ARLINGTON — In 1947, rolling out of the Baldwin Locomotive Works factory in Philadelphia, steam engine No. 73 was a marvel. The 65-ton locomotive, specifically designed to make trips along the White Pass and Yukon Route between Alaska and British Columbia, was the prize of its fleet.
Seventy-one years later, the former mainstay of transportation was a shell of itself as it entered the shop at Newell Corporation in Arlington last year.
Stripped down to the frame, the locomotive resembled trash more than treasure.
“It was actually destined for the junk pile,” Jeff Newell, owner of Newell Corporation, said.
A year and a half later, following countless hours of labor from the expert machining and manufacturing team at Newell, steam engine No. 73 has new life.
After undergoing nearly a full overhaul, the locomotive has repaired or replaced wheels, axles, connecting rods, crossheads, boiler, air pumps, safety valves and fixes to the hundreds of controls that keep a train running.
Newell Corporation made maintaining historical accuracy a priority, manufacturing many of the replacement parts in its shop and receiving input from steam engine and locomotive buffs around the country.
“We took a lot of care and caution on what we did and were pretty detailed when we did it,” Newell said. “There are a lot of little tricks with a train of that size and age.”
A rebuild of this caliber comes with expected obstacles, but with steam engine No. 73, the unforeseen challenges were greater than those anticipated.
“The project since we got it has been two steps forward, one step back,” Jacob Turner, project manager of the restoration, said.
At least a portion of these struggles can be credited to inexperience. This is the first time Newell Corporation has rebuilt a locomotive.
Just to test the train, 400 feet of unconnected track had to be built and a crane was rented to put the steam engine on the track.
Despite the unexpected twists of the rebuild, the challenges were well worth it.
“It’s been such a fun project and all the guys in the shop had part in it and they’ve all had a lot of pride put into this project,” Turner said.
Donning a fresh coat of jet black paint with “73” and “White Pass” penned stylishly in white on the side, the steam engine will soon return north, back to the tracks it was built to traverse.
Removed from its former duties, the locomotive will primarily be used for revenue. It’ll haul 400 to 500 tourists through the picturesque White Rock and Yukon Route three days a week.
Jim Hamilton, an engineer on the train since the early 1980s, was in Arlington to help with the finishing touches and testing.
“They’ve done a great job on it and we are very happy to have her back,” he said.
On Monday, the steam engine will be placed on a barge and shipped to Skagway, Alaska, for its triumphant return to the tracks.
Watching the locomotive leave will be bittersweet for the crew that Newell said poured their “blood, sweat and tears” into the arduous project.
“It’s a sigh of relief knowing it’s done and done right,” Turner said. “But it’s sad at the same time that it’s gone. I hope we get another one.”