Of all the many exploits of the E6s Atlantics, the greatest was the Lindberg Special.
On the morning of June 11, 1927, in Washington, D.C., an exuberant nation welcomed home Charles A. Lindbergh, the 25-year-old air mail pilot who weeks before had become the first person to fly solo and non-stop across the Atlantic. Waiting to greet him was President Calvin Coolidge, who had ordered a Navy ship to bring The Lone Eagle home and presented Lindy with the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Congressional Medal of Honor. Filming the event and the enormous crowd were all the major newsreel services, vying to be the first to show the event on Broadway theatre screens - in a pre-TV era when the latest news was shown in movie theatres.
Most of the footage was flown to New York labs to be processed and sent to theatres. But the International News Reel Company reasoned differently. They had chartered a Pennsy special train, hauling a coach as well as a baggage car converted into a mobile lab, where the film would be processed, edited and duplicated en route. For a run where speed was essential, the Pennsy had chosen not a K4s Pacific, its primary passenger power at the time, but E6s Atlantic No. 460, the last of her class to be built, fresh from an overhaul and ready to sprint.
At just after noon, the cameramen dashed across the concourse of Washington Union Station, hoisted their film cans into baggage car No. 7874, and the Lindberg Special was off. In the tender were 16 tons of coal, enough for the entire trip to New York; the plan was not to stop at all, but to pick up water from track pans en route, using the tender's water scoop.
That plan came apart when the scoop was damaged at the first attempted pickup. Outside Wilmington, Delaware, the crew stopped, filled the tender and repaired the scoop, all in four minutes flat. For much of the trip, riders in the coach hung on as speed frequently exceeded 80 mph and often topped 100, peaking at 115 mph. At one point, a plane from a competing newsreel service dipped down and paced the train at 85 mph.
At 3:10 p.m., the Special pulled into Manhattan Transfer and handed the cars to a DD1 electric, for the final sprint through the tunnels under the Hudson and into New York. Thanks to a police escort, the finished films were showing on Broadway 15 minutes after arrival - more than an hour ahead of the competition that went by plane. No. 460 had covered the 216 miles from Washington to Manhattan Transfer in 2 hours and 56 minutes, a record that stood until the end of steam.
In the words of David Morgan, "It was as polished a performance as the Pennsylvania had ever pulled off - this 100-mile-an-hour running right up the spine of the most heavily trafficked railroad division in the nation. As it bulleted toward New York, the train was not slowed by a single caution or stop signal indication, yet it delayed not one other passenger train. And not once was the throttle of No. 460 wide open!"
To the end of its service life, No. 460 would be known as the "Lindberg Engine" wherever it served - on the Pennsy and in commuter and summer tourist service on the Long Island and the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines. On a railfan excursion in 1954, the old engine showed it was still capable of topping 80 mph. Capping a well-earned retirement and restored to its original appearance, No. 460 is now a primary exhibit at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, PA.
Did you know: Unlike newer and larger Pennsy engines, which had stokers to feed coal to their fireboxes and air-operated power reverse gear, the E6s class was hand-fired and had a manual reverse mechanism operated by a handwheel in the cab - features the Atlantics would retain throughout their service life.