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C&O Historical Society Releases Landmark Book Analyzing Steam Locomotive Energy Efficiency

Clifton Forge, VA (July 23, 2021) - The Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society is excited to announce the publication of a landmark book regarding American steam locomotive history and technology, Walter Simpson’s hardbound, 144-page The Steam Locomotive Energy Story: How These Locomotives Used Energy and What Was Done to Make Them More Efficient. Using original sources from a variety of railroads, such as the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, the Norfolk & Western Railway, and the Pennsylvania Railroad, as well as authoritative books and articles by the mechanical engineers who worked to make the steam locomotive more effective, Mr. Simpson has completed this work that is both a scholarly review and a highly-readable, understandable discussion that readers with all levels of expertise can readily appreciate and enjoy. Visually pleasing and authoritative, the hardbound book is well illustrated with great photos in both B&W and color showing all types of steam locomotives at work. Precise diagrams complement this work throughout its pages, creating a steam locomotive reference that will enrich the reader’s library for years to come.

The Steam Locomotive Energy Story is already receiving high praise from reviewers who have seen the finished work. Speaking about this publication, Thomas W. Dixon, Jr., founder and chief historian for the C&O Historical Society, stated that, “[Mr. Simpson’s book is] the best discussion of steam locomotive efficiency ever done. Simpson understands and documents how the steam engine builders and railroads worked hard to increase efficiency, yet the very design of the machine prevented much increase in capability, even in the much-heralded ‘Super Power’ locomotives post-1925.” Mr. Dixon added that The Steam Locomotive Energy Story is a scholarly review, fully footnoted with an extensive bibliography, and it should assume an important place in the literature of locomotive steam power in the United States.

In his work, Mr. Simpson concludes that a good steam locomotive could convert 7% of its fuel to mechanical energy, and most locomotives did not reach that level, while the very best only reached the range of 8% efficiency. A typical diesel-electric locomotive, by contrast, produces around 30-35% efficiency. And, for further comparison, an electric generating plant is 33% efficient, and an automobile about 25%.

Walter Simpson was energy officer for the State University of New York at Buffalo for 26 years and holds master degrees in philosophy and environmental studies. With this education, experience, and background, he was able to approach this subject from an entirely different perspective from other railroad authors. Mr. Simpson has also published Diesel-Electric Locomotives with Simmons-Boardman and Turbine Power with the publisher Kalmbach. The latter has been hailed as the best treatment thus far of how railroads (including the C&O Railway and N&W Railway) tried to use steam-turbine locomotives as an alternative to advancing diesel technology. Mr. Simpson’s previous titles are available on ChessieShop.com.

Mr. Simpson’s latest work, The Steam Locomotive Energy Story, was published by the C&O Historical Society and is shipping five days a week from Clifton Forge, Virginia. It can also be ordered online through ChessieShop.com or purchased in person at the C&O Railway Heritage Center gift shop at 705 Main St., Clifton Forge, VA 24422.


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