Selling a Model to Save a Bankrupt


To many, the last public legacy of the once mighty Pennsylvania Railroad disappeared on March 20th, 1972. True, the successor Penn Central had taken over four years before. But that date in March was the start of a three-day auction of the storied library and corporate museum of the former “Standard Railroad of the World”. In a very real sense, it was like a once-wealthy matron selling off the silver to hold things together. The recently-bankrupt Penn Central was selling off all they could to raise much-needed cash. In that quagmire, there was no place for historical sentiment, especially among the men now in charge, competent outsiders hired to clean up the mess. The event took place in a nearly abandoned corridor adjacent to the waiting room in the vast 30th Street Station complex, then a tarnished temple of transportation, and its diminished status further confirmed the downfall of its once-proud builder and owner. The fire sale was especially gut-wrenching for established Philadelphians where the PRR was more than a railroad, it was also once its rock-solid financial base and “the biggest club” In the city. That emotion was not lost on aging Walter S. Franklin, president of the PRR from 1949-1954, who came out of retirement and stood in the shadows of the gallery, and watched the tragedy play out.

At precisely 10 AM auctioneers from Samuel T Freeman started the bidding on the wide inventory of the collection. Though badly pilfered after 1968, the collection still held some noteworthy historical “finds”. Among them was lot #649, “an operating steam”, nine-foot-long model of class E6s #6064. The locomotive, though badly battered and beaten, was none-the-less impressive with good reason. The model was built in 1923 for the PRR float used during the Miss America, Boardwalk Parade in Atlantic City. Some attributed the model to custom builder Paul Egolf but others credit PRR machinists. Either way, the locomotive-accented float was captivating enough to win two trophies from Parade judges. Lost to the pages of history is that in that era, that raucous seaside resort was still considered the gem on the Jersey Shore and as such, it was of paramount importance for the PRR to outshine its venerable and consistently resourceful seashore competitor, the Reading Lines. The Reading was masterful at public relations too and in 1925 fielded a full-sized wooden replica of a class G1 pacific, mounted on two Model-T truck chassis for power, for their Parade float entry. That wooden wonder of the Boardwalk won first place, much to the consternation of the PRR.

It didn’t matter! The seaside opulence of Atlantic City faded quickly after Black Friday and the resulting Great Depression and in time, other destinations became more desirable and fashionable. The PRR and Reading lost 2/3 of their AC traffic to autos and busses by 1930 and, under shot-gun order by the State of New Jersey, merged their seashore routes to form the jointly-owned Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines in 1933.  The prototype of #6064 was built by Juniata Shops in 1914 for the PRR-controlled West Jersey & Seashore Railroad and later became a member of the P-RSL roster, and was finally scrapped in March of 1948. The subject of this feature, the model of #6064, was used through the 1920s at various fairs and trade shows, but was stored in the 1930s. The winning bid is not available now but one suspects it hardly made a difference in Penn Central’s quest for cash. After its appearance in 1972, the model disappeared once more. Presumably it still survives in a private collection and if so, will likely surface again one day on Antique Road Show or a future, landmark railroad auction. Photos include one of that 1923 parade float and the model as it appeared at the auction. The auction hostess sitting on top of the tender confirms the size and ruggedness of that model.

The PRR class E6s was finally mass-produced, fifty years after that history-making auction, in a highly-detailed model by Broadway Limited offered in several lettering configurations. One day we may even see a version released for the famous PRR later P-RSL #6064. Please continue to check our website for the BLI class E6s and other new releases, all display exceptional quality, detail and realistic sound!


Frank Wrabel