Close this search box.

Nevada Northern Locomotive No. 20

by Stephen G. Swanson

This weeks column compliments of Steve Swanson is a fascinating look at locomotive 20.

Nevada Northern Railway steam locomotive No. 20, a 4-6-0 weighing 154,000 lbs. and initially assigned No. 8 (2nd), was originally part of a twenty locomotive order (number J-1698) started at Alco’s Rogers Works for export in 1905. Alco completed construction of six of the locomotives in March or April of that year, but following the bankruptcy of the Manchurian Southern Railway, the Chicago Southern Railway acquired them as their Nos. 601-606 in July 1905. The completion dates for the remaining fourteen locomotives in the group is unknown but the consecutive shop numbers indicate construction had begun although none saw sale until 1907.

With Mark Requa’s departure as the Nevada Northern’s vice president and general manager on December 1, 1906, L. G. Cannon assumed his position and instituted a review of the railway’s motive power requirements. Pending these decisions, Cannon first delayed Requa’s previous order for first No. 8 (a 59½-ton 4-4-0), subsequently cancelled first No. 8 on January 15, 1907, and replaced it with an order for second No. 8 the following day. One of the fourteen remaining Rogers engines from order number J-1698, shop number 37573, became Nevada Northern 2nd No. 8. Alco was unable to meet the February 16, 1907 delivery date because the tender’s 5,000-gallon water capacity was inadequate for the Nevada Northern mainline, requiring construction of a new 7,000-gallon, fourteen-ton coal tender. Second No. 8, a freight ten-wheeler with an extended wagon top boiler design, harbored a 66-inch by 84-inch firebox above 58-inch drivers. Additional factory modifications included replacing the 9½-inch air pump with an 11-inch model and increasing the air reservoir from 42,000 to 50,000 cubic inches. Alco shipped 2nd No. 8 on its own wheels to Cobre in early March 1907.

Alco sold the remaining thirteen locomotives from the original Rogers order to three separate concerns: one went to the Pullman Company as their No. 14 in February 1907; two made their way to the South Manchuria Railway (reorganized out the bankrupt Manchurian Southern Railway, which had originally ordered the locomotives) through Alco’s Japanese agent, Mitsui and Co.; and the Northern Pacific acquired ten (Nos. 320-329) in February 1907. As the position of the firebox over the 58-inch drivers resulted in a high center of gravity and being light 4-6-0’s, the Northern Pacific felt these engines were unsuitable for mainline speeds and restricted them to branch line use mostly in Minnesota. After retirement, the Minnesota Railfans Association rescued Northern Pacific No. 328 for display in Stillwater, Minnesota. Later restored to service by the Minnesota Transportation Museum, it operated on a variety of mainline excursions as well as the Stillwater & St. Paul and later Osceola & St. Croix Valley tourist operations throughout the 1980s and 1990s. It remains extant but currently inoperable awaiting a major overhaul.

In Nevada, 2nd No. 8 likely replaced No. 4 (an Alco 4-6-0 with 62-inch drivers) as the mainline freight engine freeing the latter for mainline passenger service. The Nevada Northern renumbered 2nd No. 8 to No. 20 in 1909 and, after 1917, considered it a mixed service engine used as a mainline light freight and helper engine and in both reserve passenger and suburban service. Suburban service included use on the school train, powering the ping-pong train between Ely and East Ely, and in mixed, switch, and shift train service between East Ely and McGill, Ruth, Copper Flat, and Kimberly. Vern Pugh, longtime Nevada Northern pipe fitter, recalled No. 20 sometimes saw service on the ore line as well as on the water train to Ruth.

Prior to 1929, the inadequate water supply at Ruth and Copper Flat was supplemented with water delivered in tank cars (W3-W8; purchased by the Nevada Northern in 1913 and 1914). A Nevada Northern freight train might deliver all six tank cars or a few might be placed behind the tender of an empty ore train destined for Copper Flat or Ruth. However, it is unlikely that No. 20 saw much ore line service after 1929: while a 90-class 2-8-0 generally handled thirty or more cars in ore service, the less powerful No. 20 was limited to eighteen to twenty cars.

During the 1920s, No. 20 continued in varied but active service. Nevada Consolidated Copper leased No. 20 in July 1924 for use as the McGill switcher or for dumping ore cars at the McGill concentrator crushing plant. In the late 1920’s, light freight engines Nos. 20 and 21 were running about 30,000 miles annually—not an insignificant figure compared with the 40,000 or more annual miles accumulated by mainline freight engine No. 81. Sometime during its first twenty years, No. 20 received a new steel cab and steel running boards replacing the original, factory supplied wooden versions and the shops added a second 11-inch air pump to insure adequate control of trains as they navigated downgrade from Copper Flat.

On June 9, 1931, No. 20 was shopped for general repairs, which included superheating. The railway originally purchased the superheater in 1928 for installation on No. 21 but due to the general shortage of motive power decided to postpone the improvement until No. 20 came due for general repairs. Slack times resulting from the Great Depression extended the repairs on No. 20 to a period of about eighteen months. Moreover, as freight tonnage decreased with the economic slump, the Nevada Northern frequently substituted light freight engine No. 20 for 81 on the mainline freight haul until business picked up again in 1936. No. 20’s tonnage rating of 1,750 tons southbound on the mainline was sufficient for lighter hauls and, when necessary, saw dramatic increase to 4,800 or 5,000 tons by doubleheading with Nos. 81 and 95, respectively.

No. 20 saw service on Civilian Conservation Corps passenger trains during the thirties and after No. 10 was set aside awaiting repairs in May 1941, No. 20 alternated on the mainline passenger train with No. 40 until mainline passenger service was discontinued in favor of the highway motor coach service to Wells on August 1, 1941. Subsequently, No. 20 continued as a light helper, light freight engine, and in work train service with Nos. 21 and 40 held in reserve. In this service, No. 20 seldom ran much more than 5,000 miles annually.

In addition to repairing the flues, No. 20’s class 3 repairs due in November 1942 required extensive boiler work including a new rear flue sheet and replacement of the firebox side sheets and most of the firebox stay bolts. Shop crews dropped the wheels, completely overhauled the machinery, and No. 20 emerged ready for service in August 1943. Four years later, class 4 repairs were required and No. 20 was shopped on July 1, 1947. Crews installed a new firebox crownsheet, safe ended the flues, dropped the wheels to turn the tires, and refit the driving boxes. No. 20 was ready for service in December 1947 but withheld until the fall of 1948.

No. 20 last saw service in December 1951; however, because of limited use since the previous shopping in 1948, No. 20 remained in serviceable condition until late 1953 when the flues, having five years, were outlawed. Locomotive 20, along with engines 91 and 97, headed to the McGill scrap line on January 9, 1954, forty-six years and ten months after an aborted beginning of a journey to China’s Great Wall ended instead in Nevada’s Great Basin.

Accessibility Toolbar

Hours of Operation

Monday - Saturday | 8AM - 5PM
Sunday | 8AM - 4PM

Our Location

1100 Ave A, Ely, NV 89301

Become a Member and Save!

Members get discounts on admissions, experiences, trains, tours, gifts and more.