Welcome to the Crestline PRR Engine Facility
What follows is an account of the PRR engine facilities and yards at Crestline, Ohio. It is by no means complete, but it is as accurate as possible according to my sources. The major sources include:
Crestline, Ohio has always been a railroad town, even before it was officially a town. It was incorporated on March 3, 1858; however, they already had built their first Union Station in 1854, and was located on the south side of the tracks. It served both the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad (known as the Big Four, [later the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and St Louis RR] which eventually became a part of the New York Central System), running north and south, and the Pittsburgh, Ft. Wayne and Chicago Railroad, running east and west, later to become a part of the Pennsylvania Railroad. It was here that the two railroads crossed at what has become known as The Big Four Diamonds. Also, there was an interchange between the two railroads, and is still there today, although the railroads are now the CSX and Norfolk Southern. But that's another story.
In 1863, a new brick Union Station was built in the northeast corner of the Diamonds. The new station was a three story building that was not only the passenger station, it also housed the Continental Hotel, a dinning room, kitchen, butcher shop, baker's shop, barber shop, ticket office, waiting room, baggage room, trainmaster and telegraph office, and an office for the train inspector. Crestline was a division point on the PFW&C, as it is located about mid-way between Pittsburgh and Chicago. As such, the railroad had a rather complete servicing facility, that included a car shop, built in 1863, and a brick roundhouse, originally built in 1863 with 38 stalls. This roundhouse was a full circle building with a 75' turntable.
By the time of the First World War, the railroads were acquiring larger and more powerful locomotives. The PFW&C was no exception. Two of these larger locomotives were the N1s class, a 2-10-2, and the L-1s, a 2-8-2. On March 11, 1918, final approval was given to change the alignment of the south inbound track and the outbound track to the engine house. There were curves on these two tracks that were too sharp to accommodate these locomotives.
At the same time this work was carried out, the Pennsylvania Lines West of Pittsburgh, PLW, owned by the PFW&C and under the management of the Pennsylvania RR, with the approval of the United States Railroad Administration (USRA), a completely new engine servicing facility was designed by the Office of Chief Engineer-Construction of the PRR. A contract was let to the Austin Company of Cleveland, Ohio to undertake the complete construction of the new facility. In an undated document from the Austin Co., they state the cost of the facility will be approximately $1,250,000. PLW, in a detailed cost estimate of Nov. 25, 1918, shows a figure of $1,450,000. Of that amount, the PLW was to pay $1,103,610. The balance was to be paid by the PRR.
The cost estimate describes what was to be built:
"This estimate covers, the construction of a thirty stall enginehouse of 115ft clear, depth of stall, with the necessary approach tracks, coaling plant, ash pits, inspection pits, power house, oil house, service building, machine shop, water tanks, and piping. It also covers all necessary grading, sewer, etc. and the additional land required to build these facilities. These facilities do not replace any existing facilities."
It goes on to detail each item along with its cost and who pays for what, PLW or PRR. Some of the major items are the engine house, machine shop, service building, oil house, inspection pits (2), water ash pits (4) and gantry crane, 100' turntable, smoke exhaust fans (one of the unique features of this facility, which will be described later), 700 ton coal dock, 1200 ton sand storage bin, two 50,000 gallon water tanks, and all the mechanical equipment for the power house and machine shop.
And so, construction begins. The particular design of the Crestline roundhouse has often been refered to as a "USRA design". This is not so. The title block on the roundhouse drawings says: "PRR Co. Western Lines, Type A Engine House, Office of Chief Engineer - Const., No. 18477". Dates for the drawings span June 15, 1918-September 20, 1918. Also, a document from The Austin Co. gives design credit to the PRR. To my knowledge, the only thing the USRA had to do with this construction project was to give approval to it, since at this time all railroads were under its control. This means that the roundhouse is truely a PRR design.
Click here to go to the Photo Gallery to see some construction photos.
As nearly all construction projects go, there are almost always delays and cost over-runs. The Crestline engine facility was no exception. About a year into the construction (Dec. 19, 1919), R. Trimble, Chief Engineer-Construction of the Pennsylvania RR, writes to PRR General Manager R. McCarty that an additional estimated $562,000 will be needed to complete the engine facilities, raising the total estimated cost to $2,012,000. This is due to the fact that there are some items that are not included in the original estimate, increased labor and material costs, and also "to the unfavorable conditions under which the work was carried on." The "unfavorable conditions" could be almost anything. Some items show a reduction in cost from the original estimate, while others show a substantial increase. For example, the estimated cost of the roundhouse went from $463,000 to $750,000 and the new items added were estimated at $113,000.
By June, 1920, there were more cost over-runs, more added items to the project, and the retirement of the old facilities. One of the problems was that electric power at the site was unreliable, causing delays, and a standby generator was ordered, costing $19,500. It was not expected to arrive until August. In order to try to contain the expenses, J. B. Hutchings Jr., PRR General Superintendent, sent Mr. Trimble a three and a half page letter outlining what should and should not be carried out to complete the facilities. These directives include the use of more efficient methods for electric distribution, adding a tool room to keep a check on tools and to maintain them, using an electric pump instead of steam to drain the ash pits at the coal dock, using the old machine shop tools instead of new ones, etc. He also canceled the purchase of a wheel lathe, stating that it was not necessary at this time, but a new tire lathe for coaches was authorized. He also authorized the demolition of the old enginehouse and water tanks to make room for putting in tracks for steel car repair. These and other items raised the cost yet again by $53,000.
From October to December, 1920, the Crestline engine facilities continued to have more cost over-runs. This brought about the necessity to curtail, defer, or cancel other capital improvement and maintenance projects system wide. When it was all said and done, the total cost for the Crestline engine facility came to $2,651,825, nearly double the original estimate!
Crestline's roundhouse complex is of brick construction with steel framework, with a 100' turntable, a 75' 15 ton overhead traveling crane, and three drop pits, machine shop, storage building, office and service building, powerhouse with a 150' smoke stack, fan house, sub station, and a water tank.
The roundhouse has 30 stalls of 115' in length. The design is such that 52 stalls would make a complete circle. The overhead traveling crane traversed the entire length of the roundhouse in the second story of the building. Since the crane went along the back wall of the roundhouse, traveling through the area that would normally contain smoke hoods over the locomotive's smoke stack, a unique smoke exhaust system was devised. Located between every other stall was a smoke jack that had an arm that was placed over the engine's stack. Large fans in the fan house sucked the smoke from the locomotive, and through underground conduits, the smoke was taken into the fan house and then discharged into the powerhouse's stack. While this was relatively successful, the roundhouse was still a rather filthy place to work.
Crestline was the division point between the Eastern and Ft. Wayne Divisions, mile post 187.0 from Pittsburgh, the roundhouse just west of MP 189. It was here that train crews, engines, and cabin cars were changed. All the engine's routine maintenance and light repairs were carried out here. That is to say, class 3, 4, and 5 repairs. Engines that required class 1 and 2 repairs were sent to Altoona.
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As there was only one hump in the westbound yards, obviously, humping was only done on westbound trains out of Crestline. Eastbound trains were classified by yard engines shunting the cars to their proper track. Through eastbound and westbound freight trains were not re-classified here, only those that came or would leave from/to the north or south via Bucyrus to the west, or Toledo Junction to the east of Crestline.
There were no mechanical retarders on the downhill side to control the speed of the cars, nor were the switches in the yard automated. Brakemen rode the cars to operate the car's brakes and the hump conductor's voice was broadcast over a loud speaker system to the switch tenders. As the cars were shunted over the hump and cut off, the car's final track number was announced, the switch tenders then set the switches to route the cars onto their proper track, thus making up a new train. During WWII, the yards handled as many as 8400 cars and dispatched between 95 and 100 locomotives daily.
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As far as I have been able to determine, these test were carried out from 1939 to 1941. The purpose of the smoke deflector was to create an upward draft of air to lift and disperse the exhaust smoke from the engine's smoke stack while running at speed. The intent was to improve the engine crew's visibility. This was a concern before cab signals were installed, this being was safety issue.
I have been able to document three engines that participated in these tests. They were all K-4s, #3876, #5038, and #5699. These engines were fitted with a camera mounted on the front of the firebox on the fireman's side looking back over the top of the boiler. Attached to the boiler at various locations were "tell-tails" that indicated the air flow over the boiler while at speed. Speeds achieved during the tests reached 60-70 miles per hour. In addition to the front mounted camera, film was also taken from the cab, the cab roof, and atop the coal pile in the tender. These films provided the PRR with a photographic record of how well the different designs of deflectors worked.
The trains used in these tests were Train #79, The Golden Arrow, both east and westbound from Crestline to Chicago, and Train #118, a mail train, again between Crestline and Chicago. On at least one occasion, The Golden Arrow had doubleheaded K-4s, the film was shot from the lead engine. Portions of the official PRR footage of these tests can be found on Penn Valley Pictures Historical Features of the Pennsylvania Railroad Series "Steam in the 30's & 40's", Vol. 7.
Whether these tests were a success or failure, smoke deflectors were not permanently installed on engines, one noteable exception was the S-2. This may be because of the onset of WW II, when all attention was focused on moving frieght and passengers. Keeping the railroad operating at an absolute capacity during this period in the PRR's history was more than a full time job. Any extra research and developement of this sort detracted from the monumental task at hand. Another possible reason could be that by the end of the war, cab signals, duplicating the trackside signals, were installed in all locomotives, both steam and diesel.
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Due to the geographic location of Crestline, it was the home terminal for many of the large duplexes and experimental steam engines of the 1930's-40's. To the east, you run into the Appalachian Mountains, while to the west, there was the "Ft. Wayne Racetrack", where the terrain is fairly flat and straight. Not only was the location the reason for stabling these engines here, it was also because of the top quality of the mechanics. These engines were the S-1 (6-4-4-6, the only one of its class) high-speed passenger duplex, the T-1 (4-4-4-4) high-speed passenger duplex, the Q-2 (4-4-6-4) heavy freight duplex, and the S-2 (6-8-6, the only one of its class) high-speed passenger steam turbine engine. Also during this time, the turntable was lengthened to 110' to accommodate all these huge engines except the S-1, which was over 146' long. This engine was turned on a "wye", located just west of the roundhouse. Crestline became the graveyard for many of the T-1s and Q2s, and later, in the 1960s, many of the Baldwin "Sharks" died here also.
After WWII, Crestline continued to be an important repair facility for the new diesels. A war surplus Quonset building was erected just south of the roundhouse for diesel repair. Virtually all repairs to the diesels would be done here. When heavy diesel repairs were done, the diesels were taken into the roundhouse to utilize the overhead crane or the drop pit. Stall #30 was lengthened as a diesel parts warehouse, adding onto the extension built in the early 1940s to house the S-1.
By the1960's, the PRR had built a new facility near Pittsburgh, the Conway facility. As a cost reduction decision, the operations at Crestline were scaled back, transferring the work and employees to Conway, until the roundhouse was finally closed at the time of the formation of the Penn Central in 1968. Penn Central sold the roundhouse to a local dog food company. Thanks to this sale, the roundhouse still stands today. It has seen several private owners since then, including one man who was a scrap dealer. During his ownership, the roundhouse was gutted of all removable metal items, including the turntable, overhead crane, powerhouse boilers, machinery in the machine shop, and even a few leftover pieces of rolling stock.
Before the roundhouse was closed, and up to the present, it has seen little or no maintenance. As the years ticked by, the condition of the brickwork has suffered greatly. The smoke stack was torn down over a seven-day period ending Oct. 12, 1982. This was done on the order of the Crawford Co. Health Department and the State Fire Marshal for safety reasons.
Today, the roundhouse sits by itself as the sole reminder that this was once the lifeblood of Crestline, and a bustling and important PRR servicing facility. The outer masonry continues to deteriorate, and portions of the walls have fallen to the ground. However, the steel framework is still mostly in good condition, but it is threatened as time passes.
I have often thought that the Crestline roundhouse is the "forgotten" PRR roundhouse. But fortunately, there are some people who have not forgotten. On April 23, 2002, a small, yet dedicated group of people, gathered in Crestline to form the Crestline Roundhouse Preservation Society. These people are enthusiastic about saving and preserving the Crestline roundhouse. The C.R.P.S. is quite fortunate to have a sympathetic and interested owner (who purchased it to house his business and fix up part the warehouse as his living quarters), and the support of the City of Crestline. Earlier this year, the City released a "Feasibility Study" that they commissioned, looking at the entire property on which the roundhouse sits, and the surrounding acreage.
The next several years will test The C.R.P.S. and all others interested in the roundhouse's survival. Will they be successful in their efforts to save it and bring it back to life? Only time can answer this question. If you would like to join in this monumental yet rewarding endeavor, you may contact The C.R.P.S. to learn how you may help.
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