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Making Plymouth engine famous

• Oct 29, 2017 at 12:00 PM

A Plymouth engine as famous as Thomas?

A small heritage Pennsylvania railroad is aiming to make its locally famous Plymouth locomotive reach national fame. For the second year in a row, the Plymouth, Ohio-built “Mighty Mo” graces the cover of the official photo calendar of the Stewartstown Railroad of York County.

Sadly, the former Plymouth locomotive factory, which also once built Silver King farm tractors, is collapsing. Roofs are falling inside of some of the buildings, a huge crane sets on the ground and windows are broken out of vacant plant buildings. Even the former railroad connection into the plant has been scrapped. For years, it employed well over 100 full-time employees. It stayed in business in good times and bad, even during the Great Depression and during World War II.


Plymouths are still working

The 2018 Stewartstown calendar shows that its 1943 35-ton Plymouth, the smallest and oldest of its three locomotives, is still the backbone of the railroad. Its photo may be found five times in the calendar.

“He’s our hero and has more than pulled his weight on the railroad,” said Bill Histed, a Crestline native who is a director and major stockholder of the railroad. “The Plymouth is our real-life version of the little engine that could, and did.”

Railroad president Dave Williamson, who receives no pay to head the railroad, recently told the board of directors that “Mighty Mo” needs a new set of wheels as the current set has worn down over the years.

People come to the mostly tourist railroad to ride, asking if “Mighty Mo” is pulling trains that day. Sometimes the railroad takes the Plymouth out of its century-old wooden roundhouse. They’ll just show it off to people wanting to get their picture taken with the Plymouth. The company recently painted and shined the Plymouth name on the front of the engine and even lowered the headlight in order to see the sign better.

Some people have mistaken the Plymouth name for the cars once made by the Chrysler Corporation. The former Crestliner has had to clarify the name for people.

“There is no connection,” he tells them. “Plymouth is a real village in Ohio and the company was never owned by Chrysler. My high school in Crestline played the Plymouth teams.”


American version of Thomas and Friends?

“Mighty Mo” is the most famous Plymouth-built locomotive. You may find it in over a dozen videos on the Internet, it has been featured on TV, in Trains Magazine and in newspapers in more than one state. The high-pitched whistle that vibrates through Stewartstown when Mighty Mo moves is an old steam locomotive whistle that someone jerry-rigged decades ago.

The railroad believes it is on to something as it tries to make its famous Plymouth as well known as “Thomas the Tank Engine”, which is based in English literature and was never a real locomotive, but a fictionalized character.

“Mighty Mo is very real, U.S. built and it is still working, the little engine that could and did,” stated Histed. “People come on the railroad and can’t believe that our backbone is still a 75-year-old locomotive built in Plymouth, Ohio.

“We hear all of the time about buying American, and we have a president in the White House who preaches loyalty. That sounds to me that we need to move Thomas The Tank Engine over just a bit to make room for Plymouth’s Mighty Mo.”

By best accounts, the Plymouth factory made some 7,500 small locomotives in its nearly century lifespan before the company closed about two decades ago.

Histed remembers the plant when it was running well, with various colors of paint jobs and sizes of locomotives in the Plymouth yard. Plymouth would build about any gauge (track width) asked, and some were bought by mining companies.


Unceremoniously closed

The Stewartstown Railroad is looking for volunteer artists who would create images of “Mighty Mo” for coloring books and cartoon videos to try to get the engine into the national spotlight.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Histed said, “that the most famous locomotive in the U.S. is a fictionalized cartoon character in England. While Thomas The Tank Engine has done a lot to get millions interested in trains, our Mighty Mo still goes to work after 75 years, is a real engine and it is American made.”

Even though the Plymouth factory is dead and won’t be returning to make locomotives, its workmanship is still seen every day around the country on mostly small railroads as The Stewartstown.

“I won’t rest until we see our Plymouth Mighty Mo right up there with Thomas The Tank Engine,” Histed said. “We need some tribute to remember the former Plymouth factory. It never got its due credit and was closed without any real national attention for being a world locomotive maker.”

Ohio was once a big builder of railroad engines. One of the nation’s biggest manufacturers was the Lima Locomotive Works, which also is no more. Ohio was also once a leader in railroad work cranes.


2018 calendars available

The Stewartstown Railroad is selling its 2018 color photo calendars as a fundraiser. Cost is $17.95 which includes first class postage paid. To order a copy, send a check or money order to: Stewartstown Railroad, Stewartstown, Penn. The railroad operates with no federal or state funding of any type and exists by giving weekend rides and selling calendars.

The railroad is also seeking written testimonials from anyone who was involved in any way with the former Plymouth Locomotive Works as an employee, neighbor or vendor. Many people who once worked there are getting up in years. The railroad feels a close connection with Plymouth — both Stewartstown and Plymouth have roughly the same population. rite out your remembrances of Plymouth Locomotive and sign and date it and mail to the Stewartstown Railroad at the above address. 

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