Last revised: June 2, 2023
By: Adam Burns
During the era of United States Railroad Administration (USRA) control in World War I the Rutland received a small fleet of new, light Mikados to help handle exorbitant volumes of freight tonnage swamping the nation during the conflict.
In hindsight the USRA was an unpopular, highly questionable agency that left many railroads with rundown properties and worn out equipment.
However, it did have some very positive aspects, such as the standardization of steam designs, including the 2-8-2.
When the Rutland's examples went to work just prior to 1920 these locomotives were big power for a such small road and easily the largest it had put into service up until that time.
They performed faithfully for nearly four decades and were finally retired in the early 1950s.
The United States entered World War I in 1917 and the railroads became a vital tool in moving materiel and troops for the war effort.
Unfortunately, the industry was woefully unprepared for the onslaught of new traffic and things nearly ground to a halt as they attempted to keep up with demand.
The federal government, in perhaps shortsightedness, became panicked the railroad network would indeed enter a state of gridlock and significantly harm the war effort.
In response the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) was formed during President Woodrow Wilson's administration.
The new agency had direct control over all private railroads, which included the Rutland. In retrospect it was a boondoggle arguably made only worse and left the railroads in dire straits after the war.
While the USRA did accomplish its goal of keeping traffic moving somewhat fluidly, and fairly paid railroads during its two-year control (the Rutland was paid $1,023,883 according to Jim Shaughnessy's book, "The Rutland Road: Second Edition"), many were left with broken down equipment and ragged rights-of-way which required months, if not years, to repair.
Perhaps its only usefulness to the industry, and history in general, was the standardization practices it employed. One, in particular was development of the 2-8-2 "Light" and "Heavy" Mikado.
These powerful, reliable machines utilized a common design traits such as stokers, combustion chambers, and a "100%" boiler among other features.
Dozens of notable Class Is received one, or both types from the Baltimore & Ohio to the Louisville & Nashville.
As for the Rutland, the Vermont road received a batch of six "Light" Mikados in 1918. These 2-8-2s were products of Alco's Schenectady Works, listed as Class H-6a and numbered 32-37.
Once in service the steamers were immediately the most powerful within its fleet, weighing more than 240 tons, requiring rail of at least 92 pounds, and offering tractive efforts of nearly 55,000 pounds.
Only the later 4-8-2 Mountains received from Alco after World War II were more powerful. During March of 1920 the USRA sent the industry back into private hands.
Afterwards, the Rutland worked to overhaul and rebuild its worn out infrastructure, a common theme playing out on other lines all across the country.
The Mikados proved invaluable in helping to overcome such setbacks given the state of the property and company's financial situation (the 1915 Panama Canal Act had cost it invaluable freight traffic through the loss of the Rutland Transit Company, which had shipped significant tonnage to and from Chicago via Ogdensburg).
During the 1920s traffic gradually rebounded despite a 1921 recession.
While the Rutland was not blessed with considerable factories and manufactured goods along its system, common across New England in those days, it did ship through freight in conjunction with friendly connections over the Boston & Maine.
The road's main stable of originating traffic included prized Vermont marble, lumber, and most notably milk.
The Green Mountain State once boasted a bustling dairy industry (to some extent this remains the case today) and accompanying creameries which turned out products ranging from milk to cheese.
The Rutland was perfectly positioned to serve many of these businesses and dispatched dedicated milk manifests that were even given priority over passenger trains! By 1923 milk comprised more than $1 million annually in revenues.
The Mikados could often be found assigned to this consists or other heavy/timed freights. They were supplemented in 1925 by a batch of new, heavy 4-6-2 Pacifics used to haul both milk and passenger trains.
During the next two-and-a-half decades the Mikes performed faithfully but alas the coming of diesels and Rutland's incessant financial troubles took them into retirement.
During 1951 the company began receiving new RS1 and RS3 road-switchers from Alco, a total of fifteen units that would eventually replace the entirety of the steam fleet in an effort to save precious-needed money.
Most of the 2-8-2s were all retired that same year while #34 remained in Rutland's possession until 1952 when it, too was scrapped.