Steam Engine #103 Leaves Essex for a New Home

After spending the last 38 years at the Valley Railroad in Essex, Connecticut, steam locomotive #103 moved to its new home on Thursday June 25. At 9:15 pm that evening, 103 touched down on the rails of the Naugatuck Railroad in Waterville, Connecticut. The “Naugy” is the operating heritage railroad of the Railroad Museum of New England (RMNE).

Steam locomotive No. 103 was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in November 1925, for the Sumter & Choctaw Railroad, a small logging railway in northern Alabama. It has a 2-6-2 wheel arrangement. The engine worked there for over 30 years, and was sold in 1962 to the Empire State Railway Museum of Middletown, NY. 103 operated at Middletown until late 1966, and was moved to the new Valley Railroad at Essex in early 1971. As the crews worked to get ready for the Valley’s opening day in the summer of 1971, 103 was readied for her role as the first steam locomotive of the new railroad. After a midnight test run (the first operation of 103 at VRR), 103 triumphantly pulled the first 3-car VRR train into the Essex depot on the morning of July 29, 1971– 100 years to the day of the first run on that very line.

In 1972 and early 73, 103 had to work harder to move the 4 and then 5 car trains needed to carry the growing passenger load, and work commenced on a larger steam locomotive at Essex, 2-8-0 #97. First steamed up in March 1973, 97 entered regular service that summer and quickly replaced little 103. 103 last operated in 1975, and had been on display at Essex ever since.

Ownership of 103 was transferred in 1986 by Empire State to the Railroad Museum of New England. RMNE started operation of the Naugatuck Railroad in 1996 and has been transferring RMNE locomotives and cars from VRR to the Naugy. For the last 8 or 9 years, an RMNE crew has gone to Essex annually, to oil and grease 103’s moving parts.

The move of 103 was done under the supervision of Bob Eberheim, an RMNE member who has decades of professional rigging and heavy hauling experience. Bob coordinated the cranes and the heavy-haul tractor-trailers that loaded, moved and unloaded 103. Starting the loading process in the Essex station parking lot at 3 pm, 103 and tender were loaded and ready to go at 4:30 pm, and they rolled out of Essex for the last time.

Going faster than it ever had on rails, 103 moved along at 50-55 mph until a fan belt broke on the truck hauling the little locomotive. After a two-hour delay for repairs (at $349, it was a very expensive fan belt for that trucker!), 103 arrived at RMNE’s Chase Yard in Waterville. The tender had already been unloaded and pulled out of the way, and the two cranes were ready to set up and lift 103 off the trailer.

Back on rails at 9:15 pm, tender connected again at 9:40 pm, and safely tucked away on Track 5 in Chase Yard at 10:10 pm, 103 was ready for the next chapter in its 84-year career. And a tired, happy crew closed the gate and went to eat a late dinner. Except for the fan belt trick, the move was without incident, which is just how the RMNE crew likes these things!

Locomotive 103 weighs about 45 tons in working order (steamed up with fire and water in the boiler). It is considered a small steam locomotive, suitable for speeds up to about 20 mph, and easily operated in either direction, as befits a short-line locomotive. The engine and tender together are 50 feet long. The tender carries 3000 gallons of water and 5 tons of coal.

RMNE plans to spruce up 103 and paint it; replace the missing cab windows and make sure the engine is secure against the weather. Locomotive 103 will be displayed at the 1881 Thomaston station once she is ready.

Preparing the 103 for transport from the Valley Railroad

Getting ready to lift onto the trailer

Locomotive 103 is now secure on the trailer

The tender was much easier to coax onto its trailer

Comparing profiles between 103 in the foreground and Valley Railroad #40 in the distance

Engine 103 begins its journey to RMNE, passing through the front gates at Valley Railroad

Heading down the highway, probably the fastest 103 has traveled in a long time!

Arriving at Chase Yard in Waterville, with RMNE volunteers waiting

Unloading begins

Engine 103 is safely returned to the rails once more

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