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Fast run on the Frisco

A freight engine pinch-hits on a passenger train, with surprising results
Frisco 4-8-2s 4300–4310 were intended for freight service, but could turn a fast wheel on varnish when necessary. Here No. 4304 departs St. Louis in March 1943 with a 23-car passenger train. 
George W. Person Jr.
During the mid-1930s, the St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad started rebuilding low-drivered 2-10-2 freight locomotives into modern, high-horsepower, coal-burning 4-8-2s, also for freight service. The first series of these Mountain types was the big, handsome 4300-class of 11 engines. (Many Frisco aficionados contend that the 4300s were actually new locomotives, not rebuilds, and there is evidence to support this. The 4400-class Mountains that followed were definitely rebuilds.) With a tractive force of 74,850 lbs., including booster, these powerful engines were greatly admired by enginemen and consistently proved their mettle on fast freight schedules and on the many steep grades of the Ozarks.

One of the engines, No. 4310, was later converted to burn oil and reclassified as a passenger engine, complete with the gold numbers and striping commonly applied to Frisco passenger power. This story is about why this might have come to be.

I had just finished junior high school in 1946. We were living in Fort Scott, Kans., where my dad worked as a tank truck man for the Frisco. Fort Scott was the first crew change point south of Kansas City and where the engines were serviced and took on water. It was summer, and my favorite pastime was going down to the depot to watch the passenger trains come and go. One evening while waiting for No. 105, the southbound Kansas City-Florida Special, I saw on the station trainboard that the train was quite late, but I waited anyhow.

When the Special finally pulled in behind one of the Frisco's beautiful 1500-class 4-8-2s, I heard one of the Kansas City crewmen say they had trouble with an injector and couldn't get enough water into the boiler to make any speed. The Fort Scott crew cut off the engine and backed it down to the roundhouse, and when they came back with the replacement locomotive, I was surprised to see that it was a 4300-class freight engine. I had never seen a coal-burner on any Frisco passenger train.

Even at age 13, I was an experienced train-watcher, and I sure noticed that when the train pulled out of the station headed for Springfield, Mo., the 4300 accelerated the train a lot faster than the 1500s or the big 1060-class 4-6-4s that sometimes handled the train. Even though World War II was over, it was still a time of heavy passenger traffic, and I often counted 15 or 16 heavyweight cars on the Special, making it one of the heaviest on the system. Leaving Fort Scott southbound, there's a long 1 percent grade. We could hear the exhaust of the 4300 as she went up that grade. We knew the engineer, trying to make up time, had the throttle wide open because she was really moving . . . faster than I'd ever heard any train go up that hill.

A couple of days later we got word that evening's run to Springfield was the fastest ever. This news did not surprise me!

Could this incident have been the catalyst that led to the conversion of the 4310 to a passenger engine? Perhaps, especially since the converted 4310 was assigned to the Kansas City-Florida Special, the very train we saw a 4300 handle so well.

First published in Winter 2010 Classic Trains magazine.

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