1907 Philadelphia & Reading Railroad ‘Camelback’ 4-4-2 No. 343
The Philadelphia & Reading Railroad’s route from Camden to Atlantic City was 55½ miles and was in competition with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. This led to fast 50-minute schedules in the early 20th century, and locomotives such as the ungainly looking ‘Camelbacks’ were designed to keep to them. The fast running attracted British train timers, and in May 1905, Sir William Ackroyd recorded 42 minutes 33 seconds for the distance behind a slightly smaller ‘P4’ class ‘Camelback’: a 78.3mph average later considered a world record for some time by C.J. Allen. An earlier 46-minute run, timed by Norman McDonald, had recorded 35 miles covered at an average of 83mph. That indicates Sir William Ackroyd’s much quicker run could easily have involved speeds well into the 90s. In 1926, Baron Gerard Vuillet visited the head offices of the P&R and found details of other fast runs, including one on June 14 1907 in which ‘P5’ No. 343 had run the distance in 41 minutes exactly, covering one mile in 36 seconds; an average speed of 100mph.
John F. Clay’s 1976 article in Railway World gave more details of the June 14 1907 run. It shows that No. 343 was hauling 260 tons and completed the run in 41 minutes at an average of 81.2mph, with Driver M.J. Rattigan. The “mile in 36 seconds” is amplified as being down a 1-in-167 grade, but no other details are given, and it is not known if this run was timed by a British observer, or recorded more casually. Both Baron Vuillet and John F. Clay expressed the view that these locomotives were capable of 100mph, and their vital statistics tend to confirm that. However, that does not prove the specific 100mph claim on June 14 1907. If the time was faster than Sir William’s epic 42 mins 33 seconds, then certainly some very high speeds must have been reached to achieve what could have been steam’s first 80mph start to stop run. But I doubt we will ever find out the true maximum.
DID IT REACH 100MPH?
‘Camelback’ No. 343 could well have reached 100mph on that down grade on that June day during an extremely fast journey. However, without the backing of sufficient documentation it cannot claim to have been the world’s first authentic 100mph steam locomotive. But it is the first serious contender for the title that has emerged so far.
The ungainly looking ‘Camelback’ 4-4-2 No. 343.