Built in 1934 by the Lima Locomotive Works of Lima, Ohio for service across northern New England on the Boston & Maine Railroad, the big passenger engine was at first known only as #3713. In 1937 the B&M held a contest for Boston area school children to name the road’s premier locomotives, from which the patriotic moniker “The Constitution” was bestowed upon #3713.
From her design and construction at Lima, through wartime service in New England, to her rescue from the scrapper by pioneer railroad preservationist F. Nelson Blount and inclusion on the roster of the Steamtown National Historic Site, “The Constitution” has embodied the powerful combination of science, service and enterprise which continues to be a hallmark of the railroad industry in the United States, today. It is because of her history, name and prominence the Steamtown National Historic Site that we think of #3713 as America’s LocomotiveTM.
The following is an excerpt from “Steam over Scranton: The Locomotives of Steamtown”, a special history study conducted for the National Park Service by Gordon Chappell.
In 1934, the Boston and Maine Railroad contracted with Lima for construction of five locomotives of the 4-6-2 Pacific type, to be numbered in the series 3710 through 3714. Lima delivered these locomotives in December 1934. These first five Lima engines, which the Boston and Maine classified as their P-4-a type, worked so well that the company ordered another five from Lima in 1936. These, delivered in March 1937, proved to be the last Pacifics that Lima would ever build. The last five Pacifics acquired by the Boston and Maine varied slightly from the earlier ones and became the P-4-b class, Nos. 3715 through 3719.
Locomotive No. 3713 is, of course, one of that first group of Lima Pacifics, a P-4-a that cost the company $100,000. She was inspected by C. W. Bruening at the Lima plant on December 21, 1934. As originally delivered, the locomotive had a metal shroud concealing her sand and steam domes and had smoke deflectors alongside the smokebox (some varieties of which were colloquially referred to as “elephant ears”), and a single, deck-mounted air pump on the pilot deck. As thus delivered, the engine had a semi-streamlined appearance.
Locomotive No. 3713 and her sisters went into service hauling the most important passenger trains on the Boston & Maine, eventually serving between Boston, Massachusetts, and Bangor, Maine; between White River Junction and Troy, New York; between Worcester, Massachusetts, and Portland, Maine; and between Springfield, Massachusetts, and White River Junction, Vermont. She was designed to operate at a normal speed of 70 miles per hour. She carried sufficient coal to pull and heat a 14-car train about 250 miles, and enough water to last about 125 miles.
When the Boston and Maine took delivery of its second order of Lima Pacifics in 1937, it sponsored a contest among New England schoolchildren to name those 10 engines and 10 other passenger engines. The contest was open to any pupil in any community along the railroad and included students from kindergarten to the final year of junior high school. The railroad promised to paint the names on the sides of the locomotive and to attach to the locomotive a plate with the name of the boy or girl who suggested the name, as well as the name of his or her school. The contest elicited more than 10,000 names for the 20 engines.
A 14-year-old named J. Schumann Moore of Lynn, Massachusetts, a student at Lynn’s Eastern High School, suggested the winning name for No. 3713: The Constitution. Other winning names for the 10 Lima Pacifics were for No. 3710, Peter Cooper No. 3711, Allagash; No. 3712, East Wind; No. 3714, Greylock, No. 3715, Kwasind; No. 3716, Rogers’ Rangers; No. 3717, Old North Bridge; No. 3718, Ye Salem Witch; and No. 3719, Camel’s Hump.
Certainly The Constitution was among the more dignified names. Moore said he selected the name because it signified “the backbone of our country. Appropriate especially in that the railroads are the backbone of our transportation system.” On December 11, 1937, the railroad held a christening ceremony in Boston’s North Station. The railroad would hold two more such contests, one in 1940 and one in 1941, to name eight additional engines. For all 31 named engines, the engine name and the name of the contest winner were inscribed on a pair of large name plates mounted on the running boards on both sides of each engine above the drive wheels. Thus engine No. 3713 and her sisters acquired names, a practice more typical of the 19th than the 20th century in railroad operation.
After the country entered World War II in 1941, No. 3713 pulled many a 15- to 20-car troop train during the next four years. It was apparently during these wartime years that, for reasons unknown at present, the Boston and Maine removed both the shroud atop the boiler of these five locomotives, and the smoke deflectors alongside the smokeboxes. They may simply have been removed for routine servicing and, in the press of wartime conditions, were left off to avoid the time and labor of putting them back. About 1944 or 1945, the company added a second air pump on the pilot deck.
It was probably after the war that No. 3713 and her sisters were repainted and relettered in a racy style sometimes referred to as “speed” lettering because its slanted script gave an impression of speed. The “speed” lettering replaced the standard rectangular herald adopted by the Boston & Maine in 1927.
Following the war, No. 3713 and her sisters returned to handling the regular passenger traffic. Among their patrons were young campers headed for an outing in the northern woods. Toward the end of her working life, No. 3713 was equipped with special steam pipes and used to melt snow in the yards of North Station, and still later as a stationary steam power plant. She was last called into service during a flood. Whereas floods shorted out the axle-mounted traction motors of diesel-electric locomotives, the fireboxes of many steam locomotives rode high enough to be above flood waters so that steam locomotives could push through flood waters that diesels dared not enter. No. 3713 made her last run in 1956.
When F. Nelson Blount acquired No. 3713, he exhibited her first at South Carver, then Pleasure Island at Wakefield, Massachusetts, in 1960 and 1961. From 1962 through 1969, the engine rested on exhibit first at North Walpole, New Hampshire, then at Bellows Falls, Vermont, after which Steamtown loaned the engine to Boston’s Museum of Science. The Boston and Maine’s Billerica Shop overhauled the locomotive in 1969, repainting her in the original 1934 herald (pattern of 1927).
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In 1984 #3713 was moved, along with the rest of the Steamtown USA collection, from New England to Scranton, Pennsylvania. The locomotive would later become a part of the collection of the Steamtown National Historic Site.
In 1995 Project 3713 began as a partnership between the Lackawanna & Wyoming Valley Railway Historical Society and the National Park Service dedicated to the full restoration and operation of Boston & Maine Railroad steam locomotive #3713 “The Constitution” at the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pennsylvania.