Lost Butte, Montana, a book by Richard I. Gibson, is in stores and museum gift shops around Butte. Or order from the publisher. It's also in E-book formats at all the usual places. And read an interview with Gibson, here, and on KXLF here. The Facebook page has many historic photos of Butte, and the Butte-Anaconda NHLD project showcases many historic buildings. Location-oriented posts can be found on HistoryPin. On Mondays beginning in January 2016, look for Gibson's "Mining City History" column in the Montana Standard.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Heaviest locomotive in the world - or maybe not quite!

By Richard I. Gibson

In February 1901, Butte and Anaconda were abuzz with the announcement of the arrival of a new engine for the Butte, Anaconda, and Pacific Railway. The “mastodon hog,” No. 19. was built by the Schenectady Company for the express purpose of hauling ore from Butte to the then new smelter being built in Anaconda.

Here are her specs:

Gauge: 4 feet, 8½ inches
Cylinders: low pressure, 34-inch diameter, 32-inch stroke
High pressure, 23-inch diameter, 32-inch stroke
Drivers: 56-inch diameter
Wheel base: 26 feet 9 inches
Engine weight: 110 tons
Water and Coal load: 54 tons (5,500 gallons of water, 10 tons bituminous coal)
Front sheet of steel boiler, 84-inch diameter
Boiler pressure: 210 pounds of steam per square inch
Boiler sheet thickness: one inch (average heretofore, five-eighths inch)
Boiler tubes: 414 1¼-inch tubes

The smokestack was cast iron, engine frames were hammered iron, and piston rods were made of Cambria steel hardened by the Coffin process. The tires were Krupp crucible steel four inches thick. The drive springs were installed by the A. French Spring Company. The cab was wood, with steel running boards. The whole engine was painted “B.A. &  P. standard black.” She had two Dressel headlights 16 inches in diameter.

The first test run, under the command of Engineer Tipton, was accompanied by the builder’s agent, L.S. Watres, Master Mechanic Harrity, and an Anaconda Standard reporter. The engine traveled from Anaconda to Rocker pulling 41 cars. The engine’s maximum capacity was rated at 60 cars of ore totaling 4000 tons, which it could pull at 30 miles per hour.

The engine came in on the Great Northern Line, and its size proved a problem in many places where bridges were too low for it to pass. They had to lower the stack in order to do so. It jumped the track at Minot, North Dakota, the only serious incident en route to Anaconda.

“Elaborate and complete in every detail, the new freight engine marks a new epoch in freight hauling in the United States, and especially in the transmission of ore in mining states to the smelters.”

But within a dozen years, the B.A. & P. was moving from steam locomotives to electrical systems, erecting the first heavy-haul electric railway in the world. No. 19 was sold to the General Equipment Company of New York City on July 24, 1917. General Equipment in turn sold it to the PeƱoles Mining Company in Mexico. It was probably scrapped by the late 1940s.

Primary source: Anaconda Standard, February 3, 1901. See also Wired For Success, by Charles Mutschler (WSU Press, 2002).


  1. To add a few details, the article calls the locomotive a "mastodon", but most readers probably don't know that's a 4-8-0 in the Whyte classification system. That indicates four pilot wheels under the smokebox to help steer the frame around corners, eight wheels on four drive axles coupled together and moved by a pair of steam pistons and having no extra supporting axles under the firebox. With that long rigid wheelbase it was probably only suitable for main line use between the Rocker yard and the Anaconda yard. By comparison, the NP 25 at the Civic Center is a Consolidation 2-8-0, typically used as a smaller main line freight engine in its day.

    The specifications quoted state the locomotive weighed 110 tons. Do you know if that was the engine alone or engine and tender? The photo caption states "biggest" which is a pretty vague term. There were always locomotives claiming to be the heaviest or the most powerful and newspapermen of the day enjoyed pushing a good boast as much as anyone. The Great Northern touted their own 1897 G5 class mastodon as such. These boasts tended to be fleeting as the next locomotive built always seemed a little bigger or a little faster. As a comparison, modern main line diesel locomotives tend to be in the 200-250 ton range with 3000 to 4000 horsepower.

    An observation about the number of cars pulled - cars going from Anaconda to Rocker would have been empty. More telling would have been the number of loads it could move to Anaconda, but that probably wouldn't have sounded so impressive.

    Keep on digging these things up Richard!! They're fascinating!


  2. I am going to guess that this is the builder they mean: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schenectady_Locomotive_Works

  3. Hi Richard - I got intrigued by the question of if this was the heaviest locomotive yet - would be a neat feather in Butte's cap. As Anon. indicates above, there's questions to be answered about how locomotive weights are measured. This was certainly a very large engine for its time - the average weight of locos at the Baldwin plant in 1900 was around 65 tons - https://books.google.com/books?id=znb7t54cWGwC&pg=PA194&lpg=PA194&dq=locomotive+weights+in+1900&source=bl&ots=6-HrdHrf9B&sig=_upAt1-56nDS6LeZLBoEGA8NCg0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=V8_KVP-9HOWwsATOtoHwBg&ved=0CEsQ6AEwCg#v=onepage&q=locomotive%20weights%20in%201900&f=false - and 115 tons seems to have been a near-record in 1898 (eclipsed by 125 tons in 1900): https://books.google.com/books?id=GWQgAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA1242&lpg=PA1242&dq=locomotive+weights+in+1900&source=bl&ots=sQl7pI6e5P&sig=TnsaPgynbcHI88CJOB9Gp4ux9K0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=3M_KVI__KfP9sATjjYGABw&ved=0CDIQ6AEwBTgK#v=onepage&q=locomotive%20weights%20in%201900&f=false ... So I'm going to hazard that this was one of the heaviest - but not the absolute heaviest. Further research should probably try to find records from the locomotive builder - and some more photos!

    1. Thanks Michael for this excellent additional research. I've retitled the post - to add "or maybe not quite!" Many thanks.