H.K. Porter Company dates back as Smith & Porter, founded in 1866
by partners Henry Porter and John Smith which opened a machine shop
in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to repair and build a wide range of
industrial equipment. After just a year doing this type of work they
received an order in 1867 for a small, industrial-sized steam locomotive
by the New Castle Railroad & Mining Company of New Castle,
Pennsylvania. In conjunction with a small Pittsburgh-based locomotive
manufacturer, David Bell & Company, they came up with a 42-inch,
narrow-gauge 0-4-0T design. The success with this little steamer
convinced the company to focus exclusively on building locomotives. In
1871 Porter merged with David Bell to form the Porter, Bell &
Company while Smith left to form his own locomotive business, Smith
& Dawson Locomotives (that became the National Locomotive Works).
Seven years later the organization was again renamed, as the H. K.
Porter & Company and finally in 1899 as the H. K. Porter Company.
Prior to all of these company name changes and mergers, Porter
spent the rest of the 19th century refining its product and along the
way earned a reputation for building high quality, reliable, and rugged
light duty locomotives (a trait that was stressed early on by Porter
himself). Since the company marketed its designs to small railroads and
industries the 0-4-0T mentioned above or the 0-6-0T saddle tanks tended
to be its best sellers. Outwardly, Porter's locomotives became easily
distinguished from other builders for a number of cosmetic touches
applied to them including cylinders cast with the company name and the
cab number painted within a small circle (unless otherwise noted).
Another significant reason that Porters became so popular, aside from
their reliability, was in how the company marketed its product.
In many ways it was one of the first proponents of standardization offering replacement parts and stock
locomotives, which were not customized like virtually all main line
models. This philosophy was decades ahead of its time and did not
become popular within the general railroad industry until Electro-Motive
showcased its new EA and FT diesel-electric locomotives in the
mid/late-1930s. As the H.K. Porter Company became more successful it
began manufacturing larger, and even non-saddle tank designs such as
2-4-0s, 2-4-2s, 2-6-2 Prairies, and even 2-8-2 Mikados. Even these
larger wheel arrangements, however, were still primarily tailored to
non-railroads such as lumber companies, brick and cement plants, power
companies, and even various branches of the military. Still, some
common-carrier railroads did come to purchase Porter locomotives for
secondary and yard duties like the Alaska Railroad. Interestingly, even a few streetcar lines used Porters!
|A small Porter diesel sits preserved at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Arden on November 14, 2005.|
In 1890 the company began marketing a compressed-air locomotive for use
in coal mining operations. Instead of using traditional steam,
compressed air held within two tanks situated where the boiler was
usually located powered the pistons and rods. The purpose of the design
was to eliminate the burning of fuel to make steam, which was dangerous
within a mine, as it could cause explosions due to the buildup of
methane gas naturally released by coal. The locomotive proved to be
highly successful with more than 400 built (Porter would come to
construct roughly 90% of them). The year 1899 also saw Porter reach its
peak in terms of locomotives manufactured, more than 400 in a single
year. The prosperity occurring during these years led the company to
open a new plant in Pittsburgh at that time as well.
The builder also patented another new, non-combustible design
around 1911; known as the fireless locomotive it essentially used a
pressurized cylinder of steam and hot water to power the pistons and
rods. Surprisingly, it turned out to be more reliable than earlier
compressed-air design, which it ultimately replaced. While Porter
tested gasoline-powered locomotives as early as 1910 it never spent
heavily in research and development, instead relying on its popular
small, steam-powered designs. Like Whitcomb and Davenport, Porter
remained successful through World War I building small, narrow-gauge
locomotives for the French trench railways. However, the company was in
decline by the 1930s; its founder Henry Porter had died in 1921 and
diesel switchers were becoming popular by that time.
Bankruptcy was declared in
1939 and the H.K. Porter Company was sold to Thomas Mellon Evans, who
kept the name and hoped to revitalize the manufacturer. Success
returned with the start of World War II as Porter, along with its two
rivals and Vulcan Iron Works, were asked to construct a USATC (United
States Army Transportation Corps) S100 Class 0-6-0 for use in the
African campaign, and later in Europe as the war progressed with more
than 400 built in all. The company's fortunes again turned for the
worse following the war as demand for steam locomotives had virtually
ended; all switcher-type models were now being built by the four major
manufacturers of Baldwin/Lima, Electro-Motive, American Locomotive
Company, and Fairbanks-Morse.
|Another view of EB&L #3 at Lincoln on August 15, 1970.|
While Porter had been building some diesels itself it was really in no
position to compete against these other, more established companies in
the field. As such, it sold out to the Davenport Locomotive Works in
1950. For more reading about H.K. Porter Company locomotives you might want to pick up Light locomotives.
This book was released by the company in 1923 describing many of their
designs manufactured up through that time and is now being republished.
If you're interested in perhaps purchasing this book please visit the
link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.