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Historic Steam Locomotives: Great Western Sugar Co. No. 3

Updated on October 23, 2011

Old Number 3

This image of Old Number 3 by photographer Edward Fielding is available as a framed print.
This image of Old Number 3 by photographer Edward Fielding is available as a framed print.

The Old Porter at the World Mining Museum Butte, MT

In a recent visit (summer 2011) to the excellent, volunteer run, World Mining Museum in the copper mining town of Butte, MT I ran across this old Porter steam engine. It wasn't mentioned in any of the brochures and there was no information sign around to explain what it was and how it got to the museum, so I did some research and discovered the history of this beat up old steam engine with the big "G W" painted on its side.

"Old Number 3" as I call it in my photographs of the engine is a 1928 0-6-0T manufactured by the H.K. Porter company a locomotive manufacture who specialized in small industrial yard switchers. The Porter 0-6-0T No.3 (built for the Keystone Steel & Wire Company in 1928) last operated at Great Western's large Billings, Montana factory. It was occasionally steamed up about thirty years ago in the 1980s, but is now a static display at the World Museum of Mining in Butte, Montana awaiting a hopeful restoration.

In its previous life this steam locomotive was one of several of the last steam locomotives to actually see service in the United States as part of a fleet of small steam locomotives operated by the Great Western Sugar Company. Great Western processed sugar from sugar beets until imported cane sugar became cheap and basically pull the rug out from under the sugar beet industry.

Small locomotives nicknamed "dinkies" switched cars at Great Western's main processing plants in Loveland, Colorado. These were Davenport 0-4-0T saddle tankers. Larger trains hauled sugar beets from the farms to the processing plants each fall.

The steam trains had a long life in the sugar beet industry while others abandoned steam for easier to run diesels because of the unique operating conditions in sugar beet processing. Lots of steam and hot water is used to loosen frozen sugar beets when unloading cars and this wet environment would wreak havoc on diesel engines while the steam engines had no problem working in this environment.

For more information the Great Western "Dinkies", see Jeff Terry's excellent write up on the Loveland, Colorado operation of the Great Western Railway.


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