Steam Gauge Donation by Shannon Family

In the March 2004 issue of the PRPA newsletter "Whistle Up the Columbia", President Jim Vanderbeck reported an unfortunate event, the theft of the steam gauge for the SP&S 700. We are now able to report some good news; not that we've recovered it, but that a nearly identical unit has been kindly donated to the 700.

The first stroke of good fortune was when Harold Shannon was showing some of his father's collection of steam-era railroad items to Al Pohlpeter, a volunteer on the SP 4449 and aware of our loss. Double faced steam gauges like the one on the 700 are not common and Al immediately recognized what he was seeing, thus beginning a very fortuitous connection. We thank both Al and Harold for looking out for the 700.

We are reprinting below the letter of donation from Harold Shannon, plus a document that chronicles the life and railroad career of his father, Bill Shannon.


Letter Of Donation

Greetings,

In late April 2004, I learned of the theft of the main steam gauge from the SP&S 700. I was shocked like most people were that someone would steal an artifact of such great importance to your organization and to the ongoing operation of the 700.

On March 30, 2004 W.R.Bill Shannon, my father, passed away. He was the last Chief Mechanical Officer of the Northern Pacific Railway. Because of his position and the unique relationship between the NP and the SP&S he had a significant impact on the locomotives and rolling stock purchased, used and maintained by both railroads. I have attached a more complete chronology of my fathers life and railroad career.

During my fathers 40 year career with the Northern Pacific, Burlington Northern and Trailer Train, he was able to save many significant railroad artifacts from being destroyed. One of the artifacts in his personal collection is an Ashton, dual spring, double faced, main boiler steam gauge. I believe this gauge is identical to the one that was stolen from the 700. Also a part of his collection is a pair of engine marker lights which I also understand are needed by your organization.

During his career on the railroad, my father was responsible for keeping thousands of locomotives and tens of thousands of pieces of rolling stock running. From traveling trouble shooter in 1939 to Vice President in 1979, he kept the fleet running. Had he been alive today, his desire would have been to keep the SP&S 700 running as well.

As a recipient of these items of my father's collection, I wish to donate them to your organization in memory of my father Bill Shannon, to be used specifically on the SP&S 700. My mother Jean Shannon, my brother and two sisters, as well as the rest of the Shannon Family concurs in this decision. It is our family's desire that this gauge become a permanent part of the 700 and remain the main boiler gauge as long as it is serviceable.

We anxiously await the return of the SP&S 700 to active duty serving your organization and the community of people that love seeing this engine throughout the Northwest.

It has been suggested by officials of your organization that a dedication plaque on the gauge and appropriate press coverage would be provided.

Sincerely yours,

Harold Shannon


Life and Railroad Career of W.R. "Bill" Shannon

Bill, as his friends knew him, was born in Marion, Ohio on April 12, 1917. He was the only child of Frank B. Shannon and Irene Redd Shannon. His father was a locomotive engineer for the Erie Railroad in Marion, one of the busiest rail intersections in Ohio.

Bill attended Harding High School in Marion and Ohio Northern University at Ada, Ohio. At ONU, he was a member of Delta Sigma Phi Fraternity, served as manager of the University track team, and was editor and photographer of the class yearbook. His many pictures include the two-page university photo on the inside cover. One of his early photographs appeared in a 1937 edition of Railroad Mechanical Engineer magazine. He graduated in 1939 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and was the only person out of his graduating class that left school with a job.

After graduation, Bill was hired by the Northern Pacific Railway as a Special Apprentice. During World War II, at the request of his draft board, Bill remained with the railroad serving the war effort by keeping soldiers and equipment moving throughout the railroad system. As an engineering trouble-shooter, he was constantly on the move with assignments across the country from St. Paul, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington. He also spent considerable time working in the mobile testing lab known as the Dynamometer car.

In 1945 he met and married Helen Jean Hager of Kerkhoven, Minnesota. They were manned for 58 years Their family, raised in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, consisted of four children: Harold, Patricia, David, and Suzanne.

Bill served the Northern Pacific Railway, and later the Burlington Northern, in various management capacities, working his way up to Chief Mechanical Officer of the Northern Pacific. The Northern Pacific Mechanical department had built a reputation within the railroad industry as innovators. The famous Northern steam engines used by many railroads were first developed by the Northern Pacific, hence the name Northern. He was the last Chief Mechanical Officer of the Northern Pacific Railway. Because of his position and the unique relationship between the NP and the SP&S he had a significant impact on the locomotives and rolling stock purchased, used and maintained by both railroads. Later Bill served with the Burlington Northern as Assistant Vice President of Operations in Billings, Montana. His last 7 years. prior to retiring from the railroad industry, were with Trailer Train Company in Chicago where he served as Vice President of Equipment. A complete chronology of his career is as follows:

Special Apprentice June 1939
Dynamometer Car Operator July 1944
Assistant Fuel Supervisor- Seattle July 1945
Supervisor, Fuel & Locomotive Performance -- Seattle September 1947
Assistant to General Mechanical Superintendent St. Paul April 1950
Assistant General Mechanical Superintendent June 1955
Assistant Chief Mechanical Officer - April 1965
Chief Mechanical Officer - April 1967
Assistant Vice President of Operations Billings Region February 1970
Vice President Equipment Trailer Train Co.-- Chicago March 1972
Retired - 1979

In total, Bill's railroad career spanned 40 years. He was a lifetime member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Society of Automotive Engineers. He also served as President of the Western Railway Club and was a member of the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association.

Bill Shannon said that most of his railroad artifacts came from the Como Shop. The story is that in the late 50s he got a call from the Stores people at the Como Shops in St. Paul. Mr. Shannon worked at the General Office at 5th and Jackson St. in St Paul at the time. The Stores people told him they were cleaning out the shop and were throwing away a lot of old stuff and that he had better get over there right away. He went to Como and rescued many of the things in the collection. He said that if he had not done that, everything would have been thrown in the scrap in a matter of minutes. Similar events occurred involving the Northern Pacific Shops in Brainerd, Minnesota and Livingston, Montana. Bill Shannon's personal relationships with the local personnel and their willingness to notify him first are a testament to the stature and respect he garnered from those around him. Many of the items in the Shannon Collection are One and Only items from an era of railroading that has long since passed. Because of his efforts these artifacts of the past, including the steam gauge, now live on.

Harold H. Shannon

Return to Home page