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Nevada Northern & Railroads of White Pine County


Wrecking Crane "A"


Wrecker "A" and its tender

Wrecking crane "A" and tender, circa 2000
Photo courtesy of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum; used with permission.

Wrecker "A" in 1993
East Ely, 01 Nov 1993
Greg Maxwell photo; used with permission.

The Nevada Northern Railway Museum's proposal to renovate steam crane "A" and return it to full operational status has been awarded the second annual Trains magazine Preservation Award. The $10,000 check from Kalmbach Publishing Co. will cover a substantial portion of the funds necessary for completion of the project scheduled to begin December, 2000.



NN steam crane "A" is one of the few operational coal-fired, steam-powered cranes extant in North America.

The 100-ton rated model was purchased new for $16,015 from Industrial Works of Bay City, Michigan in 1907 (construction number 1789). The project will involve the replacement of boiler and steam line insulation material, inspection and replacement of steel cables, and renovation of the boiler and steam lines to meet State certification. Cleaning, adjustment, and repair of components of both the crane and attendant tool car A-1 will be accomplished including painting and re-lettering of both pieces of equipment. The work is scheduled for completion in January 2002.


Wrecking Cranes

OSHA defines these beasts as "a rotating superstructure with power plant, operating machinery and boom, mounted on a base or car equipped for travel on railroad track…its function is to hoist and swing loads at various radii".

Steam wrecking cranes, also known by railroaders as the "Big Hook", were widely used beginning in the late nineteenth century to lift locomotives and rolling stock that had derailed and/or wrecked. They could also be used for heavy jobs such as bridge construction and laying rail.

Cranes are unique because they both lift heavy objects vertically and shift them horizontally, making them distinct from hoists. The horizontal component is achieved by raising and lowering the boom. However, the center of mass must always remain within the footprint of the crane on the rails, or the crane will tip. As the boom is lowered the center of mass moves away from the base of support. Careful counterweighing on the side opposite the crane's boom exerts a torque about the center of mass opposing the torque exerted on the boom by the mass of the derailed locomotive or car. Hence, the center of mass is maintained over the narrow wheelbase and the crane does not tip over. For example, NN wrecking crane "A", with its steel outrigger beams extending its base, has a 100-ton capacity at a radius of 17 feet; the capacity declines to 80-tons at a 23-foot radius. Capacity ratings are generally established at 80-85% of the load that produces tipping (when half of the wheels farthest from the load leave the rail) with the boom in the least stable direction relative to the mounting. With this in mind, it's apparent that wreckers can lift a load in excess of their own total weight. An Industrial Works wrecking crane similar to "A" (100-ton capacity, construction number 2745, built June 1914) had a total weight of 206,700 lbs. with a lifting capacity, like the "A", of 200,000 lbs. at a 17 foot radius.

The wrecking crane and its auxiliary cars were hauled to the site of an accident by a locomotive. An orphan steam locomotive tender was often mated with the "bent hook" to supply the necessary coal and water for its operation. In contrast, a "locomotive crane" is self-propelled, and serves as the motive power for transporting itself and a few auxiliary cars to the job site, obviating the need for a separate locomotive.

In the 1950s, railroads began converting or replacing steam powered wrecking cranes with more versatile and cost effective diesel powered units. These too have become largely obsolete, replaced by cranes mounted on automotive trucks or road/rail units that can run both on the highway and on track. However, a number of large 250-ton capacity diesel cranes are still maintained on railway rosters.


Nevada Northern Wrecking Trains

Steam wrecker "A" was apparently a stock model offered for sale by Industrial Works some 93 years ago. But there was nothing "off the shelf" about the auxiliary cars comprising the wrecking trains. These were usually built on site in the railroads own shops from old rolling stock in various stages of decrepitude. They carried various equipment, gear, and tools required when clearing a wreck. The idler car (also called the boom car or crane tender) often looked like a hybrid between a flatcar and a boxcar. The crane boom overhung the flat deck while the boxcar half of the car housed the ropes, cables, slings and assorted apparatus required for the crane.

NN steam wrecker "A" was used during construction of the smelter at McGill circa 1908 and the first wrecking train dates to that period. Photographs also document its use over a long period of years, and two subsequent wrecking trains attest to its active role in railroad M.O.W. activities. It was used to retrieve locomotive No. 334 (0-4-0T) after it went over the side of the Riepetown dump and may also have been employed in the Liberty Pit to recover the larger (~80 ton) 0-6-2T No. 83 when it went over the side at the nine level in the pit. It was likely pressed into service when 50 or so cars went on the ground in 1955 or 1956 between Cherry Creek and Steptoe Hill. The "A" was also utilized in 1966 when a loaded northbound ore train derailed in the cut west of the Ely grade school. It was last employed in September 1982 by the Western Pacific Railroad on a major derailment when their modern crane failed. They replaced the original friction bearing trucks at that time in their Elko shops with the trucks from their own steam-powered hook that had wrecked and been scrapped. These were customized arch-bar trucks (1) that had been modified in the 1960's using roller bearing adapters to replace the original arch-bar journal boxes. Additional reinforcements were welded to the top arch bar of the truck frame for support. The Nevada Northern shops subsequently overhauled the air brake system in April 1983.

(1) Wolverton, William H. February 2001. "Railway Post Office: The Story Has A Hook." Trains 61 (2): 10, 12.



Wrecking crane tender, aka outfit car A.1

Wrecking Outfit Car No. A.1. (3rd) on siding next to East Ely enginehouse in June 1988.

Copyright © 2000 David Sellers;
used with permission.


Outfit dining car A.2

Wrecking Outfit Dining Car A.2 (2nd)
at East Ely on 29 June 1982.

Copyright © 2001 Keith Ardinger;
used with permission.


"1908" wrecker train

Wrecker car A-1 (1st), tie and rail car; built 1908, converted from coal gondola No. 110; to flat car No. 14 on 8/22/1917.
Wrecker car A-2 (1st); built 6/1908, converted from boxcar No. 1009; retired 1938.
Wrecker car A-3 (1st); built 1908, converted from boxcar No. 1004; converted to outfit car No. 17 in 3/1916; scrapped 9/1923.
Wrecker car A-4; built 6/1908, converted from boxcar No. 1008; retired 1930 or 1938.

"WWI —1917" wrecker train

Wrecker car A-1 (2nd); built 1917, converted from car tank car W-2, one-half flatcar and one-half boxcar; scrapped 1938.
Wrecker car A-2 (1st); see above.
Wrecker car A-3 (2nd); built 1916, converted from flatcar No. 1; retired 1920.
Wrecker car A-4; see above.

"1938" wrecker train

Wrecker Outfit Tool Car A-1 (3rd); 36' long, rebuilt East Ely 1/26/1939, one-half flatcar with a 2nd deck and one-half boxcar, converted from dump ore car No. 305 (National Dump Car Co.); at East Ely.
Wrecker Outfit Dining Car A-2 (2nd); converted from coach No. 2 in 1938; subsequently rebuilt as a coach for the NNRy Museum tourist train service; stored out of service at East Ely.
After NN engine No. 80 (Alco 2-8-0) was scrapped in 1952, its tender was mated with the "A". The tender is originally from Cooke Rotary Snowplow "B" and went to No. 80 in April 1913 when it was rebuilt from its original 2-8-2T configuration (No. 5) and renumbered. The tender is also at East Ely.




Industrial Works

The Bay City, Michigan company was established in 1873 "for the purpose of producing special equipment for mill, marine and railroad use". They quickly specialized in the design and construction of railroad and industrial cranes and their accessories.

At the time of the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876, there was only one railroad wrecking crane in the entire country, homebuilt at the shops of a Michigan road. In 1886, Industrial Works first developed a steam railway crane in which the crane and boiler were mounted on opposite ends of the car. This basic design of the modern wrecking crane remains even today.

William L. Clements joined his fathers firm in 1882 as a recent graduate of the University of Michigan with a degree in engineering. He went on to become not only a wealthy industrialist, but also a Regent of the University of Michigan and founder of the Clements Library at his alma mater.

Following the exhibition of their cranes at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, business for Industrial Works developed and expanded rapidly. Crane capacities increased at rapid intervals over the next 29 years: 12-ton in 1893; 20-ton in 1894; 50-ton in 1899; 100-ton in 1904; 150-ton in 1911; and 200-ton in 1922. At that time, the Bay City plant covered twenty-nine acres and was comprised of fifty-nine buildings, 440,000 square feet of covered floor area, five miles of railroad track, and employed over 1800 workers. Twenty cranes could be assembled simultaneously at their facility and they boasted an additional eighteen domestic and eleven foreign offices on six continents.

Industrial Works merged with the Brown Hoisting Machinery Co. (Brownhoist) of Cleveland, OH in 1927 to form Industrial Brownhoist Corp., a familiar name in railroad cranes for the next forty years. In 1967, American Hoist & Derrick Co. of St. Paul, MN, acquired Industrial Brownhoist. Twenty years later, in 1987, AH&D was merged into the Ohio Locomotive Crane Co., founded in 1909 and based in Bucyrus, OH.

Industrial Works logo

Industrial Works logo circa 1923.


Twenty-first Century

What does the new millennium bring?

Ohio Locomotive Crane Co. merged with Plymouth Industries, Inc. in 1999 and the new entity was renamed Ohio Industries, Inc. It remains headquartered in Bucyrus, OH and has the distinction as the only manufacturer of railroad cranes remaining in the Western Hemisphere.

The Clements home in Bay City, MI at the time NN wrecking crane "A" was purchased from his Industrial Works is currently a bed and breakfast inn.

The former Industrial Works plant site in Bay City is part of a riverfront reclamation program. The project anticipates the construction of a multi-use development including offices, retail outlets, and residential units.

And in White Pine County, NV the preservation of a rich mining railroad history continues. The restoration of NN wrecking crane "A" is just one example of the successful efforts by the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation to preserve and operate a historical railroad and all its components dating to 1906.


Thanks to Steve Swanson of Idaho Springs, CO and John A Taubeneck of Seattle, WA for the valuable information they contributed.

Related Internet Resource:
“Industrial Works (Industrial Brownhoist)” by Marvin Kusmierz, including a pictorial.

This article was first published in the Winter 2000 issue of Ghost Tracks -- Official Newsletter of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum.




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Last modified 19 March, 2003 by Keith Albrandt