The Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum (BSRM) is proud to announce the acquisition of First Light 1849 (nee Boston & Maine 1113), a 1941 Electro-Motive Division (EMD) SW-1, from the Mt. Tom Energy Plant located in Holyoke, Massachusetts. As one of only three remaining Boston & Maine SW-1s, it was identified by the museum’s curatorial staff as a “top priority” to further diversify the collection, particularly given its regional significance and originality. An initial attempt was made by the BSRM shortly after the plant was closed in 2014 but company officials had yet to determine whether the unit would be outright sold or transferred to another operation. With permitting secured, demolition of the site began in earnest in 2017 by Environmental Remediation Services (ERSI) of East Syracuse, New York. The small, one stall engine house which kept the locomotive out of the elements since its purchase from the Boston & Maine in July 1959 was the first to go, leaving behind a trail of mangled track and a clear indication the 1849 was next. However, Neil Black, a 40-year veteran of the plant and long-time maintainer of the unit would intervene. For him, the locomotive not only represented the pride he felt in keeping the lights on throughout the Pioneer Valley but memories of his colleagues who “had put their kids through college with the salaries they earned here.” Moved to action, Neil quietly let those who could potentially help know the 1849’s fate was hanging in the balance.
A flurry of emails, phone calls and texts ensued to stave off scrapping, at least temporarily. As access to the site was restricted, arrangements were made to inspect the unit as the overall condition was unknown, even within the preservation community. Members of the BSRM mechanical team arrived to find what Tom Delasco, chief mechanical officer, called a “time capsule.” With the exception of a few aesthetic modifications, 1849’s nearly sixty-years behind a protective fence had not only left its historic fabric intact but in excellent physical and mechanical condition. It was clear employees like Neil Black had taken as much pride in maintaining the locomotive as they did the plant. Further conversations would reveal the unit last ran on January 7, 2014 and had, just a year prior, received substantial mechanical work at Pan Am Railway’s East Deerfield maintenance facility.
Negotiations began with ERSI president Tim Niedzwiecki, who quickly understood the significance of the artifact and the mission of the BSRM. Terms were settled on and a bill-of-sale drafted by the museum’s general counsel Pamela Green in early February. As the evening of February 23, the unit is en-route via Pan Am Railways to its new home in North Adams, Massachusetts. Initial plans include a more thorough mechanical assessment and installation of new batteries, in addition to the acquisition of a proper bell, its original having been stolen after the plant closure. The phase one budget for the unit is $8,000 and will allow it to become operational.
Photo taken at 0200 hrs on February 23, 3 Alien Bees B1600 flash used with shutter open for 3 seconds to capture the clear skies.