Forensic Railroad History: Detecting Hidden Orders for Locomotives

Locomotive Historian Gilbert H. Hoffman ordered the digitization of 19 Baldwin Locomotive Works’ Extra Order Books, 1890-1909, held by SMU’s DeGolyer Library. The handwritten ledgers, which contain orders for locomotive parts from the owners of the locomotive, can be used to document ownership and/or configuration changes in the engine. A self-described “genealogist for locomotives,” Hoffman has been digitizing locomotive histories for the U.S. builders, particularly Baldwin, and has accumulated around 15,000 histories.

Page 133 from the Baldwin Extra Order Notebook (Box 24, Folder 1) in 1905 that shows new information about the ownership of a locomotive built for Central Resulta, a Cuban sugar plantation, along with its locomotive history, carefully crafted by Locomotive Historian Gilbert Hoffman.

Page 133 from the Baldwin Extra Order Notebook (Box 24, Folder 1) in 1905 that shows previously unknown information about the ownership of a locomotive built for Central Resulta, a Cuban sugar plantation, along with its locomotive history, carefully crafted by Locomotive Historian Gilbert Hoffman.

Hidden within the books is a wealth of information, provided someone is patient and knowledgeable enough to detect it. “To understand the significance of the material in these Extra Order (XO) books requires an extensive knowledge of Baldwin locomotive nomenclatures and the railroads of different countries, which I have acquired over some 30 years,” he says. “As you might guess, this kind of work is very tedious and takes someone with a large sense of delayed gratification.”

“I work in conjunction with like-minded locomotive historians around the country,” he says. “I am told by my compatriot in California that I am the first person to make extensive use of the Baldwin Extra Orders in discovering owners heretofore unknown, i.e., unknown to anyone else and not in the Baldwin Register.”

According to Hoffman, there are some notable orders in the DeGolyer Library’s Baldwin Extra Order Books, “in the sense that they reveal new owners not in the other Baldwin records, or they reveal configuration changes, such as adding a front truck or rear truck to the engine. Thus an 0-4-0 might become a 2-4-2. There are other orders for complete new boilers and these are significant. Some of these are indicated cryptically in the Spec Books while many others, listed in the Extra Orders, are not in the Spec Books.”

“An example of a significant find is XO-2643, dated 5/22/05,” he says. “Baldwin 13839 (engine 10-24 E 147) was built as Central Vitoria #4, for the Central Vitoria Cuban sugar plantation and, as Extra Order 2643 shows, was sold to Central Resulta, a different Cuban sugar plantation. The Central Resulta ownership is completely new information, not shown in any other Baldwin records.”

“There are others of this type … everything is in my all-encompassing lists compiled from both sets of XO books,” he continues. “As to the use of my material, I share it with whomever requests it free of charge.”

About Cynthia Boeke

AA-CUL(CMIT)
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