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Fairbanks-Morse: 600HP Center-Cab

Written by Conductor

Reading center-cab switcher #97 was built by the St. Louis Car Company and powered with a Fairbanks-Morse engine.  Photo courtesy Dale Woodland.

The St. Louis Car Company/Fairbanks-Morse 600-horsepower center-cab switcher #97 was truly a unique locomotive on the Reading.  Delivered on December 31, 1939, this unit was originally numbered #35, had two 300-horsepower in-line engines for power.  Initially assigned to Wayne Junction, #35 spent most of its career working at Fairhill Junction, and in 1940 the locomotive was renumbered to #97.  This unit had the distinction of being the first Fairbanks-Morse powered locomotive, and was also the ONLY center-cab unit on the Reading's roster.

Unfortunately, the uniqueness of #97's design and mechanics were not sufficient to avoid difficulties - the locomotive's availability rate was only around 20%, a significant variance from other switchers on the railroad, and was plagued with frequent crankshaft failures.  In 1948, #97 was moved to the Reading Locomotive Shops for examination, which is where it would remain until retirement, and is where the above photograph was taken, on the track behind the roundhouse along 6th Street.  While in Reading, #97 was used as the shop switcher, though complaints from the crews seemed to indicate that her mechanical problems were a detriment even in this role.

In  April, 1953, #97 was stricken from the roster, and Fairbanks-Morse provided a credit against the purchase of new Train Master locomotives - the unit was scrapped later that year.

MODELING NOTES:  Modeling #97 would require a good deal of scratchbuilding, or at a minimum, extensive kitbashing, to model the unique hoods and the center cab.  The trucks resemble standard switcher trucks.  One might even be able to use the cab from a 44-ton center cab as a starting point.  Operationally, #97 was a curiosity more than anything, as it was out of service or under repair around 80% of the time.  If you do decide to model this locomotive, bear in mind that the time in service was split between Fairhill Junction and Reading, and the unit was scrapped in late 1953.

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Did You Know?

December 5, 1833
The Philadelphia and Reading (P&R) Railroad began operations.


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