When the first Decapod type steam locomotive design was introduced in the United States in 1886, many expected it to take off like 2-8-0 (Consolidation type) locomotives. Although Consolidation types offered power and speed, they often weighed too much per axle for tracks owned or operated by many smaller railroad operators, like the Alabama, Tennessee & Northern (AT&N).
By adding an additional axle and pair of driving wheels, the change in weight distribution made decapods a viable option these railroads. While there aren’t many surviving decapods following the dieselization movement, one such giant locomotive, AT&N #401, can be found in Ohio.
Brief History of AT&N #401
AT&N #401 was built in 1928 by Baldwin Locomotive Works and features a 2-10-0 wheel arrangement. The coal burning locomotive was able to produce approximately 46,000 lbs of tractive force, thanks in part to her 56″ diameter driving wheels. The locomotive was one of three ‘light’ decapods ordered by the AT&N, a shortline railroad in Alabama that had just over 200 miles of track, including lines through Mobile.
The locomotive was put into service leading trains for the AT&N’s ‘Lindbergh’ fast freight service. Like many other businesses, the railroad incorporated Charles Lindbergh’s historic 1927 flight across the ocean into their marketing. The locomotives that led the service received special plates to distinguish them as such. This has led some to refer to the locomotive as ‘The Lindbergh’, though she was never given the nickname officially.
AT&N #401 served the railroad for nearly 20 years before her time came to an end during World War II. Mobile was home to one of the largest ports for war supplies traveling by sea, and powerful and reliable rail service was just as important for the area. The AT&N sought and was granted permission by the government to purchase diesel locomotives. By 1946, the company had completely dieselized and had no need for #401. She would be sold to a used equipment dealer before being purchased by the Woodward Iron Company in 1948.
Once a part of the Woodward roster, #401 was renamed Woodward Iron #41 and began operating for the company’s facilities near Birmingham, Alabama. The locomotive was used to transport coal and limestone from extraction points to pig iron processing mills along 50 miles of track within the company’s sprawling operation that covered 80,000+ acres, or approximately twice the size of San Francisco. She kept active until she was retired by the company in 1959.
After sitting idle for several years, AT&N #401 was purchased by the Mid-Continent Railroad Museum (MCMR) in 1964. The locomotive made her way to Wisconsin with hope that she would be restored and potentially enter excursion service. Unfortunately, she did not go through restoration during her time at the MCMR. The locomotive was kept static outdoors, and the years of Wisconsin winters caused her to fall into serious disrepair.
Deciding that they no longer needed the locomotive, the MCMR decided to sell the locomotive via auction; but the condition of the locomotive, coupled with issues with transporting it from the museum, led to a winning bid of “just” $11,000 from Jerry Jacobson, a train enthusiast and founder of the Age of Steam Roundhouse in Ohio. The bill for the December 2015 move was substantially higher, reportedly around $90,000.
Following her trip to Ohio, the locomotive was returned to her AT&N #401 lettering and received a much needed cosmetic restoration. She was even outfitted with a replica of the brass ‘Lindbergh’ plate similar to the one she had early in her career.
Today, AT&N #401 remains on static display at the Age of Steam Roundhouse Museum. The decapod is considered inoperable, and there have been no indications that she will be restored to steam any time soon, if ever. However, the museum has taken giant steps to ensure that visitors can see the size and stature of decapod type steam locomotives. To learn more about the museum and their current roster, visit the Age of Steam Roundhouse website.