Special History Study
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Chicago Union Transfer Railway 100
Illinois Central Railroad 641
Illinois Central Railroad 790

Whyte System Type: 2-8-0 Consolidation

Builder: American Locomotive Company
Date Built: November 1903; rebuilt: 1918
Builder's Number: 28686

Cylinders (diameter x stroke in inches): 22 x 26
Boiler Pressure (in lbs. per square inch): 190
Diameter of Drive Wheels (in inches): 44

Tractive Effort (in lbs.): 42,000

Tender Capacity:
    Coal (in tons): 8
    Water (in gallons): 6,500
    Oil (in gallons): Not applicable

Weight on Drivers (in lbs.): 161,000

Remarks: Engine is manually fired, has superheater and Baker valve gear. Locomotive is in fair condition; some work on its machinery is needed to make it operable.

Illinois Central Railroad 2-8-0 Locomotive No. 790

History: Locomotive No. 790 steamed for most of its career on rails of the Illinois Central, but began life with a very brief period of work for another carrier. Chartered on October 31, 1888, by 1900 the Chicago Union Transfer Railway Company had 5.35 miles of line, but with second, third, and fourth tracks counted, as well as 25 miles of sidings, the company reported a total of 34.39 miles of track. In the next 2 years, the company nearly tripled its trackage to 100 miles. It was probably this phenomenal growth that spurred the Chicago Union Transfer Railway to order a group of new 2-8-0 locomotives, among them No. 100, outshopped by the American Locomotive Company in September 1903 at its Cooke Works in Paterson, New Jersey.

The Chicago Union Transfer Railway served as a switching line connecting the trackage of various trunk lines that entered Chicago, and served a number of industries as well. It is likely that a majority of its stock was in the hands of the various major railroads with which it connected. Among its directors, for example, were E.P. Ripley, then president of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway System, and J.T. Harahan, a second vice president of the Illinois Central; a perusal of the biographies of the other directors probably would identify corporate officers of other major Chicago-area railroads.

For reasons unknown, in 1904 the Chicago Union Transfer Railway sold four of its new Consolidations to the Illinois Central Railroad Company, which renumbered them 641 through 644, C.U.T.Ry. No. 100 now becoming Illinois Central No. 641.

As of 1900, the Illinois Central Railroad extended 912 miles from Chicago via Cairo, Illinois, to New Orleans, Louisiana, but if one added in the other main, branch, and leased lines, as of 1902 the company operated 4,265-1/2 miles of track. A comparatively old railroad, chartered February 10, 1851, the Illinois Central had built first to Dubuque, Iowa, which it reached on June 11, 1855, then to Cairo, which it reached on September 27, 1856. It reached New Orleans from Cairo by controlling the Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans Railroad, whose 547.79 miles of main line between those two points, and 117.2 miles of branch line, comprised a major part of the Illinois Central System.

This was the company that now operated 2-8-0 No. 641, probably principally for freight service, the typical use of Consolidation-type locomotives. The engine reportedly hauled freight trains in Tennessee for many years. The engine must have seen hard service, for reportedly the Illinois Central rebuilt it in 1918, modernizing it with a superheater, and possibly replacing the boiler and firebox. The engine then continued in heavy freight service. In January 1943 the Illinois Central renumbered the four engines in this series 790 through 793, and thus No. 641 became No. 790. The Consolidation remained on the company's roster until virtually the end of steam power on the Illinois Central. Near the end of her use, when she was virtually retired to storage by diesel-electric locomotives, the railroad nevertheless had to fire No. 790 up in the spring to assist Illinois Central trains through track inundated by flood waters near Cedar Rapids, because diesel-electric locomotives with their electric motors shorted out in any water, whereas even the bottom of the firebox in a steam locomotive was much higher above the rail, hence above flood waters. Finally in May 1959, the Illinois Central sold No. 790 to Louis S. Keller of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Illinois Central Railroad Consolidation No. 790 showed a "well-groomed" appearance in this photograph from the collection of Gerald M. Best.
California State Railroad Museum Library

Keller had hoped to run Illinois Central No. 790 on railfan excursions between Cedar Rapids and Manchester, Iowa, a round trip of some 84 miles. Whether he succeeded in running any trips at all is not known. In April 1965, Keller apparently sold or leased the locomotive for more flood duty, and the Chicago & North Western towed the engine to Clinton, Iowa, where it plowed through overflow from the Mississippi River for the Clinton Corn Processing Company. Later, in September 1965, the locomotive was sold to David de Camp of New York State, who hoped to operate it near Lake Placid. He moved No. 790 to Lake Placid but never operated it. F. Nelson Blount purchased the locomotive in January 1966. Eventually the Steamtown Foundation acquired the locomotive from Blount's estate in August 1967.

Locomotive No. 790 is the only surviving locomotive of the Chicago Union Transfer Railway, and one of about nine Illinois Central Railroad steam locomotives to survive scrapping. Of those nine engines, one other, No. 764, is a 2-8-0 Consolidation type, though of a different class and series than No. 790. About 146 standard gauge 2-8-0s survive in the United States, including Illinois Central No. 790.

Condition: Locomotive No. 790 is believed to be in reasonably good condition, and with some work could be restored mechanically to operable condition.

Recommendations: While the Steamtown collection has other Consolidations, none are duplicates in aspects other than wheel arrangement, and No. 790, with its Baker valve gear and its unusual sand dome, is a good example of a heavy-duty 2-8-0 of the early years of the 20th century. The National Park Service should commission a report, equivalent to a historic structure report, that should include intensive research into photographic history, particularly attempting to find photographs of this engine or engines of its class on the Chicago Union Transfer Railway and under its first number on the Illinois Central prior to the remodeling of 1918. The report should also supply more detail than presently available on the operating history of this engine and engines of its class. The report should make recommendations on which period the locomotive should be restored to represent--at present, it seems preferable for the locomotive to be restored to represent the final era in its common carrier history, from 1941 to 1959, though it may also be possible to restore it to the 1918 to 1941 period. It is not believed at present feasible or desirable to restore the locomotive to appearance prior to the 1918 rebuilding. The report should explore fully the history of paint, lettering, and numbering schemes applied to this locomotive. If it is feasible to restore No. 790 to operable condition, it should be so restored, and used for interpretation, special occasions, and special excursions.

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Anderson, Willard V. "Main Line of Mid-America." Trains, Vol. 8, No. 12 (Oct. 1948): XX.

Beebe, Lucius, and Clegg, Charles. Mixed Train Daily: A Book of Short-Line Railroads. Berkeley: Howell-North Books, 1961: 89, 98, 327.

Corliss, Carlton. Main Line of Mid-America: The Story of the Illinois Central. New York: Creative Age Press, 1950.

Edson, William D. "Illinois Central Predecessor Lines." Railroad History, No. 140 (Spring 1979): 5-9.

__________ et al. "Locomotive Rosters, Illinois Central Railroad & Predecessor Lines," Railroad History, No. 140 (Spring 1979): 10-114; see especially p. 38.

Guide to the Steamtown Collection. Bellows Falls, Vt.: Steamtown Foundation, n.d. (ca. 1973), Item No. 27 and roster.

Kean, Randolph. The Railfan's Guide to Museum & Park Displays, Forty Fort: Harold E. Cox, Publisher, 1973: 175. [This roster erroneously, it is believed, identifies the original owner as the Chicago Junction Railway.]

Poor, H.V., and H.W. Poor. Poor's Manual of the Railroads of the United States, 1900. New York: H.V. & H.W. Poor, 1900: 1438.

_________. Poor's Manual of the Railroads of the United States, 1902. New York: H.V. & H.W. Poor, 1902: 364-371, 419.

"Railroad News Photos." Trains, Vol. 20, No. 6 (Apr. 1960): 9.

"Steam News Photos." Trains, Vol. 25, No. 11 (Sept. 1965): 10.

"Steam News Photos." Trains, Vol. 25, No. 12 (Oct. 1965): 13.

Stover, John. History of the Illinois Central Railroad. New York: Macmillan, 1975.

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Last Updated: 14-Feb-2002