The History of Climax Locomotive Works 

The Climax Locomotive Works was arguably one of the most important locomotive builders in the steam era as these locomotives transformed the logging industry. Like many other inventions, the Climax locomotive was developed in an attempt to improve on current operations.

Climax Locomotive Works

Charles D. Scott began in his profession as a lumberjack with a talent for mechanical design. His experience brought him to a quest for a logging locomotive that would improve on previous designs. His designs were of interest to the Climax Manufacturing Company in Corry, Pennsylvania, and they aligned with Scott to build four locomotives based on his plans in 1888.

Because Scott did not have an advanced education, the locomotives based on his designs were patented by his brother-in-law, George Gilbert, a civil engineer who worked for Climax. The patent made no mention of Charles Scott.

Ultimately, the Gilbert patent did not prove to be successful. Scott’s drawings detailed a two-cylinder steam engine with a two-speed transmission and a drivetrain located in the underframe just above the center of the axles. The proposed benefits of this design were intended to transfer the force separately to the two wheels of an axle.

This would allow one wheel to remain firmly linked to the wheel shaft while the other wheel could loosely rotate on a sleeve around the shaft. This was supposed to reduce wheel resistance around tight curves as one wheel would turn with fewer revolutions. Unfortunately, the design failed to exert the requisite amount of traction and was less effective than locomotives with the rigid wheelset design. 

Patent drawing for Climax Class B.
Patent drawing for Climax Class B.

Rush Battles filed a patent that altered this basic design, then a second patent that became a design basis for a Class B Climax locomotive. 

In 1892, Charles Scott was granted a patent in his own name after filing a lawsuit against Battles and Gilbert. While it was a victory, it also left Scott destitute. One year later, Scott proposed a geared locomotive that would hinge from the frame of the tender to the frame of the boiler. This updated design shared some characteristics with Climax engines that were driven by a central shaft, taking its power from the front axle.  

Given its origins, it is not surprising that Climax Manufacturing’s locomotives were specially designed to handle logging applications. It gained a reputation among logging companies for its great performance on light rails or uneven road beds. It could negotiate large radius curves and climb grades up to 16 percent. Its engines were built to handle any gauge track, including steel or wood rails. 

Although logging was their bread and butter, their locomotives were also used in the mining industry, wood chemical plants, and sugar cane plantations. Short line railroads also found them useful, sometimes employing them for passenger routes with steep grades. 

#6 is one of several Climax Locomotive Works engines still around today.
#6 is one of several Climax Locomotive Works engines still around today. (Photo: Dennis Jarvis via CC by 2.0)

There were somewhere around 1000 different locomotives built by Climax Locomotive Works in its 40 years of business. During its operations, it also had a service location in Seattle, Washington, to better maintain—and sell—locomotives for west coast railway companies. In 1928, the last Climax locomotive left its facility. 

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