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Moving Down the Line

It's pulled and jimmied, tied and lifted — but the 20-ton Jupiter engine finally reaches its new home

The men offer Tolbert a pull at the winch jack. She gets up on the truck and gives a mighty haul. It almost throws her; she has to put everything she's got into it — but it moves. She gets a laugh and applause.

Grooms climbs aboard the Jupiter, whose old-fashioned stack has been removed, and eyeballs the route through the big doors. He indicates with his fingers: four inches to spare. "Take it out!" he calls. And the truck labors forward, slowly hauling the locomotive out into the parking lot. The top clears the door by exactly four inches. (I remark that the truck bed has sagged four inches, too, but I am assured that they anticipated that.) Everyone claps. It's lunchtime.

The Jupiter, built in 1876 in Philadelphia, first worked for the Santa Cruz Railroad Company, in California, linking Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay with the Watsonville artichoke farms. As an economy measure it was designed for narrow-gauge rails, 36 inches apart instead of the standard 56 1/2. It burned wood.

Withuhn explains that the wheel arrangement, four main driving wheels with four smaller ones in front, is an American innovation. The earliest locomotives in England had just the four main wheels, and that was fine for the wonderfully level and even tracks common on English railroads. But on the roughly built American tracks, covering hundreds of miles and ranging over all sorts of wild country, a four-wheeler tended to careen off the tracks. Hence the front-runner pilot wheels to help guide it around curves and over bumps. This American invention was soon copied by the British and other Europeans as their own rail systems expanded.

In 1881 the Southern Pacific Railroad took over the little line and converted it to standard gauge. The Jupiter was sold to Guatemala in 1885. It worked in the jungles for decades, soon losing its gold filigree striping, brass trim and beautiful walnut cab. Retired, the locomotive was bought in 1963 by O. Roy Chalk, Washington's flamboyant transit czar, and installed in a playground at 7th and O streets, Northwest.

When America's bicentennial came up, Chalk, noting the date 1876 on the locomotive's flank, gave the Jupiter to the Smithsonian. Using an 1880 photograph and the original specifications, the people at the Smithsonian's preservation and storage facility, located in Silver Hill, Maryland, restored the trim and wooden cab so it looked like new.

As for the locomotives it replaces in the Railroad Hall, the Pioneer, 12 1/2 tons and built in 1851, goes to the National Museum of Industrial History at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The 116-year-old Olomana will come to A&I next month to be part of an exhibition on the Japanese experience in Hawaii — although it, too, eventually moves on to Bethlehem.

There is a good reason for its inclusion in the exhibition. Built in Philadelphia, the Olomana was shipped around the Horn to Oahu in 1883 to work on a sugar plantation that was manned by large numbers of Japanese immigrants. Its narrow gauge and light weight of nine tons enabled it to run on temporary tracks in the cane fields at five miles per hour, though it sometimes was allowed to race on the main tracks at 20 mph. It wound up in Hollywood on animator Ward Kimball's private backyard railroad. Walt Disney himself ran it along the little track.

Well, we're back from lunch and now the real work begins. The locomotive and tender have been trucked down 14th Street to Constitution Avenue (stopping en route for photographs of the startling sight rolling through traffic with the Washington Monument in the background) and across the lawn to the Railroad Hall of American History, whose vast glass doors will accommodate any locomotive you could mention. The more modern 1401 steam locomotive, 280.8 tons in working order and 92 feet long, is already in the hall and I don't even want to think about how that got there.

At this late date I learn that one of the plans originally suggested had been to simply trundle the Jupiter over to American History on its own wheels. It would have been a terrific spectacle, but there were too many potential hazards.

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