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Remembering Our Origins:
A Salute to the Morris County Central Railroad
Copyright 2000 by Steven P. Hepler
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By the early 1960s, with plans already formed in his head to begin his own steam excursion railroad, Gil was tempted to purchase a Canadian National 2-8-0 for $6,000. He also had his eyes on an Illinois Central 2-6-0, but he did not make a move since he had no place to operate a steam locomotive, much less store one.

On a subsequent return trip to the VBR early in 1963, Gil again saw No. 6, which was still awaiting her fate. Through the rust and decay he saw a true American-built beauty, worthy of restoration and a return to life. Earle ultimately purchased the old engine, and had it shipped to the Morristown & Erie R.R. at Morristown, NJ where he renumbered it to its original “385.”



Within an incredible 3 months, Gil had completely overhauled the engine (including the conversion from coal-burning to oil-firing), and on September 21, 1963, it was operating again under its own steam. What makes this restoration even more impressive was the fact that Earle had never worked on a steam locomotive before this, and basically gained experience as he went along with the project. A huge pile of technical books relating to steam locomotives, and the assistance of steam boiler experts helped immeasurably in seeing the restoration through to completion.
Gil divided his time between rebuilding the engine and going around to the various railroads in the north Jersey area seeking permission to run his train. One railroad that felt that Gil's idea was worth a try was the 11-mile long Morristown & Erie Railroad (M&E), located in the center of Morris County.




Gil received permission in 1964 to operate over the M&E from Whippany to Morristown, and after the New Jersey Public Utilities Commission had made its approval, he purchased four Jersey Central commuter coaches of 1915 vintage and a wooden caboose built in 1923 from the Pennsylvania Railroad. After the rolling stock was restored and painted, the new railroad was incorporated as the Morris County Central and was ready to operate on a trial basis for one year, running on Sundays and holidays. Gil had hoped that a financially successful tourist steam train would justify the great expense involved in keeping one of these magnificent machines alive.

On May 9, 1965, No. 385, the four coaches and caboose departed Morristown and headed to Whippany to pick up the MCC's first revenue passengers. By the end of the first day, close to 1,300 people had been carried back to railroading's Golden Age.



After a very promising and successful first season, Gil went back to the Virginia Blue Ridge in late 1965 and purchased their locomotive No. 5. This was an 0-6-0 switching engine built by the American Locomotive Company of Schenectady, NY in November 1942 as U.S. Army No. 4039 (the engine is now owned by the Whippany Railway Museum).

 

No. 4039 came to the VBR in 1947 and hauled freight until August 1963 when it was retired after the VBR made the conversion to diesel locomotives. When Gil acquired his second steam locomotive it was still in operating condition. He renumbered it back to its original “4039” and converted it to burn oil, just as he had done with No. 385.

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