The Shifter

Sometime in the past five years, I discovered the following photo in the Norfolk and Western Historical Society’s online archives. I found it using a “Circleville” keyword search, but more precisely, it’s location is Dorney, Ohio, which was a coal and water stop a couple of miles south of Circleville. The photo was taken in 1946 and the subject is #573, a class E2a Pacific type.

E2atDorney
E2a #573 simmers at the Dorney water tower in 1946.  What is it doing here?

When I first saw this photo, I remember wondering what a lightweight (for 1946) passenger locomotive was doing there with no train – and a caboose?  Since the location and locomotive didn’t seem to apply to my interest in the railroad through Circleville, I discounted and forgot about it.

In the autumn of 2017, while doing research on the Container Corporation at the Pickaway County Historical and Genealogical Library, I came across a photo of the company’s cinder tower – and in the background was a surprise – an E2a working the shipping dock. Surprise or not, this made it obvious that these locomotives were being used in freight service.

E2atContainer
An unknown E2a works Container Corporation’s shipping dock

The photo isn’t dated – I guessed it was taken in the early to mid-1940’s based on surrounding details. In retrospect, the date on the Dorney photo supports that guess. Based on this photo, I guessed that the E was used to power local freights that worked out of Columbus and Portsmouth – similar to how K1 Mountain types were used in the fifties.

This past month, I came across information that has made me discount the local freight idea. The information came in the form of an August 1941 newspaper article about a grade crossing accident (thanks to my subscription to newspapers.com).

DorneyShifter
The Circleville Shifter

 The article stated that the automobile involved was struck by the caboose of an “N&W shifter that was moving freight cars from Dorney to the railroad freight house“.

The word “shifter” supplies some context – they generally don’t travel far. In fact, the references to the freight house (on Circleville’s north end), and Dorney probably define the entire range of the shifter’s work. It seems reasonable to assume that the locomotive that was doing the shifting was stationed in the Circleville area, and the Dorney photo is very likely documenting a locomotive that is waiting for the next batch of freight cars to shift to local customers.

The Dorney and Container Corporation photos are therefore good evidence that E2a’s were assigned to this job. This type of locomotive would seem to be a good fit for this work; fast enough to get over the main line quickly, while small enough to traverse the industrial track of the old main line, with it’s lighter rail and sharper curves.

In light of this information, dad’s stories about seeing M’s and Z’s – both slow freight engines – in town in the 1950’s make more sense. I had previously assumed those locomotives came over the road (slowly) from Portsmouth or Columbus. More likely, they were also assigned to Circleville’s shifting job. Assigning obsolete power to this job apparently didn’t stop with steam – my friend Mark Maynard was doing basically the same work in the late 70’s / early 80’s with GP9s and Alcos.

All of this from a few words in a 77-year-old article about a grade crossing accident!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s