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All Aboard! The Climax in West Virginia

October 28, 2012 - Jodi Burnsworth
West Virginia is known for many wonderful things, including its assortment of scenic train rides. At the Elkins Depot Welcome Center, train excursions are always a part of the conversation with visitors. Here’s a great piece of history about the Durbin Rocket, operated by the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad who shares the Elkins Depot with us.

The Durbin Rocket is a Climax locomotive, a 55-ton steam engine manufactured in 1910 for the Moore-Keppel Lumber Company in Randolph and Upshur counties. The Climax was the second most popular of the geared engines designed for logging railroads, after the Shays.

The idea for the Climax engine began with Charles Darwin Scott, a lumberman with mechanical ingenuity, who operated a logging tram road with a homemade locomotive as early as 1875. It was this experiment that lead to the invention of the Climax locomotive. In March 1888, Climax Manufacturing Company of Corry, Pennsylvania, built the Climax engine. It is a type of geared steam locomotive in which the two steam cylinders are attached to a transmission located under the center of the boiler. This transmits power to driveshafts running to the front and rear trucks.

As far back as 1891, Climax engines were built for companies in West Virginia. Several, including W. M. Ritter Lumber Company, bought as many as six small locomotives each for use on narrow gauge track. When Climax Manufacturing went out of business in 1932, more than 140 Climax engines had been used in West Virginia. A few of the companies that preferred Climax were Sewell Lumber at Landisburg, Elk River Coal & Lumber at Swandale, and Moore-Keppel at Ellamore. One that was used at Elk River was the last Climax in service in the United States.

No worries, you can still enjoy Moore-Keppel’s Climax locomotives. One is being restored at Cass Scenic Railroad, and another is in service as the Durbin Rocket. The Durbin Rocket provides a two-hour trip along 10 miles of the Greenbrier River in northern Pocahontas County. The train is hauled by Old No. 3, one of three Climax locomotives in operation and of a mere dozen still in existence.


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Durbin Rocket - Moore-Keppel & Co. Climax No. 3. Photo by Jodi Burnsworth.


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