On June 12, 2013, the fully restored 1897 Baldwin Locomotive; affectionately known by The Henry Ford employees, volunteers and frequent roundhouse guests as “Number 7,” went onto the Greenfield Village railroad tracks under its own power. The last time this engine had run under its own steam was 83 years earlier at the Ford Rouge Plant.
Despite its almost regal dark green cab, Russian Iron jacketing and extensive gold and red hand painted trim, Number 7 did not initially live a pampered existence. Besides the 1910 “combination” accident that saw our locomotive buried under a caboose body from another train; its history is typical of many locomotives of that time when railroads were owned by investors that were only interested in squeezing out as much profit as possible. Bankruptcies of these railroads were common and diligent maintenance of equipment was not.
Unlike Number 7's counterparts it had a much brighter ending. This ending was created by Henry Ford and his acquisition of the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railway in 1920.
According to The Henry Ford's registrars file the construction of this 4-4-0 American class locomotive (Baldwin Order No. 15317) and tender was completed sometime in May of 1897. Delivery to its original owner, the Detroit and Lima Northern Railway, was most likely in early July of that year.
The company that manufactured the locomotive and tender was Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. This massive facility that eventually covered 7 square blocks of the “Bush Hill” industrial district produced 501 locomotives that year. Baldwin was the world’s preeminent manufacturer of steam locomotives with 40 percent of what they manufactured being exported. Their customer base included railroads in France and Japan. In 1897 they employed 3,200 men with the vast assortment of special skills required to manufacture the giant locomotives with the precision required.
Baldwin had developed a manufacturing process that would allow them to build a locomotive from “order to delivery” in an astoundingly short eight weeks. They did not build a “standard” locomotive but instead treated each order as a new design with components designed and manufactured by combining common templates and processes to match the customer’s unique specifications.
The first three of the eight-week manufacturing process were used to create the drawings required for the ordered locomotive. During the following two weeks all the materials and outside sourced components or subassemblies were ordered. These purchased items represented about 50 percent of the total cost for the project. In the following two weeks the boiler shop would fabricate the boiler as the other Baldwin shops completed the castings, forgings, and required machining. The eighth week was used in the erection facility where all the components and subassemblies would be assembled into a complete and functioning locomotive. It would then go through a brief prove-out prior to delivery to the customer.
Baldwin 15317 went through this process and when assembled; the cab and tender were painted dark green with gold trim and the tender had Detroit & Lima Northern Railway in gold letters on both sides. When build number 15317 left the Baldwin factory it carried the D&LNR designation #7 on its number plate. Number 7 was a steam powered coal burner that was designed and built to pull passenger cars. Besides the passenger cars its tender would carry up to seven tons of coal and the 3,350 gallons of water necessary for its operation.
The Detroit and Lima Northern Railway started its short lived existence in Ohio sometime during 1896. Chase M. Haskell, Ohio attorney and prominent Democrat, along with other promoters began selling bonds to create a new railway called the Lima Northern. It would haul freight and passengers from Lima, through Ohio and into southern Michigan. Shortly after, plans were made to extend the railway to Detroit and Columbus with the name being changed to the Detroit & Lima Northern Railroad. Within a few months the contractors for the extended rail lines took legal action because they had not received any money. In 1898 the railroad was placed in receivership. Haskell moved on to Oklahoma and in 1907 become its first governor.
The D & LNR operated under receivership until 1901 when it was purchased by New York banker Frederick J. Lisman and the name was changed to the Detroit Southern Railway Company. The banker was an authority on railroad finances and had been prominent in that field for years. As was typical at the time of Lisman’s ownership, he was involved in numerous acquisitions and mergers to extend the systems routes and profits. All went well until a bad economy in 1904 once again forced the railroad into receivership. Following a sale in 1905 the company became the Detroit Toledo & Ironton Railroad. The new DT & I name would continue to exist under various owners until December 1983 when the railroad was assimilated into the Grand Trunk Western Railroad and the DT & I identity disappeared.
The DT& I went into receivership in 1908: elements of the business were sold off but the company continued to operate. In 1914 the company was reorganized and some of the elements that had been sold off were reacquired. The next few years would see a number of significant improvements as heavier railing were installed, buildings were improved and many trestles rebuilt.
As a part of these improvements; the locomotives and other rolling stock (freight cars, tank cars & etc) that had been very poorly maintained during all the financial trauma, were given some much needed attention. This effort did not last; in 1918, in order to better support the war effort (WW I), the federal government took over control of the nations railroads. This control was in place until March of 1920. During those years, rail traffic significantly increased with war production goods and much needed maintenance of the rolling stock was absolutely minimized. DT & I equipment seemed to suffer more than others and according to Scott D. Trostel in his book; Henry Ford: When I Ran the Railroads “the fleet was described in such poor state of repair with drive rods and cross heads that pounded so badly they could be heard for miles.” One of the results of this was that our Number 7 was barely operable in 1920.
In June of 1920 the ownership of the DT&I Railroad was transferred to the Ford Motor Company where Henry would transform it into one of the best managed and financially successful railroads in the country.
Ford’s reason for the purchase of the DT&I was to extend its terminating point of Flat Rock to Dearborn and use it to help supply his new sprawling complex, the Rouge Plant. This ultimately supported Henry’s vision to have a manufacturing facility where coal, iron ore, rubber and all raw materials required to construct an automobile, would come in one end of the Rouge and a completed vehicle would roll out the other end. To accomplish this, the rolling stock (80 locomotives, 2,800 freight and 24 passenger cars) would have to be completely rebuilt to Fords impressive standards. A new building was constructed (the Fordson Shop) at the Rouge to facilitate the rebuild and maintenance of the new acquisition. The facility was opened in 1921 with a staff that eventually reached 475 men with the first locomotive to undergo a Ford transformation being DT&I engine Number 7. It was completely stripped down and inspected. Anything that needed it was replaced. Aesthetics were also a part of the transformation; drive rods were draw filed and polished, exposed iron pipes were replaced with bright copper, new boiler jackets were finished in a lacquered Russian Iron and the outside of the metal tires were painted white.
When the rebuild was completed “Number 7” was put into service at the disposal of Henry Ford who had assumed the roll of DT&I president. It was frequently used to take Henry to various points along the line to attend meetings or visit with friends such as Thomas Edison or Harvey Firestone. Some of these trips would include his private rail car the “Fairlane” as part of the “consist” (listing of locomotive and attached cars). According to staff and others along the route, Henry could be seen in the cab during some of these trips. Some who witnessed these trips said Henry could occasionally be seen setting in the engineer’s seat with his engineer Harry Cochran a step away.
Ford owned the railroad until June of 1929 when he became irritated with the intervention of the Interstate Commerce Commissions over shipping rates and other issues. The DT&I was sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad for $36 million. Besides the profits and rate advantage enjoyed during the Ford ownership he turned his initial $5 million purchase price and approximately $8 million of improvements into an impressive $23 million profit.
Number 7 was not a part of this sale. Sometime in 1930 it underwent a restoration at the Ford Rouge’s Fordson Shops and was donated to the Edison Institute (now The Henry Ford) and put on display in the Henry Ford Museum. It remained in the museum until 1985 when it was moved to our train shed (now the Antique Vehicles Garage).
Number 7 remained untouched in the train shed until 1997 when the train staff began a preliminary investigation to see if it was practical to attempt to make the locomotive operational. The jacketing was taken off, the asbestos insulation was removed and metallurgical tests were done to asses the boilers condition.
The 1930 restoration at the Fordson shops was originally thought to have been a complete mechanical and cosmetic upgrading. A later examination revealed that the 1930 restoration was primarily cosmetic but some other elements of that restoration would lead to some real surprises during the recent one.
If Number 7 was ever to run again many parts of its now 80-plus-year-old boiler would have to be replaced and this would require complete disassembly of the locomotive. The new sections of the boiler that would have to be fabricated and installed were the boiler floor, rear tube sheet (boiler end), firebox door sheet, and all of the boilers heat tubes. These are all large parts that must be formed from heavy gauge steel sheet or tubing. The only parts that could be purchased from an outside supplier were the 167 heavy walled heat tubes. All other parts would be fabricated here and an attempt would be made to produce them with the same processes that would have been used in roundhouses of that period. To fabricate these parts and install them would require hundreds of man hours. Even the hammers that would be used for forming the heavy metal would have to be fabricated here.
There were some additional issues that needed to be dealt with before the locomotive could be placed in service. The most labor intensive was that the frame of Number 7s tender was made of wood and had deteriorated to the point where it would not be able to handle day to day service at the Village. The only viable solution was to fabricate an all new metal frame. The second issue was that: in order for the much longer Baldwin to navigate the tight turns of the Village’s 2.5 mile railroad, modifications to the front truck and drive wheels would have to be made. These changes included making swing links for the front truck and additional thrust clearance was provided by machining the drive axles.
Don LaCombe is Supervisor of the Transportation and Crafts Program at The Henry Ford.
References Henry Ford: When I Ran the Railroads (Scott D. Trostel) The Baldwin Locomotive Works 1831 – 1915 (John K. Brown) DT&I The Railroad That Went No Place (William C. Pletz - The Inside Track 1979) The Sad Romance of the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railway Age, July 1920 THF Object Report # 30.235.2 Registrars File Acc. 30.235.2 Curators File Acc. 30.235.2