than 40
lands from Alaska to Zanzibar. Engines were shipped to every part
of Canada, including Newfoundland. The Porter name was well known
throughout Latin America, particularly in Mexico and Cuba. It
was the first American builder to send locomotives to Japansave
only for the "quarter-scale" Norris engine that Admiral
Perry had brought to Yokohama in 1854, thus making the Japanese
immediate railway enthusiasts.
For years many sales abroad were handled through agents like
S. H. Payne & Son or Wonham & Magor (later Wonham Inc.),
both of New York. During the period 1900-1930 there were several
American manufacturers specializing in export equipment ranging
from light, functional cars to portable track. Several of the
smaller locomotive builders were called upon to furnish engines-which
sometimes were shipped bearing only the nameplate of the export
manufacturer. One of these firms, The Gregg Co. Ltd., obtained
locomotives from Porter.
Although it originally offered no product but the light locomotive
(crane capacity and general shop facilities restricted engine
size to about 100 tons), the Porter works diversified after 1900.
The industrial products for which H. K. Porter Co. is known todayrubber
belting and hose, high voltage electrical equipment, air brake
parts, springs, valves and oil field equipment among them-finally
overshadowed the declining locomotive business.
After Heisler Locomotive Works of Erie, Pa., built its last
geared engine in 1941, the Heisler patterns were acquired by Porter.
But Porter sold its entire locomotive business to Davenport-Besler
Corp. of Davenport, Iowa, after ceasing production in 1950. Davenport
later conveyed its locomotive interests to Canadian Locomotive
Co. of Kingston, Ont.
illustrations, all from catalog of 1900, represent but minor
portion of designs then available. The seemingly off-balance 2-4-0
No. 6 above was later version of engine that drew stares at Philadelphia
Centennial Exposition of 1876 and subsequently was shipped to
Indiana's 3-foot Bedford, Springville, Owensburg & Bloomfield
R.R. View beneath indicates that odd 2-4-0 was adapted from 4-4-0
In large illustration, a Porter saddletanker of the dinky
era works on new depot and track elevation project for Delaware, Lackawanna
& Western at Morris Plains, N. J., in 1915.
GAUGING THE CUSTOMER
Although Porter built some engines for common carriers and
not a few for export, its production was so largely for domestic
industrials, and so representative of industrial orders, that
an analysis of the gauges to which Porter steamers were built
gives a fair impression of the ups and downs of industrial gauges.
During the last three decades of the nineteenth centuryand
despite a fever for narrow gaugethe great debate over widths
between rails was nearing an end. The private industrial railroads,
then just coming into their own, were the last to pursue the old
custom of choosing gauges by local whim. Having no need to interchange
cars, the average industrial could build to any suitable width.
Porter arrived just in time to become involved in the confusion.
It built steamers for 78 different gaugesand there was at
least one Porter made for just about every half-inch of measure
from 20 to 49 inches, with a few other fractional gauges in between.
A better sense of order prevailed after the turn of the century,
and demand for odd-gauge engines receded.
Unremarkably, 36 inches was the most popular gauge; about 3000
3-foot Porters were out-shopped. Standard gauge stood next in
popularity, with about 1800 units builtbut except for the
World War I period, production of standard-gauge engines did not
top the output in 36-inch gauge until after 1925. By then the
era of the industrial dinky was drawing to a close.
Other popular gauges ran far behind the leaders. In the order
given, only 30-inch, 42inch, 44-inch and 24-inch were important.
And Porter itself turned out only about 130 24inch steamerswhich
may explain why there are today more would-be owners for 2-foot-gauge
engines in operating condition than there are engines.
Some industrial gauges were regional favorites. Most 18-inch
engines went to mines in the far West, while 20-inch gauge came
near to being the exclusive choice for copper diggings in Arizona.
At one time 56¾ inches was the favored width of many industries
in western Pennsylvania and adjoining areas. Some odd gauges ignored
geography; e.g., the four known adherents to a span of 40½
inches were in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ontario and New Jersey.
For export Porter built engines by the metric scale or in equivalent
inches for 60 cm., 650 mm., 750 mm., 1-meter and other gauges.
India ordered some 66-inch-gauge power, and 5-footgauge Porters
went to Russia and Panama. The narrowest width was 17¾
inchesfor three engines shipped to Austria.
THROUGH TWO WARS
In the two World Wars Porter received a modest share of special
orders for steam power. Important World War I production included
11 0-6-0's and 41 2-8-0's for Czarist Russia, nine 0-4-0's and
three 0-6-0's for Italy (including three fireless engines), seven
0-4-0T's and five 0-6-0's for the U. S. Navy, and 51 0-6-0's for
the Army. Forty of the U. S. Army engines were 36-inch-gauge for
forestry service in France; the other 11 were used as stateside
switchers. The largest order of all was fulfilled during and after
the war: 165 0-4-0T's for Italy.
Between wars the character of Porter business changed radically.
Contractors discarded their dinkies, dumpcars and steam shovels
for motor trucks and modern heavy equipment. Elsewhere, the internal-combustion
locomotive replaced steam on many industrial roads. Porter itselfwhile
preserving its basic reputation as a builder of steam powerturned
to making gas and diesel units. During the stagnant 1930's, however,
the shops at Pittsburgh turned out fewer than 200 locomotives
of all types.
A World War II boom in steam began with ten 0-8-0's for the
Soviet Union. Then came two large orders: 65 0-6-0T's for Great
Britain and 84 0-6-0T's for the U. S. Army (orders for 55 more
Army 0-6-0T's were later cancelled). Some of the British engines
eventually found their way to France, Greece and Yugoslavia; certain
of the Army engines that went overseas ended up in France and
Austria. Later the Army ordered 25 2-8-2's for use in India. Some
of these have been traced to Burma and Thailand.
Under U. S. Army auspices, ten 0-4-0T's, 20 0-6-0T's and 16
0-8-0's were built for the Soviet Union toward the end of the
war. After the war there were two important orders for Europe:
34 0-8-0's purchased by the United Nations Relief & Rehabilitation
Administration (UNRRA) in 1945 for Yugoslavia, Poland and other
countries in eastern Europe, and 28 0-4-0's for Yugoslavia in
SOME PORTER FIRSTS
(as shown by existing records)
#254 8-1876 The first dummy, a 62½-in.-gauge 0-4-0 for
New Orleans City R.R.
#264 5-1877 Possibly the first 2-6-0 (an earlier 2-6-0 is not
positively identified), 36-in. gauge, for Emlenton & Shippenville
R.R., Emlenton, Pa.
#332 6-1879 The first 0-4-4T, 36-in. gauge, for E. T. Varner
Co., Tuskegee. Ala.
#337 8-1879 The first 4-4-0, 36-in. gauge, for Texas &
St. Louis R.R., Tyler, Tex.
#700 8-1885 A special number for the only Porter 2-4-4T (as
built), standard gauge, for Greenfield R.R., Greenfield, Mo.
#1900 10-1898 Another significant number for the first 2-8-0,
36-in. gauge, for Jalapa R.R. Power Co., Jalapa, Mexico
#2272 2-1901 The first 0-8-0, a 42-in.-gauge tank engine, Hokkaido
Coal & Ry. Co. "A," shipped to Japan by S. H. Payne
& Son, exporters
#2796 9-1903 The first 4-6-0, 42-in. gauge, apparently shipped
abroad by Lionel Hagenaers & Co., New York
#5331 4-1913 The first 2-8-2, standard gauge, for Carrier Lumber
Co., Sardis, Miss.
#5638 4-1915 The first known fireless locomotive, a standard-gauge
0-4-0, Ohio Wood Preserving Co. No. 5638, Orville, Ohio
#5893 7-1916 The only 2-6-4T (as built), 36-in. gauge, Eureka-Nevada
Ry. No. 10, Palisade, Nev.
#8131-7 5-1948 The only Porter 4-8-2'sseven, in meter
gauge, for Colombian National Rys.
Porter saddletanker from Koppers Co. plant at Nashua, N.H.,
is now No. 3 of White Mountains Central R.R., amusement line at
Clark's Trading Post, North Woodstock, N.H.
Production:A Look at the Record
From the 1900 Catalog
"Our exclusive specialty is the manufacture of Light Locomotives,
steam and compressed air, in every variety of size and design,
and for any practicable gauge of track, wide or narrow. Our locomotives
are used for a wide range of service. and are well adapted to
severe requirements and difficult conditions for which ordinary
locomotives are unsuitable or are too expensive.
"The designs illustrated and described in this catalogue
comprise only our leading styles and sizes. We have many modifications
of these, besides special designs for unusual requirements, and
we are also prepared to make new designs for peculiar cases, or
to build to customers' specifications. Our standard designs and
features of construction are the result of over thirty years'
experience in our exclusive specialty. Our shop force is well
drilled, most of the workmen having been educated in our employ,
and all of them take pride in sustaining the reputation of the
shop for good work. Our location in the city of Pittsburgh, the
great coal, steel and iron center of America, affords us a market
where we can purchase, at the lowest price and of the very best
quality, the various materials that are required for the manufacture
and construction of locomotives. At different times during the
past 30 years we have been compelled to enlarge our facilities,
and have now just completed practically new shops in all departments,
equipped with the most modern tools and processes, and of more
than double the former capacity. The annual capacity of our first
shops; built in 1866 and destroyed by fire in 1871, was 15 to
25 locomotives; of our early shops on the present site, 1872 to
1880, about 75 locomotives; of our enlarged shops, 1881 to 1893,
about 125 locomotives; and of our present new shops, 300 locomotives."
"We are occasionally asked if we can furnish 'a second-hand
locomotive in good order,' or take an old machine in trade, but
we do not make a practice of dealing in second-hand locomotives.
This branch of business we consider equally unsatisfactory to
ourselves and to our customers. Second-hand locomotives must be
sold very cheap, and the only chance of selling at a profit is
in trusting to paint to hide defects. Unless we should spend on
a second-hand locomotive, in putting it in safe order to sell,
more money than it would sell for, we could not advise any one
to buy it, In any case it is impossible to give any guaranty with
a second-hand locomotive."
ANIMALS VS. LIGHT LOCOMOTIVE
". . . on an average where three animals and three drivers,
or animals and drivers in different proportion but at about the
same daily expense, are used, it is cheaper to operate a light
locomotive. From $5 to $6 per day, or $1,500 to $1,800 per year,
is a reasonable allowance for the cost of operating a light locomotive
to take the place of ten to 40 animals. It is not unusual for
an engine to save its cost in less than a year. When through strikes
or dullness of trade an engine is idle it saves money as well
as when it is busy; only a few cents' worth of white lead and
tallow are needed for it, while mules, whether idle or not, must
OVERHAULING AND REPAIRING
"We believe it to be true economy for the owner of a locomotive,
especially where shop facilities are not easily available, to
employ as an engineer a man who is sufficiently competent as a
machinist to keep up all small running adjustments and repairs.
Such a man is well worth the highest wages. But in course of time,
even with the best of usage, the boiler and machinery of any locomotive
will require general repairs and renewals. It is impossible to
make an accurate estimate of the cost of the general overhauling
of any locomotive, but unless the engine is in very bad order,
it should not reach half the cost of a new machine. On this basis
the thorough overhauling of a locomotive may be more to the advantage
of the owner than the purchase of a new one. We are prepared to
do work of this kind promptly and to use our best judgment to
keep the cost as low as can be consistent with a thorough and
CLASSIFICATION OF LOCOMOTIVES
"For sake of convenience in classifying our numerous designs
of locomotives we have adopted a very simple system.
"The size of the locomotive is designated by the diameter
and stroke of its cylinder in inches: thus, 9 x 14 means a locomotive
with cylinders nine inches diameter by 14 inches stroke.
"The number of driving wheels is expressed by:
A for two driving wheels.
B for four driving wheels.
C for six driving wheels.
D for eight driving wheels.
"The number and position of locomotive truck wheels is
expressed by a figure 2 for two-wheel, or 4 for
four-wheel truck; for a rear truck, this figure is placed to the
left, and for a front truck placed to the right, of the letter
denoting the number of driving wheels, and separated by a hyphen.
(The locomotive is supposed to be headed toward the observer's
right hand.) Thus, 2-B denotes a locomotive with a two-wheel
rear truck and four driving wheels; 4-C-2 a locomotive with a
four-wheel rear truck, six driving wheels and a two-wheel front
"The arrangement of water tank is denoted by:
T for tender tank with eight wheels.
T4 for tender tank with four wheels.
T6 for tender tank with six wheels.
S for saddle tank.
SS for two side tanks alongside of boiler.
R for rear tank.
RR for two tanks, one each side at rear.
K denotes a locomotive with sheet steel open canopy
M denotes a motor style cab enclosing the machinery.
I denotes a locomotive with a steel cab.
O denotes a locomotive without cab.
P denotes a pneumatic or compressed air locomotive,
with one air tank, and PP one with two air tanks."