PRR #1223, An American Star Preserved in Pennsylvania

The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania can seem overwhelming when visiting for the first time. Located near the Strasburg Rail Road, the museum features over 100 locomotives and railcars from both steam and diesel eras. With a collection that large, it can be difficult for a locomotive to stand out among the rest; but not for Pennsylvania Railroad’s PRR #1223, which is better known as “An American Star”.

PRR #1223 on display at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania
PRR #1223 on display at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.

PRR #1223’s Revenue Service

Built in 1905 at the Pennsylvania Railroad’s (PRR) Juniata shops, #1223 features a 4-4-0 (“American”) wheel arrangement with 68″ diameter driving wheels. The locomotive was built to be used in high speed passenger service; but as the Juniata shops developed larger and faster locomotives, #1223 found herself reassigned to hauling freight.

#1223 would remain reliable for the Pennsylvania Railroad; and with the help of multiple maintenance updates and a substantial rebuild to make the locomotive better suited for freight operation, she would remain in revenue service until 1950. In addition to serving the PRR, #1223 also spent time leased out to other local railways.

#1223 prepares for an excursion in 1966
#1223 prepares for an excursion in 1966. (Photo: Roger W. via CC by 2.0)

An American Star, Movie and Excursion Careers

PRR #1223 took a break from hauling freight in 1941 when she was selected to appear in the Hollywood film “Broadway Limited”. Following the movie’s release, the locomotive made several appearances at various railfests around the country.

After she was retired, #1223 was kept in storage when not making special appearances. In 1965, the Strasburg Rail Road reached an agreement to lease the locomotive. The locomotive was restored to operating condition, steaming up under her own power on August 14th, 1965. Early in her excursion career, she was used for the “Santa Claus Special” holiday excursion becoming a tradition for many families.

The locomotive would put excursion service on hold in 1969 when she would appear in a motion picture version of Hello Dolly!, though the locomotive was painted and appeared as New York Central & Hudson River Railroad #15 in the film. The locomotive picked up the American Star nickname thanks to her appearances on the silver screen.

#1223 steaming in 1989, nearly 75 years after she was built
#1223 steaming in 1989, nearly 75 years after she was built. (Photo: James G. Howes via CC by 2.0)

Back at the Strasburg Rail Road, the former PRR steamer continued to steam. The locomotive served as a primary for Strasburg’s shorter excursion trips well into the 1980s in addition to making appearances at several special events throughout the decades.

Following a run on October 26th, 1989, the locomotive was taken out of service for maintenance and inspection. During these inspections, an ultrasound of the locomotive’s firebox walls determined that the sidewalls were not thick enough to comply with federal regulation.

After considering their options, the Strasburg Rail Road decided against repairing PRR #1223 and allowed the locomotive to remain idle until the lease expired. Eventually the locomotive was donated to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

PRR #1223 Today

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission received many donations over the years from the Pennsylvania Railroad that showcase the different locomotive classes built at the company’s shops. A large number of these pieces, including PRR #1223, can be found on static display at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.

It is unlikely that the locomotive will return to steam, but as the last remaining D16sb class locomotive, PRR #1223 continues to greet visitors to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. To learn more about the Strasburg based museum, head over to the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania website.

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