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As passengers travel through the Back Allegheny Mountain Range behind Western Maryland #6 during a Cass Scenic Railroad excursion, many are too focused on the incredible West Virginian views to notice how steep of an incline the train faces during the trip. Fortunately, the railroad has built a roster of heavy duty articulated steam locomotives to handle the workload, including WM #6, which was the last ever manufactured Shay-type, one of the most common types of articulated steam locomotive at the time.
Western Maryland #6 pushes an excursion trip. (Photo: Mobilus in Mobili via CC by 2.0)
Brief History of Western Maryland #6
Western Maryland #6 is a 3-truck Shay-type articulated steam locomotive that was built in 1945 by Lima. In addition to being the last Shay produced, it is also the second largest Shay manufactured; and with a weight of nearly 270,000 lbs. when empty, she quickly earned her nickname of ‘Big #6’. The standard gauge locomotive features a top speed of about 23 miles per hour, which fell in line with Western Maryland’s need more for power over speed.
Big #6 steams ahead of other locomotives on the railway. (Photo: Donnie Nunley via CC by 3.0)
Upon entering service for Western Maryland, Big #6 was stationed at the company’s Chaffee Branch, which ran from Chaffee, West Virginia, to Vindex, Maryland. The Chaffee Branch was a valuable route for transporting coal, and Big #6 provided the power needed to handle the grades safely. Despite her success on the rails, Big #6 would see her revenue career end with Western Maryland in 1950.
After sitting idle for a brief period, the locomotive received an overhaul and was donated to the B&O Museum in Baltimore in 1953 where she went on static display. Western Maryland #6 was a static relic for more than 25 years; but as the museum sought to update their collection, she became expendable.
Shay locomotives still run on several heritage lines throughout the United States, including Roaring Camp’s #7 (Sonora) in California and Westside Lumber #9 in Iowa.
In May 1980, Big #6 was part of a trade that sent her to the Cass Scenic Railway in exchange for Cass Shay #1 and a 0-4-0T Porter locomotive that previously operated under the US Army Transportation Corps. She would enter excursion service the following year, though her schedule was light for the first several years due to weight and track conditions.
#6 preparing for a Cass Scenic Railroad excursion. (Photo: JP Mueller via CC by 2.0)
More than 40 years after she first began excursion service, Western Maryland #6 continues to steam to the delight of visitors of the Cass Scenic Railroad. The railroad is home to one of the largest collections of articulated steam locomotives in the country (with Big #6 being a cornerstone of the collection). To learn more about the roster of preserved articulated steam, including Western Maryland #6, be sure to visit the Cass Scenic Railroad website.
This article first appeared on steamgiants.com
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