Steam Locomotive No. 385

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.

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.

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.

Picture provided by Anthony Paci

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.

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.

Photo Credit – Alan Wishengrad

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

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.

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