THE LAST PERSHING

By George L. Simpson LTC USA (RET)

 

 

There is a special nostalgia for the "last" of any breed and a locomotive is no exception. And so herein lies the tale of the "Last Pershing,” one of many engines belatedly named after General John J. Pershing, commander of the AEF in Europe during World War I. Appropriately enough General Pershing was the son of a railway section foreman.

 

Life began for the Pershing’s at the Baldwin locomotive Works, Eddystone, Pa. with the entrance of the United States into WWI. The large forces on the European continent required immense support for their railroad operations in order to bring the "Kaiser" to his heels.

 

(As a point of interest, no war has been won, from the Civil War to present without large scale railroad operations. Witness the downfall of Viet Nam vs. the rail-supported effort of Korea.)

 

As a result of the requirement of massive rail operations, the first order for Pershing "type" locomotives was consummated with the Baldwin Locomotive Works July l7, 19l7. This initial order was completed on October l, 19l7, and is thought to be the most urgent order ever placed in the history of locomotive building. The designation "Pershing,” however, appeared first among the records in connection with a United States Army order for 510 Baldwin’s consolidation locomotives placed about August 20, 19l8. The first order consisted of l50 locomotives manufactured with super heaters vs saturated steam. In order to fulfill this order, and succeeding orders, Baldwin built an additional erecting shop at Eddystone during 19l7-19l8. Through their expertise and giant capacity, they produced upwards of 300 "2-8-0'5" monthly. These engines had 56" drivers, 21" x 28" cylinders, and a total engine weight of l66, 400 lbs.

 

Over 25 years later, the Military Railway Service entered Korea, in September 1945, finding the condition of locomotives from good to bad. Of the 474 locomotives in Korea, upon inspection, 65 percent were beyond salvation. The remaining 166 locomotives were shopped, and pressed into service. This was not enough, so.

American locomotives, no longer needed in Europe, were requisitioned. These arrived 19 March, 1947 and here entered the "Last Pershing" It was the one "loner" shipped from the United States to make up the total of 101 "2-8-0's", the other one hundred coming out of Europe.

 

This "loner" began her existence at Baldwin in 1917, destined for Europe and WWI; however, fate stepped in, and at the last moment she was rerouted from the Norfolk, VA. port to utility service at Ft. Monroe, VA. She "huffed and puffed” until 1925, at which time she was shopped and modernized. The French style cab was removed, and a modern 1925 style American cab installed. When WWII arrived the Pershing again "missed the boat"--this time, serving on the utility railroads of two southern camps. In 1947, MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group) was founded to give aid and assistance to the Korean National Railroad.

 

In order to fulfill their mission, and aid the Korean National Railroad, 10l locomotives were dispatched to Korea – one hundred departing from storage in Europe, and one "loner" from the United States. It, of course, was our "old pal" and this time she was going to make it to battle.

 

Upon arrival in Korea she was renumbered 101. Always the last one! When the Korean War broke out, the "Last Pershing" hauled troops and supplies between Pusan and Seoul. This time, she really got in it, encountering guerilla warfare and sustaining numerous wounds. No doubt she wished that she was back in the States.

 

After being shot up, and going thru a couple of "coronaries,” she was almost laid to rest in her final engine house; but no, she was destined to carry on. When

members of the 765th Transportation Shop Bn. found her in many bits and pieces", she was run thru the shop, emerging a gracious lady with white side walls, brass grab rails, brass air pumps, chrome throttle, brass boiler bands, and appropriately renumbered '765'. Beautiful new brass 4-star Pershing plates were made and installed. She finished out the war as a back shop switcher proudly doing her duty.

 

Upon cessation of hostilities she was laid to rest and storage. In 1959 she” was donated by the Korean Government to the National Railroad Museum at Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she now proudly stands as a symbol to three wars, two of which she didn't make.

 

CHRONOLOGY:

1917 Built

1919-1937 Ft. Monroe, Norfolk Army Base

1925 Modernized and New Cab

1940 Modernized and New Cab

1942 Wreck en route to Camp Blanding Florida from Ft. Benning, Georgia

1945 Storage

1947 Shipped to Korea .

1959 Shipped to Green Bay, Wisconsin

 

NUMBERING:

8341 - Utility Railroad Service

6779 - upon arrival in Korea

765 - 765th Transportation Shop Bn.

101 - Korean National Railways

 

Those of us who knew and helped in saving her from the torch, enjoyed her best as the '765', and that is the way the author shall remember “The Last Pershing".

 

 

Text thanks to Les Jacoby and National Railroad Museum.