Fall 2015

As the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer, The T1 Trust is burning the midnight oil. We’re trying to accomplish as much as possible with what’s left of 2015. To find out where we’re at and where we’re going, pour a cup of hot apple cider, sit back and enjoy the Fall Trailblazer.

What’s Up?

The T1 Trust has supporters everywhere. Backers of the project just like you have made it possible to move forward on the complicated wooden casting pattern for the driver. The Trust is now laying the groundwork to cast the first Boxpok driver for the T1, possibly before the year's end. The driver casting is expected to weigh in at 2,500 lbs. With that kind of size and mass, comes significant expense. As you can imagine, there is an opportunity right now to make a decisive donation to The T1 Trust. Please help us raise the funds necessary to cast the first major part, a driving wheel for T1 #5550. If you feel “the need for speed”, we invite you to follow this link and sponsor a piece of history: https://www.prrt1steamlocomotivetrust.org/store/driver.php

How The T1 Trust Is Building PRR T1 #5550

By way of a brief review, The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) T1 Steam Locomotive Trust is a non-profit organization with a unique approach to railroad preservation. Through hard work, dedicated volunteers and the financial support of many generous donors from around the globe, the T1 Trust is constructing PRR T1 5550. Slated to become the fifty-third locomotive of its class when complete, 5550 combines stunning art deco design with a unique 4-4-4-4 wheel arrangement. The goal is simple; to provide mainline steam excursion service, and to set the World Speed Record for a steam locomotive.

The PRR T1 class represents the pinnacle of steam locomotive design in the United States. These locomotives had the capability of achieving speeds in excess of 120 mph, and anecdotal reports indicate that speeds of up to 140 mph were attained. In all, 52 class T1 locomotives were produced, 25 at the PRR's Altoona shops and 27 at the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. Sadly, not a single example of this magnificent machine escaped the scrapper's torch.

The production of PRR T1 5550 will fill a large gap in historical locomotive preservation. Perhaps more importantly, this locomotive will inject new life blood into an aging heritage fleet. Most US built steam locomotives operating today are over 60 years old. Wear and tear are taking their toll. Efforts such as this one, to create a powerful new machine, will become increasingly important if steam excursion service is to be present in another 60 years.

The die has already been cast for this project. In 2008 a group of railway enthusiasts in Great Britain completed LNER Peppercorn Class A1 60163 Tornado, the first mainline steam locomotive built in the United Kingdom since 1960. The success of the Tornado project provides inspiration, and a framework The T1 Trust will rely on for the PRR T1 5550 project.

The T1 Trust was founded in the fall of 2013 and its business plan calls for a 17 year project lifespan with an expected completion date of 2030 and an estimated price tag in excess of $10 million. By the Fall of 2014, The T1 Trust had achieved several major milestones in engineering and original blueprint research. The decision to start making a few key components was made. A bold plan to start with the very complicated 80” Boxpok driving wheels was put in place.

The Story of the Wheel

Here then is the story of how The T1 Trust created the wooden patterns for the first set of drive wheels for a mainline steam locomotive in the United States in nearly 70 years. The first step was obtaining the original drawings from the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg, PA. The PRR T1 Trust’s CMO, Scott McGill spent countless hours pulling old drawings and scanning them in to digital format. This is painstaking work and a process likely to be repeated hundreds more times until every drawing is found and scanned.

Once Scott had obtained the original drawings, he set about verifying that they were in fact the most recent on record. The T1 Trust is focused mainly on blueprints and mechanical drawings related to the construction of the production run of 50 T1 locomotives, in other words the next 50 T1 locomotives produced after the first 2 prototypes (No.'s 6110 and 6111). Once the drawings were determined to be pertinent, they were sent off to the Trust's senior CAD draftsmen. Over the next 3 months, the 2D drawings would transform into 3D digital models. Every measurement was meticulously checked and rechecked by Scott and his team. Once everyone was confident that the 3D model was an exact duplication of the original blueprints, the next phase could begin.

After original PRR T1 drawings were scanned into digital formats, our engineering team converted those drawings into 3D CAD models (computer aided design). Above is the finished 3D rendering of the wheel. This process took several months to complete to ensure that the model was perfect in every way. Once the model was complete, it could be sent to the pattern shop.


The next step was to locate a foundry capable and willing to take on such a large complicated part. The biggest difference between a typical spoked driver and a Boxpok driver on a steam locomotive is that the spoked driver is solid with no hollow cavities. On the other hand, a Boxpok driver is completely different in that the driver is almost entirely hollow. This design promotes a high strength to weight ratio and allows for the fine tuning necessary for high speed operation. This is perfect for the PRR 4-4-4-4 T1 design.

The image above represents the hollow parts of the wheel. It is not widely known that unlike a solid spoked wheel, the Boxpok driver is essentially a hollow disc driver. The Baldwin Locomotive Company along with General Steel Castings developed the Boxpok driver with a high strength to weight ratio making it perfect for high speed operation. Core Boxes, as they are known in the foundry industry, are built to make forms out of compact sand to prevent molten steel from filling the hollow areas and maintaining cavities inside the cast steel wheel.


When starting the process, the PRR T1 Trust wanted to stay close to Pennsylvania for casting the first components, but also wanted to include several highly qualified foundries outside of the region. A Request for Proposal was created which included the material specifications and CAD Model as well as quality control requirements. With the help of the group’s membership more than 60 foundries were located and requests submitted. Several foundries responded with quotes and the PRR T1 Trust began its selection process.

When selecting a foundry, items such as capabilities, time frame for task completion, number of years in business, price and customer satisfaction were all considered. As the selection process moved forward, Beaver Valley Alloy Foundry in Monaca, PA became the front runner. They have been in business nearly 100 years and are more than capable of pouring the large and intricate driver castings. Beaver Valley was very interested in the 5550 Project and the Trust quickly saw they were going to be the right partner.

The foundry selection process took nearly 4 months to complete and the Trust was very through and particular. The principals at the Trust felt that they had only one chance to do it right. Many people have donated money to the 5550 project, and choosing the best foundry possible was just one more opportunity for the Trust to demonstrate its ability to be a good steward of the funds given for the T1.

To recap to this point, the T1 Trust obtained original drawings, engineered them to modern digital formats and selected a foundry to cast the Boxpok driving wheels to the exact metallurgy required. By mid-Summer 2015 it was time to move on to making a wood pattern to use in the driver casting process. Liberty Pattern in Youngstown, OH was put forward by Beaver Valley Alloy to make the pattern. Liberty Pattern has been making wood patterns for the foundry industry since 1917, they have seen it all.

The team at Liberty pattern studied the CAD model of the #4 wheel set provided by The T1 Trust. It is well worth mentioning that the pattern shop's owner stated that the Trust's CAD model was some of the best work of this type that he had ever seen. Liberty Pattern then went about converting the Trust's 3D digital blueprint into a casting pattern (an amazing art in itself). It was decided to make the counter weight as a dry-fit so that ¾ of the pattern could be used for all 8 drivers. This will save a tremendous amount of money in the future. The first pattern being made can be used for 4 of the T1's wheels. Then, with a new section fit into place, the same pattern can be used again for the remaining 4 wheels.

Here you can see the removable section of the pattern that makes up the weighted counter balance of the wheel. This section was engineered to be switched out with a different version to complete the other wheels. By designing the pattern this way, the PRR T1 Trust is able to save money by not having to create a completely new pattern for the rest of the wheels.


Liberty Pattern also had to design core boxes to form all the sand that goes in the internal cavities of the wheel. This is a very complicated and precise art. Once all the cope (outside surface of wheel), drag (inside surface of wheel) and core boxes (inside cavities) are complete, they are mounted on large 96”x96” boards and sent over to the foundry to start the casting process. When complete, the finished cast wheel center will weigh nearly 2500lbs and measure 6 feet in diameter. The application of the 4 inch thick steel tire brings the total wheel diameter to 80 inches.

In this image you see core boxes being machined out of kiln-dried pine. These are negative molds made to cast the cavities inside the wheel. Every cavity needs two of these Core Boxes to maintain the hollow area.


In July of 2015, the PRR T1 Trust appealed to railfans from around the globe for support in making the pattern. The online crowdfunding website, Kickstarter was chosen to help raise the funds needed for the pattern, $20,000. After the Kickstarter campaign was launched, something amazing happened, the appeal started gaining steam and slowly but surely, over 30 days, $22,577 was raised. This provided the PRR T1 Trust with the funds needed for the pattern which was officially completed on October 22, 2015.

Here is the completed Drag. A pattern is made up of 2 major parts, the cope and drag. In this picture you can see the Drag which, in this case, is the back side of wheel (side closest to frame). The pattern is made 2% larger than it needs to be to allow for shrinkage when steel is poured into the sand mold. This will ensure that the final part is exactly the size it needs to be and will require as little machining as possible.


This process will be completed for hundreds of parts on the finished locomotive. The wheels are among the most complicated parts and it is a real credit to the PRR T1 Trust to have the patterns nearly finished at such an early stage. It was in fact The T1 Trust’s goal to demonstrate its ability to complete extremely complicated engineering tasks both efficiently and effectively.

Over the next few years, engineering work will continue and simulation testing will be conducted. More components will be built and the PRR T1 Trust will proceed with its fundraising efforts. It will be through the support of volunteers, railfan donors, foundations, grant makers, corporate donations, and legacy giving that PRR T1 5550 will ultimately come to life in steam.

Wheel Appeal

The Trust needs funding now to cast the massive Boxpok drivers for the T1. 

The image here shows the driver casting patterns mounted on their boards, ready for the foundry. Please consider sponsoring a section of the first driving wheel to be cast for T1 #5550. Right now is a great time to make a tax deductible year-end gift to The T1 Trust. https://www.prrt1steamlocomotivetrust.org/store/driver.php

Each driver is divided into 48 sections. Driver sponsorship at the Trust's website is easy. Select one (1) driver section and then check out, that's all there is to it. Thank you in advance for your continued support of the 5550 Project.

As part of the Kickstarter campaign the PRR T1 Trust offered bronze keystone number plates cast with the original T1 #5550 pattern made by Chuck Blardone. The keystones were offered as premiums for donations of $5,000. The T1 Trust is pleased to continue this remarkable opportunity for interested supporters to secure their very own piece of railroad history. If you would like more information on how you can support the PRR T1 Trust and receive a full sized bronze 5550 keystone please send an email to info@t1trust.org or send a letter to the address below.

The T1 Trust is also pleased to announce that the headlight to adorn T1 #5550 has been sponsored. The headlight was built by Gary Bensman of Diversified Rail Services using original PRR blueprints provided by The T1 Trust. As part of the Trust's "Sponsor A Part" program, Founders Club member Eric White made a generous $1,500 donation to sponsor the headlight.

Some donors may be less interested in the month to month fundraising drives and more interested in the project's overall success. For these donors a life-income gift to The T1 Trust may be the preferred method of contribution. In order to meet this need, the Trust has established the 5550 Keystone Society. This name was chosen to emphasize the pivotal role these gifts have in making 5550 a reality. The 5550 Keystone Society is a group of PRR T1 Trust supporters who have made an enduring pledge to railroad preservation by offering a charitable life income gift to the PRR T1 Trust or by naming the Trust as a beneficiary in their estate plans. The 5550 Keystone Society is a way for us to appreciate and honor these remarkable individuals for the generous contributions they have made to secure the future of The T1 Trust and PRR T1 #5550.

Members of The 5550 Keystone Society, receive exclusive benefits and confidential details about the efforts of The T1 Trust. 5550 Keystone Society members receive the Trust’s quarterly newsletter, "The T1 Trail Blazer", which contains news and special features describing how the Trust is building the magnificent T1. Society members also receive a personalized certificate of membership suitable for framing, a full size print of the 5550 launch painting, the PRR T1 Trust’s annual report, and invitations to special events. For further details, or to become a member of The 5550 Keystone Society please send an email to the Trust's Legacy Manager legacy@t1trust.com or write us at:

The PRR T1 Trust

PO Box 552

Pottstown, PA 19464 

The T1 Trust Lost a Great Supporter

Lewis Clayton Custer Sr., 73, passed away on Tuesday, September 8, 2015 at his home in Thurmont, MD. Lewis was also known to many as Lew, Big Lew, and Pap Pap.

Lew was born in Newton Falls, Ohio on July 18, 1942. He was one of 10 children born to Claire and Virginia Custer (Siblings: Virginia, Almeta, Tom, Jeannette, Rella, Jerry, Barb, Carol, and Pam). Lew met Linda Lee Winer in Silver Spring, MD and soon after married her on April 5, 1967. They have three children, Julie Giarratano (engaged to Steve Seger), Lewis Custer Jr. (engaged to Bridget Ryder), and Maureen Elder (married to Christopher Elder) as well as six grandchildren, Joy Moore (married to Sean Moore), Brianna Giarratano, Tyler Giarratano, Zack Elder, Ashlyn Custer, and Lindsy Custer. With such a large family, there are also many cousins, nieces, nephews and many friends.

Lew graduated from Windham High School in Ohio and shortly after moved to Maryland where he was employed in the automotive industry; he worked as a parts associate at Wilson Pontiac, Curtis Chevrolet, and King Pontiac and also worked at Selby’s Market in Poolesville, MD. Anyone who knew Lew knew that he was an avid train fan, collector, and model railroader. He loved all types of music, making friends, playing the guitar, watching old Gene Autry movies, and spending time with his family and his church family.

There was a memorial service to celebrate Lew’s life on Saturday, September 12, 2015 at 11:00am, officiated by Pastor William (Bill) Maisch, at Poolesville Memorial United Methodist Church (17821 Elgin Road, Poolesville, MD 20837 or via phone 301-349-2010). In lieu of flowers, Lew would be honored if donations were made towards the Pennsylvania Railroad T1 Steam Locomotive Trust (The T1 Trust, PO Box 552 Pottstown, PA 19464 OR www.prrt1steamlocomotivetrust.org).

Lew taught endless compassion and love towards one another; he was a friend to all. He loved Jesus and was a man of God. The family would like to thank everyone for all the love and support during this difficult time.