Hundreds of people gathered in Illmo (now Scott City) the evening of Wednesday, June 7, 1922, to see the “Prosperity Special” — 20 locomotives built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia and pulled from the factory by two large Cotton Belt engines, bound for Texas.

At a total weight of 4,380 tons, the 20 Baldwin locomotives traveled only by day. They crossed the Thebes, Illinois, railroad bridge and entered Illmo at 6:30 p.m. The train remained on a siding overnight at the Illmo railroad yards, resuming the journey south the next morning.

The long stay at Illmo allowed hundreds of people to view the monster locomotives. Photographs and motion pictures were taken, but, curiously, none of them showing the train traversing the Thebes bridge or at rest in Illmo have turned up in the pages of the Southeast Missourian, from 1922 to the present.

Here’s the Missourian’s coverage of this once-in-a-lifetime event.

The “Prosperity Special” is seen stopped at an unidentified location. (Wikipedia)

Published June 7, 1922, in the Southeast Missourian:



Hundreds of people from Scott, Cape Girardeau and adjoining counties are expected to be here late today to view the “Prosperity Special,” which is expected to be here at 7:30 p.m. Arrangements are being made by railroad officials to enable the crowd that will be here to conveniently see the engines that make up the special.

The train locomotives will remain on the siding in the railroad yards here from the time of arrival until 6 a.m. Thursday when the journey southward to Texas is resumed. The locomotives will be in charge of competent engineers, but will be open for inspection soon after getting here, and invitations have been extended to people to visit the train.

The train is composed of 20 locomotives built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, for the Southern Pacific Lines, and is but a part of an order for 50. They are to be used on heavy freight service on different grades in the West.

Travel by daylight

The train left Philadelphia on May 26. All movement is by daylight owning to danger from extra weight of the train. Light bridges are not used, and only perfect roadbed was considered in laying out the route. They are being routed by the Cotton Belt from East St. Louis (Illinois) to Corsicana, Texas, a distance of 700 miles.

The locomotives are equipped for burning oil, but are not moving on their own power. Two engines, one in front and one back of the tenth, are moving the train.

Length of the train exceeds one-half mile. Total weight of the train is 4,380 tons.

After leaving Illmo Thursday the train will pass through Delta, Dexter, Malden, Campbell, Missouri, and Piggott, Paragould, Arkansas. Next stop will be at Jonesboro, Arkansas, Thursday night.

Published June 8, 1922, in the Southeast Missourian:



The most remarkable train that ever traveled the country left Illmo early this morning on another lap of its journey to the Southwest, after the 20 monster 2-10-2 type locomotives that form the record procession had been viewed by hundreds of persons during the night stop at the Scott County terminal. The train arrived at Illmo at about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, considerably ahead of schedule and was greeted by a throng of interested people, including many from Cape Girardeau and other nearby towns.

The 20 locomotives, built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia, for the Southern Pacific Railroad, for use in the West and drawn by two of the larger Cotton Belt engines, pulled majestically into Illmo, forming an unusual sight. The huge oil burners, with numerous modern features that at once stamp them as unusual, look as powerful as they are reputed to be.

A Cotton Belt engine, in charge of Engineer (George) Moore, led the procession. Then came 10 of the enormous moguls, and another engine that was helping move the caravan. There followed 10 more of the 2-10-2/s and a special car of Superintendent (W.E.) McGraw brought up the rear.

As the train came to a stop at Illmo, the special car was at once detached and pictures were taken by photographers who were waiting for the arrival. Pictures, including “movies,” have been taken all along the line from Philadelphia and it is likely that local theaters later will present news films of the unusual train.

Half mile long

The train, the largest of the kind that ever went across the country, is nearly half a mile in length, and, as it came to a stop and the crowd gazed down the line of locomotives, each a duplication of the one preceding it, it seemed to be longer. The locomotives, although not under their own power, each had its own engineer who came from the Baldwin plant and will accompany the train to the destination. The engineers remain in the cabs continually even to eating their lunches there.

Each of the locomotives with tender is about 100 feet in length and weighs 621,000 pounds.

Great care was taken in selecting the route for the wonder train. Bridges of the country never before were subjected to such a weight and only the heaviest of track and the best of roadbed could serve in this case. The Thebes bridge, naturally, was picked as the point for crossing the Mississippi River and the Cotton Belt’s line from Illmo to the Southwest was considered equal to the emergency for the remainder of the trip.

At the time it was tried out the Thebes bridge was subjected to the weight of 21 locomotives, but that was in 1905 and engines of that day did not compare in weight to the moguls that make up the procession that passed through this section last night.

The train left Philadelphia on May 26 and is traveling only in daylight owing to the danger from the unusual weight.

B. Hill,agent for the Cotton Belt Railroad at Illmo, was the host to a large number of visitors last night and was particularly courteous and accommodating. Every possible favor was granted people who went to see the train.

As the train came to a stop at the Illmo Cotton Belt station, it was a proud collection of Cotton Belt officials that alighted. Superintendent W.E. McGraw, plainly pleased with the successful conduct of the train over his line from St. Louis and particularly the performance of the pair of his locomotives which so nicely maneuvered the 6,000-ton load was enthusiastic. “It took three engines at the terminal in St. Louis to budge this load, and two of our engines hiked the train down here more than an hour ahead of schedule,” he enthused.

Assistant Superintendent D.W. Bowker, Road Foreman J.E. Nichols, Superintendent of Motive Power W.J. Miller and other officials were in the party.

Superintendent McGraw was to continue with the train to Texarkana where it will be turned over to Superintendent K.M Post, who will be in command from there to Corsicana.

Crew of the train, as it arrived at Illmo Wednesday, was as follows:
Conductors: J.O. Nading and Louis Dean.
Engineers: George Moore, in front; John W. McGlasson, second engine.
Fireman: E.J. Ross and L.W. Berry.
Brakemen: Charles Jenkins, J.T. Albert, Russell Allen and Beril Pierce.

Engineer crews slated to the train today were:
Engineers: R.G. Craig and T.E. Stack.
Firemen: J.H. Henderson and C.E. Murphy.

Travel by day

By reason of the care which had t be exercised in the handling of such a heavy train, its movement had to be made in daytime only. It left the Baldwin Plant at Eddystone, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia, at noon on Friday, May 26, in the presence of a large gathering of distinguished people from all parts of Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and other nearby States. On each locomotive is an experienced engineer of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, who is in personal charge f this locomotive until the final terminal is reached.

These locomotives are to be used in heavy freight service on heavy grades in the far West. They are carried on five pairs of driving wheels, with a two-wheeled truck at the front and rear. The large amount of weight on the driving wheels gives great hauling capacity, while the trucks support the ends of the locomotive and guide it into curves and switches.

Like all Southern Pacific locomotives, these are equipped with burning oil fuel. The oil is sprayed into the furnace by a jet of steam, and the fire is controlled by means of valves placed within easy reach of the fireman.

Various modern devices are applied to increase the efficiency and capacity of the locomotives. Before entering the boiler, the feed-water is heated; and the steam is also heated to a high temperature before it enters the cylinder. An auxiliary engine, known as a “booster,” is attached to the rear truck, for increasing the hauling power when starting heavy trains and climbing steep grades. The locomotive is reversed by a power-operated device which relieves the engineer of considerable manual labor.

The tender has a large cylindrical water tank, which carries the oil fuel. The total length of each locomotive and tender is 100 feet and the total weight loaded and ready for service is 621,000 pounds.

The Illmo railroad depot was photographed in January 1980, shortly before its demolition. (Southeast Missourian archive)

Published June 9, 1922, in the Southeast Missourian:


We saw and heard some very interesting things while standing at the Cotton Belt depot in Illmo Wednesday evening waiting for the “Prosperity Special” train of mogul engines. Ben Hill, Cotton Belt agent at Illmo, and W.L. Holden, signal man for the Thebes Terminal Company, were speaking of early days in that vicinity.

Thebes bridge was formally opened to traffic in May 1905. At that time Hill was a clerk in the Thebes yards and Holden had the important job he has now. When the bridge was ready for traffic, 27 of the Cotton Belt’s heaviest engines were hooked together and started across. There was no doubt in the minds of the bridge engineers that the bridge would stand the weight, but they wanted to measure the deflection and the instruments registered about a half inch as the heavy train stopped on each span. The test came up to every expectation,and the Thebes bridge had taken its place as the greatest railroad bridge crossing (on) the Mississippi River and as one of the greatest bridges of the world.

* * *

The “Prosperity Special” crept across Thebes bridge like a snail, not only because of any fear for the bridge, but no chances were taken on a locomotive getting off track. The regular schedule of the train is 12 miles an hour which, as auto drivers know, is a snail’s pace.

As the train neared the Missouri side a movie operator was there to take it and the picture will show the old reliable steamer Bald Eagle sounding a welcome to the iron horse that has about chased the steamboat off the map.

It just happened that the Eagle was on its way up the river from Commerce (Missouri) to Cape Girardeau and was near the bridge when the train hove in sight. Capt (William) “Buck” Leyhe ordered slow speed and as the special moved over the bridge, the Eagle moved under it.

* * *

It is interesting to look back over the past. We hunted up an article on the formal dedication of Thebes bridge, which was published in this newspaper on Friday, May 26, 1905. It read:

“The new Thebes bridge was dedicated yesterday afternoon, when Gov. Joseph W. Folk and hundreds of prominent railroad men from all parts of the country were present. Thebes was gaily decorated and a band played lively airs. Hundreds of visitors crowded the streets and heard the addresses of the prominent visitors. Gov. (Charles S.) Deneen of Illinois was expected to be there, but the strike situation in Chicago prevented. Alexander Cochran f the Cotton Belt, the manager of the bridge, made the opening speech. He was followed by Samuel Fordyce, a railroad man of Chicago. Gov. Folk then struck a happy vein of thought and delivered a splendid address. Several other speakers followed.”

The program provided that the governor of Missouri should say to the governor of Illinois, not what the Governor of North Carolina is alleged to have once upon a time said to the governor of South Carolina, but that he was pleased to have Illinois connected with imperial Missouri, but he had to say it to Illinoisans in general.

* * *

As we waited for the “Prosperity Special,” a Missouri Pacific freight train pulled in from the south. It halted long enough for a pusher engine to take hold and then left for the bridge on its way to the yards in Gale, Illinois. The train had about 100 loaded cars weighing about 4,000 tons, which were pulled by the one giant locomotive, but there is a steep grade from Illmo to the bridge which requires additional power. No sooner had this train left than another one just as long pulled in. Then in less than 15 minutes another one came along making at least 300 carloads.

* * *

Seventeen years ago, when the Thebes bridge opened, the average locomotive did well to pull 30 loads. During the busy season of the year about 60 trains a day crossed the bridge.

At present the average is not less than 50 trains a day and during the war the average was 100 trains a day. Business is picking up now, Agent Hill said, and before long the average will go up to at least 75 trains a day.

Texas tomatoes are beginning to come north, Agent Hill said. There were four carloads in the yards then and full trains of tomatoes will begin moving within the next week. There is a great crop in Texas, it is said. In about two weeks trainloads of Texas watermelons will be rushing to market and then grain will commence to move. Busy times are ahead for the railroads.

* * *

“It’s too bad that the Thebes bridge was not located at Cape Girardeau,” Mr. Holden remarked.

“Yes, it is,” said The Missourian man, “but within another 17 years it will be hard to tell whether Illmo is Cape Girardeau or Cape Girardeau is Illmo.”

“That’s right,” said Agent Hill.

* * *

The Rotary Club or the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Girardeau should make an effort to get W.E. McGraw, the division superintendent of the Cotton Belt, with headquarters in Illmo, to come up here for a visit. He is the type of railroad man that we hear the old-timers talk about. Not that he is an old-timer himself but doubtless he was trained in the old school where actual railroading was practiced without much attention to theory or “highbrow stuff.”

He knows his men by their first names or preferably by their nick names and he talks to them accordingly. He’s a typical Irishman with all the characteristics to make him popular with his men, with his constituents and with the public generally. At least that’s the way he impressed us.

He reminds us of W.S. McCarthy, who was superintendent of the Frisco headquarters at Chaffee (Missouri). “Mac” was one of those old-time railroaders who believed that the public should be reckoned with. He made friends by the hundreds for the Frisco and knew more people along his lines than most of the men who had been with the railroad for many years. “Mac” didn’t last long. It was reported that he knew too much.

Now he has one of the most responsible railroad jobs in the country and is still making friends.

* * *

Supt. McGraw told The Missourian that he is not related to “Muggsy” McGraw of the New York Giants. “And I don’t want to claim relationship ‘Muggsy’ will fight,” he said.

A switchman who was standing nearby when this conversation was going on remarked that if he was spoiling for a fight and wanted to get a sure cure he would hunt up the genial superintendent.

>>> ad: See the Best Amazon Deals of TODAY! <<<<
Originally Appeared Here