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Casting Call

Summer 1998 | Volume 14 |  Issue 1

STRASBURG, PA. Replica sailing ships and historic buildings are commonplace; I have lost count of the number of reproduced Santa Marias . Locomotive replicas are much more rare. During the past 70 years or so, only three have been built in the United States, so it was newsworthy when Stanley P. Gentry, an industrialist of Ribbing, Minnesota, decided to build a replica of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad’s first locomotive, the Lyon .

The original engine was produced in San Francisco by the Union Iron Works in 1869. It was a small freight engine for its day, weighing only about 20 tons, but its six driving wheels gave it enough power to overcome the steep grades of Nevada’s V&T Railroad. This line hauled silver from the mines at Virginia City to stamping mills on the Carson River. In time the rich ore gave out, but the railroad ran on until 1950, its ancient equipment, romantic past, and Wild West setting making it a favorite among railway enthusiasts. Photographs, tickets, timetables, and any scrap of memorabilia became treasures to diehard V&T fans. Stan Gentry is a V&T aficionado who can afford to take his collecting beyond the matchbook level.

Creation of the locomotive has been entrusted to the repair shops of the Strasburg Rail Road. Strasburg is located in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch country, about five miles south of Lancaster. The air is pungent with the smells of natural farming. I saw a manure spreader pulled by four mules not far from the railroad’s terminal. The shopwork is being done in between regular repairs for the Strasburg’s trains and outside jobs that are time-critical. To date, the driving wheels, frame, cylinder saddle, and deck plate have been completed. The cylinders are under way, but much remains to be done, so we won’t see a steam-up for several years.

A recent visit to Strasburg led me to the very crowded workplace where the Lyon is slowly coming together. The shop is packed with disassembled locomotives, machine tools, workbenches, and hundreds of loose parts. One must walk carefully to avoid tripping over a journal box or cylinder head. Still, I have visited far more disorderly shops. This is a place to do heavy mechanical work as quickly and as well as possible, and in the process it’s natural that plenty of dust and some confusion will be created.

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