• WRyM Receives Gift No. 385's Builder's Plate

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New Jersey
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New Jersey

Moderator: David

  by whippany
The Whippany Railway Museum has received a donation of the original 1907 Baldwin Locomotive Works builder's plate for its former Southern Railway Steam Locomotive No. 385 (ex-Virginia Blue Ridge Railway No. 6; exx-Morris County Central No. 385).

By very good fortune, this builder's plate has been gifted to the Museum by Thomas 'Sid' Mann, III of Sarasota, FL. Sid, who for most of his adult life lived in Athol, Massachusetts was the propritor of Mann Lumber in that town for many years. Sid felt it most important to reunite the plate with the same locomotive it was cast for 106 years ago, and now, happily, that desire has come to fruition. Mr. Mann stated: "My initial contact with the Museum revolved around a purchase of the builders plate. However, further email discussions with Steve Hepler [WRyM president] culminated in gifting it to the museum. When I bought it in 1989 I thought it only as a relic of a long past era. Imagine my surprise that the locomotive was still in existence! (Thanks, Google!) I am happy that it is back where it belongs. Given my interest in RR preservation and education it was an easy decision after a little thought. I did retain visitation rights and look forward to seeing the Museum some day. New Jersey is fortunate to have such an asset preserving the past and educating future generations. I do some volunteer work at the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish, Fla., and whenever I hear a train whistle or horn, I wish I was on it! I am happy to share my enthusiasm for trains with children whenever possible no matter where I am."

A bit of a back-story...

Southern Railway Steam Locomotive No. 385 http://www.whippanyrailwaymuseum.net/ex ... ive-no-385" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, PA in November 1907. No. 385 spent the next 45 years hauling SR freight trains, until she was sold in 1952 to the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway http://www.whippanyrailwaymuseum.net/vi ... ge-railway" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;, where the locomotive was renumbered as VBR 6. The engine was retired from VBR service in 1958 and was set aside for scrap. In 1963, she was purchased by the late, Earle H. Gil, Sr. http://www.whippanyrailwaymuseum.net/vi ... uez-gil-sr" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; of Parsippany, NJ, who had the locomotive shipped to Morristown, NJ where he restored the engine for his fledging Morris County Central Railroad excursion operations. http://www.whippanyrailwaymuseum.net/vi ... l-railroad" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

In September 1958 a Maine resident, the late Chandler Cobb (who at the time, had set up a small railroad museum in his garage) wrote a letter to the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway asking if he could purchase a builder's plate from one of the VBR steam engines for his growing collection of railroadiana. The VBR surprised Cobb by not only giving him the plate from No. 6, but they shipped it to him free of charge in January 1959. At the time, No. 6 had been set aside for eventual scrapping (which thankfully, never occurred !).

One has to wonder whatever became of the second Baldwin builder's plate (each locomotive carried two builder's plates - one on each side of the smokebox), as VBR had only one to send to Cobb, and when Earle Gil purchased the locomotive in 1963, it had no plates at all. Perhaps someone on the VBR wanted one of the plates for a keepsake, or maybe they sent one to an acquaintance on the nearby Southern Railway.

When Earle Gil was in the process of purchasing the engine, he asked VBR management about the builder's plates. They gave Gil Chandler Cobb's address and other info, and Earle had hopes of purchasing the plate, but it was not to be. Chandler Cobb refused to sell the plate to Earle, and wanted no part of allowing Earle to borrow it to make a plaster mold in order to cast replica plates. Earle being Earle... he did prevail and Cobb very reluctantly allowed Gil to make the molds. But Cobb was worried beyond all belief that Earle would not return the original, or that the original would be harmed or destroyed in the mold making process. He didn't rest until the plate was finally back in his hands.

So, all those years that everyone saw 385 in operation on the Morris County Central, she wore the cast replica plates. Today, at Whippany, 385 sits on display wearing newer REPLICA plates that were fabricated in 2008. Out of the two "original" 1963 replicas...one remains for display...while the other has been missing since the early-1980's. The mold Earle had made was destroyed in one of the many arson attacks the MCC suffered in 1976.

Fast forward to February 4, 1989 when Sid Mann purchased the plate at a New Hampshire auction. How the plate came to be auctioned off is a bit of a mystery but one might assume that Chandler Cobb (who passed away on February 9, 1999 at 79 years of age) either had financial or health issues, forcing a sale of his railroad collection.

Sid sent an initial e-mail to the Whippany Railway Museum in October 2012... Now, nearly 5-and-one-half decades after that builder's plate was removed from No. 385, the plate is at last reunited with the locomotive.

The world being what it is, the original 1907 plate will NOT be affixed to No. 385 at this point...

Everyone who appreciates historic preservation owes Sid Mann a tremendous show of gratitude. It must have been difficult for him to part with the plate, but what he did was a truly wonderful gesture of graciousness on his part.

Thanks Sid !
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