The passing of the Hiawathas left the usual legacy of enigmas which surround the Atlantic type. Were they the fastest of all locomotives? This is contentious territory. The LNER A4 Pacific Mallard holds the official world speed record for steam locomotives at 126 mph, but reliable sources have spoken of Hiawathas [which the Milwaukee classed as the A type, and unofficially referred to them as "Milwaukees" rather than Atlantics -- SHK] running capably at 120 mph, where the calibration of the speedometer ran out. Alfred W. Bruce (The Steam Locomotive in America, 1952) stated that during time-schedule stabilising runs "... the hand of the speed indicator was often reported against the pin at 128 mph. Exactly what maximum speed was reached is not known -- but it was plenty!"There is nothing quite so interesting as a discussion about a moot point. The Superintendent has long maintained that the fastest steam locomotives in the world were the Milwaukee type's successors, the F-7 class Baltics, and that either Milwaukee speedster beats the Gresley Streaks account the latter's greater propensity to come apart at speeds in excess of 80 mph (they'd barely protect Amtrak's current timings on the C&M with that, let alone the 1938 timings). There is a line drawing in Atlantic (also in the February Backtrack) that illustrates how much bigger the Milwaukees were than their British rivals. Alas, the fastest steam locomotive in preservation in Hiawatha territory is ... a Gresley Streak.
TONIGHT'S RECOMMENDED READING. The Engineering Department of Cold Spring Shops recently received a copy of Atlantic: The Well Beloved Engine (details or compare prices.) The book makes a provocative statement about the world speed record for steam locomotives.