When the “Reuben Wells” was built at the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis Railroad’s shops in Jeffersonville, IN, in 1868, it was the most powerful locomotive in the world. Named after its designer, Master Mechanic Reuben Wells, it was designed to push trains up the railroad’s two mile incline on Madison Hill in Madison, IN, at 5.89%, the steepest standard gauge grade in the US.
The railroad used several different methods to get train cars up the hill. Opened to traffic in 1841, the railroad first used eight horses driven in tandem to pull each car up the 7,012’ incline. Cars were let down by gravity and controlled by handbrakes. In November 1848, a cog track was put into service, and rack and pinion locomotives handled the cars for the next twenty years. The “Reuben Wells” was the first steam engine to work the grade by adhesion alone, pushing the cars up the hill and supporting them on the descent. It worked for thirty years before being put on reserve in 1898.
The “Reuben Wells” was retired and sent to Purdue University in 1905. In the years that followed, it appeared at several exhibitions, including the Chicago World's Fair in 1933-34 and the Chicago Railroad Fair in 1948-49.
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The 0-10-0T (Tank) engine weighs 112,000 lbs and has a driver wheelbase of 18’ 5”. It has 20” x 24” cylinders, a 15.75 sq ft grate and 116 sq ft firebox with a total heating surface of 1,378 sq ft. Operating at a boiler pressure of 100 psi, it delivered 16,653 lbs tractive effort. The two water tanks on either side of the engine have a total capacity of 1,800 gallons of water and the rear bunker 3 tons of coal.
It was stored at Penn Central Railroad Company railroad yards until 1968, when it was brought back to Indiana and placed on permanent display at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis.