Captured on a bright winter afternoon, Atlantic Coast Line
P-5-A Class #1504 is on display at the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center, 1000 Water Street in Jacksonville, FL.
This splendid looking locomotive was built for the USRA by Alco in 1919, and was one of eighty-one Light Pacific type
(4-6-2) locomotives ordered by the administration and classified as 4-6-2A. It was built to haul troops during WWI, but the war had ended by the time it was outshopped. Originally numbered #497, it became #1504 when it joined the ACL roster in 1920, along with sixty-nine other USRA 4-6-2As built by Alco and Baldwin (#1500-#1569)
The P-5-As were very fast for their time, clocking speeds in
the 70-80 mph range, and they immediately became standard haulers of ACL "varnish" passenger runs. #1504 spent
twenty years pulling 10-12 car prestige passenger trains for
the railroad, including the Miamian, the Florida Special, Palmetto Limited, the Southland, the South Wind and the Dixie Flyer. After dieselisation of ACL passenger services in the late 1940s, all the P-5-As, including #1504, transferred to fast freight, and the locomotive spent its last years working in the Tampa, FL, area before retiring in 1952 and being placed in storage.
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During WWI, US railroads were placed under the control of the United States Railroad Administration, a Federal body established to oversee and co-ordinate
the nation's railroad operations. All new steam locomotives ordered during this period were also built to one of twelve standard designs developed by a committee composed of USRA, railroad company and locomotive builder representatives.
The resulting locomotives, ranging from
0-6-0 to 2-8-8-2 in size, incorporated the best proven features of the day and represented the first successful standardisation of American motive power. Although the USRA lasted only three years, locomotives continued to be built around these basic designs for years to come.
#1504 is actually one of the very few USRA locomotives to have survived (you can see BO #4500, the first USRA locomotive constructed, on the B&O Museum Yard & Car Shop page of this website) and is the only one still largely in as-built condition. The tender and cab, most of its piping, the domes, driving wheels, coal pusher, non-lifting injectors, trailing truck, running boards and pilot are as-built or as-designed. The only major changes are to the headlight, tender trucks and pilot truck wheels.
#1504 weighs 278,000 lbs, has 73" drivers and 25" x 28" cylinders. A coal burner with a 242 sq ft firebox and 66.7 sq ft grate area, it operated at 200 psi delivering 40,750 lbs tractive effort.
#1504 was eventually chosen for preservation by ACL President, Champion Davis, and the Head of ACL's Mechanical Department, John W. Hawthorne. In 1960, the locomotive was given a thorough mechanical overhaul and placed on display in front of the then new ACL General Office Building in Jacksonville. It remained in ACL ownership and was transferred to the various successor companies during the following years, including the Seaboard Coast Line in 1967 and CSX in 1980.
In 1986, CSX presented #1504 to the City of Jacksonville. It was then cosmetically restored and moved to the nearby Prime Osborn Convention Center. The building was the original Jacksonville Terminal Company Depot built in 1919, the same year as #1504, and had been the city's main railroad passenger hub until 1974, when the last passenger service departed the terminal.
In 1989, Great Atlantic Boiler Services again completely refurbished #1504. The various restorations over the years have not altered the locomotive in any way mechanically and, because #1504 has not been in service since its last overhaul, it has been suggested future operation of the locomotive under steam might be possible. However, this appears to underestimate the high expectations imposed on operating steam locomotives in 21st Century America. When I visited, I could see considerable rust penetration, and the condition of the boiler underneath the lagging is entirely unclear.