Operated by the National Park Service out of downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania
, Steamtown is the only location in the northeastern U.S. that operates steam locomotives on a regular basis.
Steamtown was created by seafood-packing millionaire Nelson Blount in 1960, and its first home was North Walpole, New Hampshire. Blount assembled a collection of steam locomotives and other equipment that soon became too large for the North Walpole facility, and in 1964, the collection moved to Bellows Falls, Vermont, where it resided until 1984.
Blount's death in a plane crash in 1967 forced Steamtown into an eventually unsuccessful scramble for operating funds. By the early 1980s, the situation had become dire, and the collection was moved once more, to Scranton.
Steamtown set up shop in an abandoned railyard in downtown Scranton, and excursions operated in a southeast direction out of the city, on the former Delaware, Lackawanna & Western mainline. The change of location couldn't save Steamtown, and in 1986, the National Park Service stepped in and purchased the Scranton facility.
Under the Park Service, much-needed improvements were made. The locomotive shop and roundhouse were restored, and the excursion schedule was increased. The DL&W main was in a badly deteriorated condition, and was closed for several years until repairs could be made.
In the meantime, excursions operated north out of Scranton, also on former DL&W trackage. In 1995, a trip was operated as far north as Syracuse, New York, behind borrowed Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 #261. For the 1996 season, the line south-east out of Scranton was reopened, and has been used ever since. Steamtown can now operate as far as the Delaware Water Gap, a distance of 60 miles. A shorter line north out of the city, to Carbondale, Pennsylvania, was recently re-opened after lying abandoned for many years.
Steamtown, ironically, has no operating steam locomotives at present. Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 #2317 was involved in a minor derailment on the last weekend of the 2003 operating season, and is unable to return to Scranton until the track can be replaced. Canadian National 2-8-2 #3254 is currently without its driving wheels, after cracks were discovered in them. Both locomotives are expected to be available for the 2004 season.
In the locomotive shop, two other engines are undergoing restoration. Boston & Maine 4-6-2 #3713 was selected several years ago as the locomotive in the best condition of the Steamtown fleet, and work is in progress on her. There is no timetable for the 3713's return to active service, but it will likely be several more years. Pennsylvania Railroad K4s Pacific #1361 is also in pieces on the shop floor. The 1361 is on loan from the Railroaders' Museum of Altoona, Pennsylvania, who are also funding the project. 1361 saw active service briefly in the 1980s, after spending three decades as a stationery exhibit on Horseshoe Curve outside of Altoona. There is also no timetable on her, but it is expected that #1361 will run one season for Steamtown before her return to Altoona.
The stationery collection at Steamtown includes such historic locomotives as Union Pacific "Big Boy" 4-8-8-4 #4012, Nickel Plate 2-8-4 #759, and Reading Railroad 4-8-4 #2124. The Big Boy is not operable, though the other two may be. Also in the collection are a rare Canadian 4-4-4 "Jubilee" type, a Grand Trunk Western 4-8-2, a second Canadian National 2-8-2, a 4-6-4T tank engine, and many smaller locomotives.
Unfortunately, most of the aforementioned engines are displayed outside, with little or no protection from the elements. In fact, a visitor's first impression of Steamtown will be the long string of rusted junk parked in the railyard.
Park admission is as follows:
FREE to wander around the outdoor exhibits and take in the panoramic view of rusted junk from the Steamtown mall.
$6 for a tour of the locomotive shop. These are given hourly on the hour, and are well worth the money.
$15 to $75 for the excursions, depending on the length of the trip.
Due to government cutbacks, the 2004 excursion schedule will only feature 30 trains, down from 120 run in 2003. While this seems like a bad thing, it may help protect Steamtown from their abysmal safety record. Besides the recent derailment, there has been a low-speed collision involving a passenger excursion and a light engine, with injuries, and a 1996 incident where #2317 mowed down an ATV in the hills outside of Scranton, killing both of the vehicle's occupants.
Still, it's the only place in the northeastern US where you can ride behind a live steamer, and the chances of death are pretty minimal.