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North Pacific Coast #21, The Thomas-Stetson.

James B Stetson, William Thomas. Patent Holders

This was the most innovative engine ever built by William (Bill) Thomas, the NPC master mechanic who was nationally known and holder of a number of patents. This engine was constructed with parts from No 5, the Bodega. The Bodega was a Baldwin 4-4-0 purchased by the NPC in 1875. It was wrecked and scrapped around 1897.

Thomas used the running gear and frame from No 5 to build No 21. But he added a new boiler and cab, installed in reverse order creating a locomotive that was unique and first of its kind in a number of important areas. According to Harlan, Thomas received a patent on this locomotive design. What is not clear is which of its many unique features were the subject of the patent application. The Southern Pacific claimed that their adaptation of the cab forward design was not a patent infringement as all they did was take an existing locomotive and turned it around. Neverless, this locomotive had a number of features that set it apart from any locomotive built before 1900.

  • It was the first cab forward locomotive and as such lays claim to being the grandfather of the Southern Pacific's cab forward articulated locomotives.
  • It used an oil burner for firing the boiler. Some claim it was the first oil fired locomotive although others claim other railroads experimented with oil firing prior to 1901. It was certainly the first locomotive designed from the ground up to be fired with oil.
  • The boiler was a marine boiler, the first to be installed on a locomotive. Jim McAdam, the line's master boilermaker constructed a marine water tube boiler, slanted toward the rear of the engine for good circulation. Water was heated through sixty three inch tubes through a corrugated furnace inside the boiler shell.
  • A steam tube mounted to the top of the engine replaced the steam dome on conventional engines. The sand box was mounted beneath the boiler.
  • The tender was a flat car with vertical tanks for oil and water.

    No wonder No 21 was referred to as "The Freak" as it moved up and down the line. One author says, "When the oil jets were opened, the fire boomed and roared like a blast furnace. Flames flared from open seams in the fire box. When No 21 passed at night, its fire lighted the countryside. Windows in houses a half a mile distant shook and rattled when the locomotive rolled by."

    Online Resources


    Patent No. 682,765 - Steam Boiler, James B. Stetson of San Francisco and William J. Thomas of Sausalito.
    Patent No. 35,806 - Design For A Locomotive Body, James B. Stetson of San Francisco and William J. Thomas of Sausalito.

    Other Drawings

    NPC 21 Backhead Drawing - By Tom Farin, Keith Christenson and David Fletcher.


    Photographs of "The Freak" in the Image Library.

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