One Hump or Two – Camels and Camelbacks !


Absolutely nothing to do with either Lawrence of Arabia, or the ship of the desert!! The nickname “Camelback” was attributed to a distinctly North American steam locomotive, and to all intents and purposes the design was unique to the eastern railroads of the USA, although examples could be found further afield. The most obvious distinguishing feature was the location of the driving cab, which was mounted on top of the boiler. The poor old fireman’s position was in a more or less conventional position behind the firebox and of course, much lower down – the arrangement must have made communication between the crew something of a challenge!


This superb “Atlantic Type” 3-cylinder simple locomotive was built by, and for, the Philadelphia & Reading company, for passenger service. (Photo: Locomotive Dictionary 1916)



A sectional view of the Reading’s 4-4-2 ‘Camelback’, originally shown in the 1916 “Locomotive Dictionary”

There were two different types of locomotive with a centre cab, on top of the boiler, and the most common of these were known as Camelbacks, and fitted with the Wooten type of firebox. An earlier design of centre cab engine, nicknamed Camels were designed and built by Ross Winans in the 1840s. In fact, Winans first Camel locomotive appeared in 1847, and was supplied to the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. Similar Camels were supplied to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

NYO&W camelback

A New York, Ontario & Western (NYO&W) 2-6-0 No.273, built by Cooke between 1908 and 1909  (Photo: “The Usenet ABPR Picture Archives”)


Ross Winans himself started life as a farmer, but became involved in mechanical engineering as early as 1829 when working for the Baltimore & Ohio. By 1840, Winans had set up his own workshops next to the B&O at Mt. Clare, and proceeded to design and build no fewer than 300 of this Camel design for the eastern railroads over a number of years. Originally, the locomotives were fitted with a narrow firebox, and burned the hard, anthracite coal mined in the eastern states. Along with the centre cab on top of the boiler, and the burning of anthracite, these were the only features that the two types had in common. Unlike the later Camelbacks, the driver and fireman of the Winans Camels both worked from the cab, on top of the boiler. The stoking of the fire involved the use of two chutes in the top of the firebox, from where coal was distributed to all corners of the grate below.

Ross Winans ‘Camels’ were evidently successful, so much so, that the four 0-8-0s for the Philadelphia & Reading accrued a bonus to the builder of no less than $500 per engine. Another 43 of this design were built for the Philadelphia & Reading between 1850 and 1855, with various modifications, including the fitting of additional water spaces, and water tubes. The firebox modifications were the work of one James Millholland, who later went on to greater achievements in American locomotive engineering.   Subsequent developments of the firebox by Millholland and Winans laid the foundations for more dramatic developments, especially in the construction of future slope back, wide fireboxes. Millholland in particular was a key player in the development of locomotive fireboxes in America during the 1850s, with much of this work centred on designs for the Philadelphia & Reading, and Baltimore & Ohio railroads. Some of the work can be traced back to the earliest ‘haystack’ fireboxes, such as the type used on Edward Bury’s locomotives in Britain, including the old Furness Railway No.3 (‘Coppernob’). Subtle changes in design, with a width still within the limits of the boiler width appeared, until around 1856/57, the slope back design was produced.   The grate area of 28.5 sq ft was provided, with a firebox having a width of no more than 42 inches.

Although the designs of Winans and Millholland were very popular, particularly with the pioneering Philadelphia & Reading RR, Winans’ designs did not succeed in attracting many more orders and by 1870 was generally no longer popular. In fact, Ross Winans has been reported as ‘refusing’ to accept and adopt the developments in locomotive engineering in the 1840s and 1850s, so much so that this independent builder’s shops were closed in 1860. The refusal by the Baltimore & Ohio RR to accept more Camel engines could have been a further critical factor in the decline of Winans business.

Millholland, as the Reading Co.’s Locomotive Superintendent had continued to develop his ideas of firebox improvements, designing and building engines with slope back fireboxes for the railroad. Perhaps the most interesting and far-reaching event was the appointment of John E. Wootten after 1845 as Millholland’s assistant. John Wootten had served his apprenticeship under Baldwin, came to the railroad with eight years experience under his belt working with Millholland until the latter retired in 1866. Wootten, although a prolific inventor will be remembered for his patented wide firebox design of 1877, intended for burning the anthracite coals mined and used in the eastern states of the USA. One estimate of Wootten’s influence on North American steam locomotive design attributed 3 to 4,000 locomotives built with this type of firebox by 1925.

The Camelback Locomotive

The genuine camelback engine was a very popular locomotive design with many railroads. In principle, the design is best described as a locomotive with a Wootten type boiler and wide firebox, fired from the rear of the engine, with a driving cab set astride the boiler. Ross Winans and James Millholland had little or nothing to do with the design and construction of camelbacks, although it could be argued that they certainly had an impact on the ideas of John Wootten. These centre cab locomotives were also known in some quarters as ‘Mother Hubbards’ – the most obvious explanation for this is clearly the lack of space in the driving cab! Given that the cab was set astride the boiler’s centre section, with small compartments on either side, it was said to be like working in a cupboard!! The earliest examples were put to work on the Philadelphia & Reading and Baltimore & Ohio railroads.



Like the earlier Camels, the wide firebox Camelbacks were intended to burn the discarded “culm” (a very fine anthracite, almost slack) from anthracite mining areas, which was being discarded in huge mounds. Any locomotive that could burn such a fuel would obviously save operating costs, by using this discarded product of mining operations. The opportunities in the eastern states were quite significant, especially in the anthracite regions, but the burning of softer coals, including lignite was clearly seen as a benefit for many railroads. The wide firebox of Wooten’s design ensured that sufficient airflow would be achieved through the specially designed grate, to guarantee combustion – without losing any of the fuel between traditional firebars and into the ashpan. The mixing of “culm” with soft coals in later years was found to work better, extending the market for this type of locomotive and its fuels. A wider adoption of mechanical firing on both locomotives and in factories further increased the market for “culm” as a fuel, at the same time increasing the price! Although, after about 1915, the widespread use of softer coals led to a decline in the use of “culm”, by 1930, the success of the soft brown coals and lignite meant that “culm” had once again become a waste product.

Thousands of Wootten boilered camelbacks were built and operated by over 30 US railroads, with at least one design operated by a Mexican railroad and two types operated by Canadian Pacific. Whilst the vast majority of Camelbacks were fitted with Wootten boilers, subsequent repairs and modifications to engines in service gave rise to instances of claims for patent infringement, a number of which were lodged against the Central of New Jersey. Not all of these were successful and a clear description of the Wootten boiler is contained in the US patents, No. 192,725 (1877), 254,581 (1882) and the last changes under patent No. 354,370 (1886).


Philadelphia & Reading RR Three-quarter view of left side of engine, from front end. Photographed: Philadelphia, Pa., October 31, 1927.  (Photo: Otto C. Perry /Denver Public Library Source:

The era of the camelback lasted from 1877 until after the Second World War, although to be fair, by that time, there were only a small number of types in service. It would be fair to say that these locomotives were at their most popular with the eastern railroads, including the Philadelphia & Reading, Central of New Jersey, Lackawanna, Erie (and its constituents), Lehigh Valley (and its constituents), together with the Pennsylvania. There were of course numerous other railroads who owned and operated Camelbacks, some of which are listed in the accompanying table.

Examples of railroads operating camelbacks:

Lackawanna Baltimore & Ohio
Erie Staten Island Rapid Transit
Lehigh Valley Santa Fe
Central RR of New Jersey Delaware, Susquehanna & Schuylkill
Reading, Lehigh & New England Erie & Wyoming Valley
Lehigh & Hudson River Lehigh Coal & Navigation Co.
New York, Ontario & Western Choctaw, Oklahoma & Gulf
New York, Susquehanna & Western Conquista Coal Railway (Mexico)
Pennsylvania Virginia Anthracite Coal & Ry. Co.
Long Island Maine Central
Canadian Pacific Nashville, Chattanooga & St Louis
Southern Pacific Atlantic City (Subsidiary of the Reading RR)
Lackawanna Iron & Steel Co. Susquehanna Connecting
Chicago & Eastern Illinois Ironton *
Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Scranton, Dunmore & Moosic Lake *
Rockaway Valley Williamsport & North Branch *
Northampton & Bath Crane Georgia Northern *
Union Pacific Missouri, Kansas Texas *
Delaware & Hudson Portland Terminal *

* These railroads purchased camelbacks as secondhand motive power.

There were no orders for the likes of Baldwin or Alco, for Camelbacks or Wooten boilered engines outside the USA – except for the Mexican and CPR examples. However, so confident were the builders of the usefulness and success of these wide firebox designs, that in the 1890s, Baldwin issued something of a challenge to the Japan Railway Company. In 1895, Baldwin asked the Japan Railway Co. to provide a sample of coal that the railway company considered unfit for use in narrow firebox locomotives, the builder would then construct a locomotive with which they would guarantee to burn this fuel! Still the orders did not materialise – either for wide firebox engines, or these unique Camelback designs.

In the USA, the Camelback could be found in a variety of wheel arrangements and on both freight and passenger duties.

Typical Wheel Arrangements

Wheel Arrgt. Railroad
0-4-0 Reading
0-6-0 DL&W, CNJ, L&NE, NYO&W, Crane, North & Bath, D&H, Rdg, Me.C
0-8-0 DL&W, CNJ, Rdg,, Lackawanna I&S Co.
2-6-0 DL&W, CNJ, L&NE, NYO&W, NYS&W, E&WV
2-8-0 DL&W, CNJ, Rdg., LV, L&NE, L&HR, Rockaway Valley, C&EI, SP, CRI&P, B&O, Erie, D&H, LI, NYS&W, E&WV, NC&SL
2-4-2 Rdg.
2-6-2 Va. Anth., C&Ry
2-8-2 LV
4-4-0 D&LW, Erie, LV, CNJ, L&HR, NYS&W, E&WV, DS&S
4-6-0 DL&W, Rdg., LV, D&H, Erie, CPR, NYO&W
4-8-0 DL&W, CNJ, LV, C&EI
4-2-2 Rdg.
4-4-2 CNJ, Rdg., Pa., LI, ACR, SF, Erie
4-6-2 LV
0-8-8-0 Erie

From the foregoing table, it is clear to see that the 2-8-0 was the most popular arrangement for Camelbacks, followed by the 0-6-0, 4-4-0, 4-6-0 and amongst the most common in passenger services, the 4-4-2 Atlantic. Obvious too from the table, is the popularity of the Camelback on the Reading, Central of New Jersey, and Delaware, Lackawanna & Western railroads. Outside of the anthracite coal areas, lignite and soft coals were used in Camelbacks operated by the Rock Island, Santa Fe, Southern Pacific and of course the Canadian Pacific engines.

Naturally the majority of these locomotives were built as Camelbacks from new, but the railroads, especially perhaps the DL&W, actually converted narrow firebox designs to wide firebox Camelbacks. The DL&W had several hundred built to this design, but converted more than 100 locomotives during the 1880s and 1890s. Many other railroads carried out conversions too, replacing the traditional single cab engines with double cabs. In the opposite direction, the Canadian Pacific’s “experiment” with Camelbacks was not that successful and the D11 Class 4-6-0 built new in 1905, after an earlier trial with 2-8-0s of 1899 vintage, were converted to a conventional design in 1907. Of the eastern railroads in the USA, it is likely that only the Delaware & Hudson and Delaware, Lackawanna & Western were the only lines that carried out a conversion of a Camelback design to a conventional layout.

The variety in detailed design shown by these locomotives includes a mix of simple expansion and compound types. One of the last examples built in 1896 for the Atlantic City Railroad was used for competing on high-speed runs from Philadelphia to the New Jersey coast, including the run from Camden to Atlantic City. This must have been one of the few, if not unique camelback designs, with a 4-4-2 wheel arrangement, and operated as a Vauclain compound!   The pioneers of the type, the Reading and B&O (at least for the Winans Camels) were also amongst the last operators too. The last railroad to order a Camelback from new was the Lackawanna & New England, who took delivery of a 4-6-0 in 1927, whilst the last operator was, perhaps not surprisingly, the Central of New Jersey, where a 1918 vintage design was finally taken out of service in 1954. Considering the rapidity of dieselisation in the USA in the 1940s and 1950s, that in itself is a pretty remarkable achievement. The CNJ’s 4-6-0s of the ì780î series were originally intended for fast freight services, but by the w930s, they were employed on passenger turns.

A unique example of industrial use of a Camelback, was that of the 3ft 0ins gauge line operated by the Lackawanna Iron & Steel Co., who purchased an 0-8-0 for use on its works at Buffalo, New York. Generally though, Camelbacks were standard gauge steam types and, perhaps as a result of their unique design, merit inclusion amongst the list of classic steam locomotive designs.

One of the most obvious drawbacks of the design in service, was the lack of communication between driver and fireman. Separated by at least the length of the firebox, the two cabs were connected by a walkway and handrail alongside the boiler and firebox. Although no accident was ever recorded as resulting from the separation of driver (engineer) and fireman, the Interstate Commerce Commission banned their use in the later 1930s for workings of more than 40 miles for safety reasons.

Today, three examples of the type remain as preserved exhibits, representing three of the main operators: a Delaware, Lackawanna & Western 4-4-0, a reading 0-4-0 and a Central of New Jersey 4-4-2.

Typical Locomotive Dimensions

The following types are typical examples of the size and power of engines used by the eastern railroads.

  Philadelphia & Reading Central of New Jersey Delaware, Lackawanna & Western
Running No. 344 789 942
Wheel arrgt. 4-4-2 4-6-0 4-4-0
Cylinders 19″ x 24″ 23″ x 28″ 20″ x 26″
Working pressure 230 lbs 220 lbs 185 lbs
Driving wheel dia. 6ft 8ins 5ft 9ins 5ft 9ins
Tractive effort 31,759 lbs 40,260 lbs 23,700 lbs
Heating surface 2,470 sq ft 2,306 sq ft 2,138.7 sq ft
Superheater 548 sq ft 477 sq ft n/a
Grate Area 94.5 sq ft 91.4 sq ft 87.5 sq ft
Wheelbase (total) 29ft 3ins 25ft 2.5ins 24ft 5ins
Weight on driving wheels 124,875 lbs 170,800 lbs 104,500 lbs
Weight (engine only) 234,025 lbs 225,600 lbs 156,000 lbs

Further Information:

I am indebted to the assistance of Thomas Taber and the Railroad Research Center of Muncy, Pennsylvania. For those of you looking for further information, both the Railroad Research Center (, the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, in Strasburg, Pennsylvania ( and Denver Public Library Digital Collections ( )are excellent sources.