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This Steam Train From 1945 Just Hauled 50 Freight Cars in 2022

Talk about a blast from the past.
Mike Burkhart via Twitter | @railfanmag

Steam engines are antiquated machines that most people probably can’t say they’ve ever seen run in person, much less in actual service. Tuesday morning, however, a few Pennsylvanians bore witness to a sight rarely seen on American rails since even Baby Boomers were kids: A steam locomotive hauling an honest-to-God freight train, on its own, for real money.

The once-in-a-lifetime journey was captured in a video shared by Railfan & Railroad Magazine on Twitter, showing Reading Blue Mountain & Northern (RBMN for short) unit 2102 bound for Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania with 50 freight cars in tow. While it’s common for steam locomotives to travel with assistance from at least a semi-modern diesel unit, 2102 notably made the journey on its own—something many railroads wouldn’t ever entrust a heritage steam unit to, much less a real, revenue-bringing freight service. There was money on the line here (no pun intended), which shows just how much faith RBMN has in its finicky old steamer.

RBMN was able to entrust 2102—one of four surviving Reading T-1 class (different from the PRR T1) 4-8-4s of a batch of 30—to do the job because it had just completed a five-year restoration on the unit, at a stated cost of $2.4 million. Previously, 2102 had been out of service since 1991, having been retired from full-time duty at the end of the 1950s after barely a decade of service since its construction in 1945, according to Railway Age.

The steam era itself began drawing to a close around that time, and by the early 1960s, almost all railroads nationwide favored newer diesels. There were some regional holdouts that remained reliant on steam, some allegedly as late as the early 1990s, but steam engines have by and large been retired to the status of novelties; historical whimsies mainly used on tourist railroads, with occasional excursions on mainlines. (Though even the mighty Union Pacific 4014 Big Boy travels with the assistance of a diesel.) RBMN 2102 faces such a future, but continuing on as a living, breathing curio is infinitely preferable to a life spent stationary in a museum—never mind one of rusting away on a forgotten spur, the way many once-iconic locomotives have gone.

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