1907 Philadel­phia & Read­ing Rail­road ‘Camel­back’ 4-4-2 No. 343

Steam Railway (UK) - - News -


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.


‘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.

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