The Last of Steam

In today's age of electronics, computers, and high-tech diesel power, it's hard to remember that the world of railroading was once powered by steam, and steam only. For the first 100 years that railroads were the prime mover of freight and passengers, boiling water in a boiler was the only means of motive power. By the 1960s, steam engines were largely gone from the rails, replaced by diesel power. It's easy to forget that steam engines were not replaced because they couldn't do the job, but because they couldn't do the job as efficiently as diesels.

Today, most steamers earn their keep hauling tourists and railfans on short excursions. However, ever since boilers went cold on Class 1 railroads 50 years ago, steam engines have still been called into service to haul freight. This list is a compilation of 'last runs', starting with Union Pacific in 1959, up to today.

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Information compiled by John Schumann.

Buffalo Creek & Gauley
1960
,
Source:
Union PacificDuring another dead-head move, this one on November 4, 1996, 4-8-4 #844 is called to assist a stalled freight, after one of the diesel shut down. 844 worked as a rear-end helper during the move, which was recorded only by UP steam program personnel
November 4, 1996
,
Source: Railfan & Railroad, March 1997
Rockton & Rion
1960
,
Source:
Bevier Southern
1960
,
Source:
Reader RailroadThe Reader is a unique case. The railroad still exists, and has never owned or operated a diesel. However, in 1973, freight traffic ended after closure of the main customer; and the company retreated to running tourist operations only.
1973
Reader, AR
Source: Reader RR official website
March 1968 photo
Magma ArizonaLast recorded revenue steam run was made with 2-8-0 #5. Steam engines were held in reserve into the 1970s, and made movie runs after 1968, but no freight was handled.
September 3, 1968
Superior, AZ
Source: Railfan & Railroad Nov 1988; Rails to Carry Copper A History of the Magma Arizona Railroad, by Gordon Chappell, Pruett Publishing, 1973
June 1967 photo, second to last year
Mobile & GulfM&G used 2-6-0 #97 to switch a mill in Brownville, Alabama into 1970. M&G was touted as being the last steam powered carrier in the country, a statement that ignores on-going steam common-carrier freight operations on Reader RR in Arkansas, and Strasburg RR in Pennsylvania.
1970
Brownville, Alabama
Source:
1968 photo
Yreka WesternYW 2-8-2 #19 is called to rescue the line’s freight after their diesel (a SD9) fails. #19 had just arrived with an excursion train, when summoned to rescue a 6-car freight that was stalled near the line’s interchange.
July 12, 2007
Yreka, CA
Source: Trains, October 2007
D&RGW narrow gaugeThe world-famous D&RGW 3 foot gauge operation, from Alamosa, Colorado to Durango, CO, by way of Chama, NM, was approved for abandonment in July 1969. This operation was steam powered to the end, and is definitely the last regularly scheduled Class 1 steam operation.
July, 1969
Alamosa-Durango, CO
Source:
6/28/68 photo, last season
Union PacificDuring a dead-head move on September 18, 1990, UP dispatched 4-6-6-4 #3985 on Denver-North Platte manifest DENP-17, 16 loads and 56 empties. Work included stopping at several locations to do pick-ups and set-outs.
September 18, 1990
Denver, CO
Source: Railfan & Railroad Dec 1990
Great Western SugarGWS was the last industrial operation of fired steam locomotives. The Fort Morgan plant used 0-4-0T #13 during the 1983 sugar beet campaign. This turned out to be the last time it would be used in service, although the plant kept the engine in operating condition into 1987.
1983
Ft Morgan, CO
Source: Railfan & Railroad Sept 2001
Colorado & SouthernWell after the end of C&S mainline steam, the isolated Climax branch in Colorado continued with steam until October 11. C&S 2-8-0 #641 is widely credited with being the last regular Class 1 steam operation.
October 11, 1962
Leadville, CO
Source: Classic Trains, Winter 2006
Great Western RailwaySteam engines kept in reserve to help during annual sugar beet campaign, but were not used after 1963. Actual last run was not recorded.
1963
Loveland, CO
Source: Sugar Tramp Colorado’s Great Western Railway, by Gary Morgan, Centennial Publications, 1976
6/25/63 photo, last season of steam usage
Iowa InterstateOn the weekend of June 9, 2007, IAIS ran their regular Des Moines to Council Bluffs, Iowa manifest freight behind 2-10-2s # 6988 and 7081. The engines returned June 10 with the Council Bluffs to Des Moines manifest. Steam was chartered for the freight, and photo opportunities were sold, but the freight was still a regular revenue move, not a staged photo freight.
June 9-10, 2007
Des Moines, IA
Source: Railfan & Railroad September 2007
Northwestern Steel & WireThe well-known NWS operation with 0-8-0 switchers lasted until this date, when the fires dropped on #73
1980
Sterling, IL
Source:
Crab Orchard & Egyptian RailroadCOER was the last regular common-carrier operation of steam. The end came in 1986, when 2-8-0 #17 suffered a failure and was not repaired.
September 8, 1986
Marion, IL
Source:
Iowa InterstateIAIS used 2-10-2 QJs #6088 & 7081 to haul their daily train from Iowa City to Rock Island, Illinois, as part of a campaign to raise money for flood relief in the flood ravaged Quad Cities. The double-headed engines hauled a 6252 ton freight, reportedly setting a record for steam hauled freight in the 2000s. Now, someone just needs to break that record.
October 18, 2008
Rock Island, IL
Source:
Illinois CentralIC retired steam in 1959, but a business upswing in 1960 forced the railroad to reactivate about a dozen steamers. They ran on the Kentucky Division until April, and the actual last freight run was not recorded.
April, 1960
Paducah, KY
Source: Classic Trains, Spring 2010
RJ Corman, Kentucky DivisionAfter receiving 2-10-2 QJ #2008, RJ Corman used the engine in revenue service during a break-in and training session. The train hauled sand loads from an aggregate company in Louisville, to an unloading yard in Lexington, Kentucky.
May 24, 2008
Lexington, KY
Source: Railfan & Railroad, August 2008
Louisiana EasternLE was owned by a locomotive collector, who had 29 steamers on the gravel-hauling shortline. Final run occurred with last existent engine occurred this date; next day, engine was scrapped, and operation was sold to another company.
June 29, 1963
Shiloh, LA
Source: Railfan & Railroad August 2009
Sensient FlavorsSensient continued to switch its plant in Harbor Beach with fireless 0-4-0F #4 until February 22, making this operation very likely the last industrial steam operation in the country.
February 22, 1994
Harbor Beach, MI
Source: Railfan & Railroad, April 2010
CSXFor testing purposes, CSX allowed 2-8-4 #1225 to haul two freights, Plymouth-Grand Rapids, Michigan, and return. While #1225 was not a CSX engine, it nevertheless was used on these regular freights.
October 20-21, 1990
Grand Rapids, MI
Source: Railfan & Railroad, Jan 1991
Lake Superior & IshpemingLS&I ran steam until the summer of 1962. No official date was recorded for the last run. At the time, LS&I was considered a Class 1, so they were technically the second to last Class 1 steam operation.
Mid, 1962
Marquette, MI
Source: Classic Trains, Winter 2006
Duluth, Missabe & Iron RangeDMIR used steam midway into 1960, despite an influx of diesels. The annual ore rush kept 2-8-8-4s running until April.
June, 1960
Proctor, MN
Source: Classic Trains, Spring 2010
Burlington Northern Tie PlantThe BN tie treatment plant continued operating into the 80s with 0-4-0 Fireless cookers. Last run is unknown, but the plant closed in 1985. Since the railroad was an integral part of the plant’s operation, it can be inferred that the railroad would have closed at the same time as the plant.
1985
Brainerd, MN
Source:
Duluth & NortheasternLast steam freight run occurred this date, when 2-8-0 #28 tied up after a days’ work.
August 31, 1964
Cloquet, MN
Source: Railfan & Railroad April 1997
Missouri PacificNational Museum of Transportation’s 4-8-2 #1522 was on its way to a celebration at St Louis Union Station, being ferried under steam in a 60 car MP local powered by two GP15s. During the move, one of the diesels shut down, leaving 1522 to help muscle the freight the rest of the way.
May 7, 1988
St. Louis, MO
Source: Railfan & Railroad Aug 1988
MississippianSteam continued on the MISS until 1968, when 2-8-0 #77 was shut down for the last time. By this point, steam was used for MofW service, and diesel backup. However, the MISS story doesn’t end there-steam would make another stand in the 1980s.
1968
Fulton, MS
Source: Railfan & Railroad, Dec 1987
MississippianOne of the last shortlines to use steam, the MISS wound up borrowing its original 2-8-0 #77 from Magnolia State Railway Museum, after diesel failures left the railroad with no power. 77 powered all freights for 2 weeks, finally ending on Sept 30, when the diesel went back into service.
September 30, 1986
Fulton, MS
Source: Railfan & Railroad, Dec 1987
Graham CountyLast operation occurred this date, when Shay #1925 hauled outbound loads to the Southern interchange. Line shut down a few days later.
May 25, 1975
Robbinsville, NC
Source: Railfan & Railroad, March 1998
1975 photo, close to last run date
Union PacificDuring a dead-head move on September 19, 1989, UP dispatched 4-8-4 #844 as power for a regular Cheyenne to Omaha freight.
September 19, 1989
Omaha, NE
Source: Railfan & Railroad Jan 1990
Black River & WesternBRW ran an actual mixed train with 2-8-0 #60 on this date, handling covered hoppers to industries along the route.
February 6, 1993
Ringoes, NJ
Source: Railfan & Railroad, June 1993
Morris County CentralMCC was a tourist operation over Morristown & Erie trackage. On several occasions in 1972-73, MCC 0-6-0 #4039 was used to powered Morristown & Erie freights. The end came when MCC’s operation was moved to a different location.
1973
Morristown, NJ
Source: Railfan & Railroad July 2002
New York, Susquehanna & WesternDuring a return dead-head from an excursion run, NYSW stopped 2-8-2 #142 in Oakland, and had the engine switch industries in the town.
July 2, 1993
Oakland, NJ
Source: Railfan & Railroad, October 1993
Arcade & AtticaHaving successfully completed the tourist season with the steam engine back in service following the Part 230 rebuild, the railroad was met with a dilemma. The only diesel available or freight service was old #111. The backup freight engine #112 was down for service. With the freight count exceeding the diesel's capacity, the decision was to use the steam engine to tow the freight cars in one move as opposed to three moves with the old diesel. Diesel #111 was used in helper service due to grades from the interchange to the shops, and in order to reduce any risk to the steam engine from hauling six modern fully-loaded freight cars instead of the passenger coaches she's used to.
October 27, 2008
Arcade, NY
Source: Railroad.net
Livonia, Avon & LakevilleLAL used 2-8-0 #38 as a back-up to their diesel in freight service, until #38 was shut down in 1975 for an overhaul that didn’t happen. The exact last run is not known.
1975
Lakeville, NY
Source: Railfan & Railroad, January 1997
Mount Hood RailroadMount Hood tested their 2-8-0 #18 by hauling the line’s regular freight train on this day. #18 entered passenger service soon after. Unfortunately, the passenger trains could not pay for themselves, so the entire Mt Hood steam program was terminated only 6 weeks later, on August 31.
June 16, 2007
Mount Hood, OR
Source: Railfan & Railroad November 2007
Reading & NorthernRBMN used 4-6-2 #425 to haul an empty coal train, position for loading, and return with loads. While this was done for a photo opportunity, the freight was a revenue movement, not a collection of empty cars staged for photos only.
May 7, 1995
Reading, PA
Source: Railfan & Railroad, August 1995
StrasburgUnbeknown to many, the Strasburg (SRC) is actually a common-carrier, and moves freight. SRC is a special case-a shortline that was dieselized early (in 1926), then un-dieselized on Labor Day weekend in 1960, when 0-6-0 #31 started operating. Since then, SRC has continued to haul common-carrier freight behind steam.
2010
Strasburg, PA
Source: The Road to Paradise, published by Strasburg Railroad Shop, Inc, 1983; and, communication with Linn W. Moedinger, President CMO, Strasburg Rail Road
Pennsylvania Power & LightPPL rostered two Porter 0-6-0 ‘fireless cookers’ at this power plant for years, but, for the last half of 1988 and into 1989, they were pressed into regular service after the plant’s diesel suffered a fatal main generator failure. On Jan 5, a new diesel was delivered, ending steam’s reign once and for all
January 5, 1989
Sunbury, PA
Source: Railfan & Railroad Aug 1989
Knox & KaneFor the inaugural run of newly acquired 2-8-2 #1658, Knox & Kane ran a revenue mixed, that included freight for interchange at Kane.
May 19, 1990
Kane, PA
Source: Railfan & Railroad, Sept 1990
Reading & NorthernRBMN used 4-8-4 #2102 to haul a regular freight known as the Schuylkill Shifter. Work included pick-ups & set-outs, and working several coal breakers. While this was done for a photo opportunity, the freight was a revenue movement, not a collection of empty cars staged for photos only.
April 5, 1991
Tamaqua, PA
Source: Railfan & Railroad, July 1991
Edgemoor & ManettaThe EM was very likely the last original railroad to drop steam. The end came about due to condemnation of road’s steam engine. Railroad shut down as a result; dieselization never occurred. EM was considered to be a ‘circular’ shortline by the ICC-a former common-carrier that had lost its status by virtue of serving only one customer. As such, EM’s operation of steam into July 1975 is often overlooked.
July 9, 1975
Lando, SC
Source:
1970s photo
North American RayonNorth American switched its plant in with fireless 0-6-0F #1 until some time in 1992. #1 was a well-known fireless steamer, which interchanged regularly with steam engines from connecting East Tennessee & Western North Carolina RR until they dropped the fires in 1967. After that, #1 continued toiling away in the plant, until an anonymous date in 1992.
1992
Elizabethton, TN
Source: Railfan & Railroad, April 2010
East Tennessee & Western North CarolinaThe Tweetsie, as this road was called, continued behind steam until 1967. ETWC still runs today, but diesels are the power.
1967
Elizabethton, TN
Source: Classic Trains, Spring 2010
Moscow, Camden & San AugustineMCSA acquired a 44 ton GE in January 1960, but kept using steam as reserve, for times that the diesel was out of service, or traffic demanded a second engine. Last steam usage was in 1965, during a time when the diesel was in the shop. Mikado #14, from the line’s parent company, did the honors.
1965
Camden, TX
Source: Classic Trains, Spring 2002
Port of Shelton, WAAfter diesel failed, Port's subcontractor uses 2-8-2T #16 to switch the Port on at least 2 occasions. #16 was used to break down incoming log cars, and switch them into a lumber mill.
March, 1996
Shelton, WA
Source: Railfan & Railroad, June 1996
Simpson TimberSimpson Timber borrowed 2-8-2T #16 for two days to switch the mill and BN interchange yard.
May 30-31, 1991
Shelton, WA
Source: Railfan & Railroad, Sept 1991
Wisconsin & CalumetWICT suffered a breakdown on one of their two GP7s. With 22 grain loads to move, they needed a second engine; solution was to call in Mid-Continent Railway Museum 4-6-0 #1385 to provide the power for the broken down geep. 1385 headed the trip from Brodhead, Wisconsin to Waukesha and return.
November 4, 1987
Brodhead, WI
Source: Railfan & Railroad Feb 1988
Norfolk & WesternClass 1 mainline steam operation ended in the early morning of May 7, when S1a 0-8-0 #291 and Y6b #2190 were shut down for the last time.
May 7, 1960
Williamson, WV
Source: Classic Trains, Spring 2008
Chesapeake & OhioMainline steam ended on C&O in 1956, but 3 fireless 0-6-0F continued to switch chemical plants in South Charleston until sometime in 1964.
1964
South Charleston, WV
Source: Classic Trains, Spring 2010
Union PacificOn August 1, 1990, UP dispatched Challenger 4-6-6-4 #3985 on stack train LAAP-1 from Cheyenne to North Platte. Three diesels brought the train into Cheyenne, but 3985 took it the rest of the way unassisted. Train consisted of 143 loaded double stack cars, for 7657 tons. 3985 maintained track speeds of 65 mph for the majority of the trip, and crested Archer Hill at 35 mph.
August 1, 1990
Cheyenne, WY
Source: Railfan & Railroad Nov 1990
Union PacificChallenger #3713 arrival back at Cheyenne, after bringing a westbound of empty refrigerator cars out of North Platte, marked the end of regular UP steam hauled freight.
July 23, 1959
Cheyenne, WY
Source: Railfan & Railroad Nov 1990
Laramie Valley Railway Co. (Monolith Portland Cement Co.)Laramie Valley continued running 0-6-0 # until 1970, when a replacement diesel arrived. Exact dates were not made public.
1970
Laramie, WY
Source: