The term ‘Yellowbelly’ has traditionally been used as an insult to refer to someone as a coward, Chesapeake & Ohio 490 has attracted the nickname in a loving manner. She has come a long way, both literally and figuratively, over the last 100 years.
Chesapeake & Ohio 490
Built by Alco in 1926, Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) 490 originally featured a 4-6-2 “Pacific” wheel arrangement and was part of the C&O’s F-19 Class and one of the last steam locomotives received by the railroad.
For the first several years in service, C&O 490 ran on the mainline throughout Virginia; but in 1930, she was selected to lead two of C&O’s premiere passenger trains: The Sportsman, which ran between Cincinnati and Washington DC, and The George Washington, which offered service between Louisville and Washington DC.
As locomotives got more powerful and efficient over the years, 490 found herself being used less and less. But her luck appeared to change in 1947, when she and the other F-19’s were rebuilt with a 4-6-4 ‘Hudson’ wheel arrangement and her appearance streamlined as the Chesapeake & Ohio wanted the F-19’s to provide backup on the “Chessie” line. The new streamlined 4-6-4’s were reclassified as L-1 class locomotives for the C&O, but their primarily yellow paint scheme led to them being referred to as Yellowbelly locomotives.
Unfortunately, the rebuild did not result in an increase in work for the 490, as the Chesapeake & Ohio canceled plans for the Chessie before it even started due to costs associated with the project. Between the decrease in demand for passenger service and the move towards dieselization, C&O 490 would be used relatively sparingly for the next few years.
In April 1953, C&O 490 became the last steam locomotive to lead scheduled passenger service for the railroad and was officially retired later that year. The Yellowbelly would remain in storage at the C&O shops in Huntington for the next 15 years as she awaited a date with the scrapper’s torch that never came.
Yellowbelly Retires in Baltimore
Wanting to preserve the history of the F-19/L-1 class and their locomotives in general, the Chesapeake & Ohio donated the locomotive to the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Museum in 1968. The locomotive was given a cosmetic overhaul and made her way to the B&O Museum in Baltimore in 1972.
For more than 30 years, the locomotive was left on static display outside; but museum officials elected to move 490 to indoor display in 2005 to protect the locomotive from further damage and wear from the weather.
With a top speed of 95 miles per hour, the Yellowbelly could definitely hold her own against the other locomotives at the B&O Museum; though the likely will not show off that power any time soon. To learn more about the last remaining Yellowbelly and the rest of the roster at the B&O Museum, be sure to check out the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum website.