Amtrak locomotive engineer built an operating scale steam engine in his Hampden garage

Warfield to be remembered at service in May

  • Norm Warfield and the locomotive that he built.
Norm Warfield and the locomotive that he built. (Baltimore Sun )
March 19, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

In the eyes of anyone who loves railroading, Norman L. Warfield Sr., a retired Amtrak locomotive engineer, was a lucky man. During his lifetime, he got to play with real locomotives and diminutive ones.

Warfield, who had celebrated his 70th birthday in January, died less than a month later of cancer in Baltimore.

The Baltimore native, who was raised in Hampden and graduated from Polytechnic Institute, became an apprentice tool and die maker and worked at his trade in machine shops in Maryland and New Jersey.

In 1973, he made a career change when he was hired at the old Penn Central Railroad in Baltimore and was later promoted to engineer.

"My father always liked trains, and it was a friend of his who got him to come and work for the railroad," said his son, Norman L. Warfield Jr. of Brooklyn Park, who is also an Amtrak engineer, and whose brother, Darin, is an Amtrak conductor.

Warfield was a freight locomotive engineer for Penn Central and then successor company Conrail. He later joined Amtrak, where he handled Northeast Corridor passenger trains between Washington and New York.

For the last 15 years of his career, he worked in the yard at Union Station in Washington, shifting passenger cars and assembling trains, until retiring in 2002.

"Norm worked in the Enola Yard, [Pa.], freight pool for quite a few years for Penn Central and later Conrail and ended his career with Amtrak," said Harry C. Bowie III of Lutherville, a former Amtrak engineer who retired several years ago from MARC, where he operated Penn Line passenger trains.

"He was a very soft-spoken and modest man considering all of his talents," said Bowie. "Norm was a very popular guy who was willing to teach you and to help someone who was new on the railroad. He was very talented and an excellent train handler."

Warfield joined the Chesapeake and Allegheny Steam Preservation Society Inc. — CALS — whose members operate locomotives and cars that are one-eighth in size of the real thing over more than 3,000 feet of hand-laid track that courses through 10 acres of Leakin Park.

Many of the club's members build their own engines while others purchase them already assembled. Warfield, given his background as a machinist and his deep appreciation for steam engines, decided to build a 2-8-0 wheeled Consolidation-class locomotive.

"I think he built that engine 12 or more times in his head before he actually built it.

But the first thing he had to do was build a machine shop, which we did in the backyard of his Hampden home," his son said,

"It was complete with lathes, mills and just about everything needed to fabricate anything from intricate miniature model hinges and latches to fabricating a live steam engine and matching caboose," said Warfield.

Father and son worked together fashioning the engine from cold rolled steel that was copied from an actual Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad prototype that roughly dates to the 1915-1920 period.

"I welded her boiler and much of her frame," Warfield said.

He numbered the Consolidation 12, which took him two and a half years to complete and lettered it for the fictitious Patapsco and Mill Valley Railroad.

The engine is not powered by actual steam but by electricity drawn from an on-board battery. It has two intricate on-board sound systems that re-create the sound and fury of an actual working steam engine as it makes its way down CALS' line at 6 mph, with carloads of happy passengers trailing behind its tender.

Warfield operated the engine's throttle and brakes from a seat on the tender.

"He decided not to make it a coal burner because it takes two or so hours to raise steam and then three hours for it to cool off so you can put it in a truck and take it home," his son said.

"When he was working in Washington, there were times when he'd have to sit and wait for an hour or more before moving his train, so he began taking files and pieces of brass in his grip each day, and when he had down time, went to work making parts for his engine," Warfield said.

John Frederick of Forest Hill, who is a CALS member and was a close friend of Warfield's, said, "Norm went all out. He built that engine from scratch and did a beautiful job. With his sound system, he had every sound a real engine would make right on down to the squealing brakes. He had fun telling people, 'Don't touch the boiler. It's hot.' But of course it wasn't."

Warfield also built an operating model of a Piper Cub, a highly detailed tugboat, and brass models of locomotives in various scales.

A celebration of Warfield's life will be held at noon May 7 trackside in Leakin Park.

"And I'll be at the throttle of No. 12," his son said.

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