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!
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.
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