Southern Railway
Steam Locomotive
No. 385


Copyright 2010 by Steven P. Hepler

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In 2007, Joseph Supor, Jr. formally donated No. 385 as a gift to the Whippany Railway Museum. Though Mr. Supor did not live to see the locomotive returned to Whippany, his son, Joseph Supor, III, President of J. Supor & Son Trucking & Rigging Co., Inc. arranged the transportation and eventual display of the locomotive at Whippany. This was an extraordinary effort by the younger Supor to not only fulfill his late father’s wishes to give the public a chance to view this unique Transportation Treasure, but to also honor the preservation efforts and memory of his father.


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385 John 1-13-07

These Photos Provided By Alan Wishengrad
Museum volunteers immediately began working on the locomotive and labored long weekends, awakening the sleeping giant to prepare her for the journey to the Museum site. In order for the locomotive to safely roll on her own wheels once placed on active rails of the Morristown & Erie Railway (M&E), Museum crew members most familiar with the characteristics of No. 385 (from prior operating experience on the MCC), inspected the entire locomotive from coupler to coupler; insuring that all axle-bearing surfaces were cleaned and well-lubricated, as well as a host of hundreds of other details that required attention. It had been over 17 years since No. 385 had turned a wheel, and nothing was left to chance. The long months of labor continued, until at last the stage was finally set and a date for the move was chosen.

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On Friday, February 1, 2008 at 10:51 AM, in a driving rain, No. 385 was lifted by two giant, 300-ton capacity cranes from her storage site at Supor Industrial Park and carefully placed on a specially-designed, heavy-duty, eighty-wheel, computer-activated trailer. The locomotive’s water and coal tender was placed on a following trailer. The work was accomplished by an experienced rigging crew, who made their herculean task look almost “easy”. By 12:25 PM No. 385 was safely and tightly secured to the trailer. The trip over the roadways of northern New Jersey would take place the following Monday, February 4th.


Picture provided by Anthony Paci

 

The start of the work-week dawned overcast and chilly at Supor's yard in Harrison. As snow flurries flew on the wind, a parade of vehicles positioned themselves in a long line to accompany and provide a protective escort for the trailers carrying No. 385 and her tender.
Due to the excessive height of the engine, a most unusual route was chosen. Leaving Supor Industrial Park and carefully moving down Supor Boulevard, the caravan of vehicles made their way into Kearny and soon were traveling on Route 280 for a short distance. After crossing the Passaic River over the Stickel Bridge, No. 385 and her entourage exited the highway and slowly made its way through the winding streets of Newark and finally onto Bloomfield Avenue. From there, the journey continued along Bloomfield Avenue through Bloomfield, Montclair, Verona, Caldwell and finally onto Route 46 West in Pine Brook. Everywhere, astonished motorists and pedestrians alike slowed their pace to watch No. 385 roll on by.
Picture provided by Anthony Paci

The line of vehicles transporting and escorting 385 continued on through East Hanover, and turned on to New Jersey Route 10 West. Upon entering the Village of Whippany, members of the Whippany Fire Department were observed, standing outside their firehouse to welcome the locomotive back to town.

 

A few more miles were clicked off and soon the destination point at Cargille Tab-Pro Corporation on East Frederick Place in Cedar Knolls was at last reached. The move of No. 385 from Harrison to Cedar Knolls was planned to take approximately six hours...in the end, the entire trip took just under two hours ! A testimony to the skill and expertise of the crew of J. Supor & Son Trucking & Rigging. 385 had made her journey safely and without delay. The next day the engine would be lifted off her trailer and gently placed on active railroad tracks once again.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008 was overcast, but the weather cooperated and no rain or snow squalls developed. When Supor's men arrived with a 300-ton crane, the trailer bearing No. 385 was moved into position under the crane, and the process of slinging thick heavy cables underneath the locomotive was carried out.
When the “lift” signal was given at 10:57 AM, No. 385 was slowly raised up in the air and swung around so that she could be set down on the rail siding used by Cargille Tab-Pro. By 11:04 AM, the engine was finally back on the rails, waiting to be re-united with her tender.
After securing the locomotive, the rigging crew began to prepare the tender for the lift. In a repeat performance, the crane effortlessly raised the tender at 12:39 PM, and had it safely on the rails behind the engine at 12:43 PM. Museum personnel then went about the task of coupling the tender to the locomotive by having one of Supor's trucks gently move the tender in close to the locomotive so that the huge steel drawbars between the engine and tender could be pinned in place.
By 3:00 PM, all was quiet when the last of Supor's men and trucks had left the scene. While the last few days had been an exhilarating experience for everyone at the Museum, there was still some work ahead. No. 385 would spend several weeks at this location while being prepared for a 3-mile trip to Whippany over the Morristown & Erie.

 

On a cold and drizzly March 5, 2008, No. 385 was towed to the Museum site by the Morristown & Erie freight crew. It was the first time the old machine had rolled such a distance on her own wheels in nearly 18 years. The trip was made without incident and by 12:30 in the afternoon, both former Morris County Central steam locomotives were standing side-by-side in Whippany for the first time since December 1973.
Nearly three-and-a-half decades had passed and to many of the MCC veterans, the reuniting of Nos. 385 & 4039 was nothing short of a miracle. The Morris County Central family had been hopeful of such a reunion for years, and they were absolutely elated that the engines were together again. One statement that was heard over and over again was the fact that 385 was at last safe and secure in museum setting where she (and 4039) would be appreciated and cared for. The long years of neglect, decay and despair were at last over for No. 385...her transformation into a Grand Southern Lady was about to begin.

 

One of the first items to go out for repair was the severely damaged smoke stack. It was in deplorable condition, with several large pieces missing. Whippany resident Don Rolandelli, a master welder took on the arduous task of rebuilding the smoke stack at his home shop. He would also repair and reinstall the damaged boiler-tube pilot (“cow-catcher”).

Meanwhile, the engine was given several high-pressure baths followed by the long process of sanding and grinding the entire engine and tender. The work of restoring the locomotive to her former Southern Railway appearance would consume nearly 9 full months of volunteer labor.
Photo Credit - Alan Wishengrad
As the restoration work continued through the Summer, 385's old paint schemes and lettering began to show through. The first to be revealed would be some of the Morris County Central lettering and striping from the 1960's and 1970's. Underneath that, emerged the 1950's Virginia Blue Ridge Railway markings, and finally, the late-1930's and 1940's letters and numbers of the Southern Railway began to reappear. It was a unique opportunity to document the history of the engine, dating back nearly 70 years, which all too soon would disappear from sight as the sanding continued.
Once down to bare metal, the entire locomotive was pressure-washed once again and given two coats of industrial primer paint. This was later followed by 3 coats of gloss black.

Photo Credit - Alan Wishengrad

Photo Credit - Alan Wishengrad
Summer gave way to Fall, and Don Rolandelli was back repairing the severely rotted exterior cab walls. New sheet metal was cut and welded in place. Once body filler was applied and sanded smooth by Bill McKee, Sr. and his son, Bill Jr., the cab was again repainted gloss black.

By mid-November 2008, the engine was at last ready for lettering. It was a race against time and the fast approach of the Winter season. The Museum's lettering expert, Walter Myers, faithfully hand-painted the late-1930's lettering style of the Southern Railway. In a nod to the efforts of Joseph Supor in saving No. 385 and his donation of the locomotive to the Museum, Mr. Supor's name was applied in the font used by his company on both sides of the engine on the air reservoir tanks. When Walter finished lettering the locomotive, No. 385 looked absolutely splendid and sparkled from end to end.

On December 5th, the final heavy work was completed with the nightime installation of the one-ton air-compressor on the side of the locomotive. A few more sparks from the arc welder flew, some more paint was applied, the twist of a wrench, and at last the crew could stand back, and proudly admire what had been accomplished.
No. 385, The Grand Old Lady From Dixie, who just a few short years before had appeared to be heading for the scrap yard, had made an outstanding comeback at age 101.

 

Now safe and secure, “Old No. 385” is happily on public display along with all the other historic rail cars and locomotives at the Whippany Railway Museum. She is carefully inspected and lubricated on a regular basis, and is periodically moved about the rail yard in an effort to keep her “limbered up”.
Will she ever run again ? A restoration to full operational status would require a very large amount of funding that currently is not within the Museum's financial capability. However, No. 385 is certainly a very good candidate for a complete restoration. Her very fortunate sister, No. 401, the only other surviving Southern Railway H4, was brought back to life in late 2010 by the dedicated members of the Monticello Railway Museum in Monticello, Illinois...so the possibility does exist for No. 385 to someday operate again.
Whatever the future may hold for No. 385 to possibly breath fire and steam once again, we can certainly imagine that Earle Gil, Sr. and Joseph Supor, Jr. are looking down from the Heavens with great approval at 385's new lease on life at the Whippany Railway Museum.

Whippany Railway Museum Receives Donation of Steam Locomotive No. 385's Original 1907 Builder's Plate !

In July 2013, the Whippany Railway Museum received a very significant donation of the original 1907 Baldwin Locomotive Works builder's plate for our former Southern Railway Steam Locomotive No. 385 (ex-Virginia Blue Ridge Railway No. 6; exx-Morris County Central No. 385)... the "birth certificate" of the locomotive, if you will.

By very good fortune, this 1907 builder's plate has been gifted to the Museum by Thomas 'Sid' Mann, III of Sarasota, FL. Sid, (who for most of his adult life lived in Athol, Massachusetts), was the proprietor of Mann Lumber in that town for many years. Sid felt it most important to reunite the plate with the same locomotive it was cast for so long ago, and happily, that desire came to fruition. Sid Mann 

Mr. Mann stated: "My initial contact with the Museum revolved around a purchase of the builders plate. However, further email discussions with Steve Hepler [WRyM president] culminated in gifting it to the museum. When I bought it in 1989 I thought it only as a relic of a long past era. Imagine my surprise that the locomotive was still in existence! (Thanks, Google!) I am happy that it is back where it belongs. Given my interest in RR preservation and education it was an easy decision after a little thought. I did retain visitation rights and look forward to seeing the Museum some day. New Jersey is fortunate to have such an asset preserving the past and educating future generations. I do some volunteer work at the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish, Florida, and whenever I hear a train whistle or horn, I wish I was on it! I am happy to share my enthusiasm for trains with children whenever possible no matter where I am."

A bit of a back-story...

VBR 6 385 Piney River c-1953
VBR 6 at Piney River, VA, circa-1953

Kermit Geary, Sr. photo
In September 1958 a Maine resident, the late Chandler Cobb (who at the time, had set up a small railroad museum in his garage) wrote a letter to the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway asking if he could purchase a builder's plate from one of the VBR steam engines for his growing collection of railroadiana. The VBR surprised Cobb by not only giving him the plate from No. 6, but they shipped it to him free of charge in January 1959. At the time, No. 6 had been set aside for eventual scrapping (which thankfully, never occurred !).

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One has to wonder whatever became of the second Baldwin builder's plate (each locomotive carried two builder's plates - one on each side of the smokebox), as VBR had only one to send to Cobb, and when Earle Gil purchased the locomotive in 1963, it had no plates at all. Perhaps someone on the VBR wanted one of the plates for a keepsake, or maybe they sent one to an acquaintance on the nearby Southern Railway.

When Earle Gil was in the process of purchasing the engine, he asked VBR management about the builder's plates. They provided Gil with Chandler Cobb's address and other info, and Earle had hopes of purchasing the plate, but it was not to be. Chandler Cobb refused to sell the plate to Earle, and wanted no part of allowing Earle to borrow it to make a plaster mold in order to cast replica plates. Earle did prevail and Cobb very reluctantly allowed Gil to make the molds. But Cobb was extremely worried that Earle would not return the original, or that the original would be harmed or destroyed in the mold making process. He didn't rest until the plate was finally back in his hands.

All the years that No. 385 operated on the Morris County Central, she wore the cast replica plates. Today, at Whippany, 385 sits on display wearing newer replica plates that were fabricated in 2008. Out of the two "original" 1963 replicas...one remains for display...while the other has been missing since the early-1980's. The mold Earle had made was destroyed in one of the many arson attacks the MCC suffered in 1976. SR 385 at Whippany Railway Museum 

Fast forward to February 4, 1989 when Sid Mann purchased the plate at a New Hampshire auction. How the plate came to be auctioned off is a bit of a mystery but one might assume that Chandler Cobb (who passed away on February 9, 1999 at 79 years of age) either had financial or health issues, forcing a sale of his railroad collection.

SR 385 - VBR 6 Original Builders Plate 1907
WRyM President Steve Hepler holds the original

1907 Baldwin Locomotive Works Builder's Plate for Locomotive No. 385
July 14, 2013
Sid sent an initial e-mail to the Whippany Railway Museum in October 2012. After a number of e-mails and phone conversations, nearly five-and-one-half decades after the builder's plate was removed from No. 385, the historic artifact was at last reunited with the locomotive.

The world being what it is, the original 1907 plate will NOT be affixed to No. 385... Instead, the plate will be displayed for all to admire within the Museum's exhibit on 385, Earle Gil and the locomotive's connection to her Southern Railway and Virginia Blue Ridge Railway heritage.

Everyone who appreciates historic preservation owes Sid Mann a tremendous show of gratitude. It must have been difficult for him to part with the plate, but what he did was a truly wonderful gesture of graciousness on his part. Sid Mann 

Thank You, Sid !

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