Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Master Carpenter Makes Unique Discovery As Restoration Work Begins On The No. 545 “A.J. Cromwell”

Built in 1888, at the B&O’s Mt. Clare shops, the No. 545 “A.J. Cromwell” was as a “no frills,” work horse intended to replace slow and outdated freight engines such as the distinctive Camel locomotives. The 545 and engines similar to it were the backbone of late 19th century rail service and were known as “Consolidations,” based on the name of the first engine built for the Lehigh Valley with this appearance in 1866. They were heavier, more powerful, and utilitarian and served well into the 1920s. The 545 served until it was retired and preserved by the B&O in 1927 for the railroad’s 100th anniversary celebration known as the Fair of the Iron Horse.

While working on the 545 the Museum’s Master Carpenter, Zell Olson, made a unique discovery. Underneath the roof sheeting of the locomotive’s cab, scribbled in pencil on the wooden roof boards were the names “Charles Serra/ Patsy Serra.” Staff searched the B&O’s employee records and found the likely culprit was a single employee; Charles Pasquale Serra. Born November 21, 1905, Serra began work at the B&O Apprentice Car Man at Mt. Clare on March 29, 1923. In 1927 he finished his apprenticeship and was listed as a Passenger Car Man. Passenger Car Men repaired passenger cars, which during this era were known as “heavyweights.” Heavyweights were clad in steel; however, underneath were wooden components and older wooden cars were still in service so it is likely that Serra, who had good carpentry skills, worked on the restoration of the 545 to repair the roof.  Serra’s later jobs included Machinist Helper, and Freight Car Man. He was furloughed several times during his career during the Great Depression, rehired, and eventually dropped from the employee records in August of 1950. A later entry actually provided the clue that the two names were the same when it listed his name as “Charles Patsy Serra.”

Serra’s graffiti actually helps date the cab and confirm staff’s belief that the cab roof was new and completely rebuilt for the Fair in 1926-27. Zell was able to determine that the cab roof of the locomotive was rebuilt during the 1920s based on roof material, age of the wood, and style of nails used to fasten the boards together. Historic photos of the locomotive show that at some point the original flat roof on the cab of the engine was replaced with a rounded style roof. This was again replaced with the existing flat roof, which was more than likely done during Fair preparations to “back-date” the locomotive’s appearance to an earlier configuration. We believe that he took this time to place a little reminder of his work on the engine for future generations.

The No. 545 restoration continues and will return the locomotive to its 1927 “Fair of the Iron Horse” appearance. The Museum anticipates completion by the summer of 2012.

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