Smithsonian’s fireless locomotive moves to Baltimore


locomotive in Smithsonian storage, waiting for its trip to Baltimore


 The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History recently donated a vintage 1938 fireless steam locomotive to our Affiliate in Baltimore, the B & O Railroad Museum.  On August 18, Affiliations and Museum staff were on hand to document this dramatic move.

 The move took two days to complete.  One to rig the locomotive onto a palette inside the American History Museum’s storage facility, and another day to load it onto a truck, drive it to Baltimore, and unload it in the restoration shop of the B & O Museum. 



a special forklift eases the locomotive out of storage. very slowly.

The locomotive was built by the Heisler Locomotive Works in Erie, Pennsylvania for the Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco) in 1938. Unlike other steam engines, this unique 35-ton locomotive did not need a fire to produce steam; instead it was filled with steam and superheated water from the power plant’s boilers under high pressure at temperatures around 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The locomotive was capable of operating by itself for approximately five hours on one charge of steam and superheated water.



lifting the locomotive onto its ride, a flatbed truck

Bill Withuhn, Smithsonian Curator of Technology and Transportation, contacted the B&O Railroad Museum more than a year ago to begin negotiations for the transfer of the locomotive to Baltimore. “The fireless was a trusty workhorse locomotive; one that deserves to be on exhibition for its contributions to lighting Maryland and the nation’s capital. We are pleased to make possible this transfer to our affiliate.”


In the U.S., fireless locomotives ran exclusively on the networks of tracks located within the boundaries of some of the largest coal-fired power stations operated by utilities. The locomotive needed to remain close to the power plant in order to be recharged. An early example of green technology, the fireless steam locomotive emitted only steam vapor, unlike other locomotives which release smoke exhaust.

B&O Railroad Museum Executive Director, Courtney Wilson said, “This locomotive is a scarce type of railroad motive power not represented in our unparalleled collection of 19th and 20th century steam locomotives. It fills an important gap and we are extremely pleased to accept this gift from the Smithsonian.”

we got alot of curious looks cruising on I-95

From 1938 until 1974 the Pepco locomotive operated at the Buzzard Point Power Station in Washington, D.C. hauling coal. From 1974 to 1978 it was used at the Potomac River Power Station in Alexandria, Virginia. In 1979 Pepco restored and donated the locomotive to the National Museum of American History’s Work and Industry collection where it has been in storage.  Until now. 

On October 15, the B & O will roll the fireless locomotive into its famous roundhouse to celebrate its 10th anniversary as a Smithsonian Affiliate.  There it will join other Smithsonian artifacts on loan to the Museum, including 50 models of historic locomotives and railway cars and the boiler from the first locomotive used in the Western Hemisphere, the Stourbridge Lion. 
rounding the corner to the back door of B & O's storage facility

rounding the corner to the back door of B & O's storage facility. almost there!



2 forklifts hold the locomotive in mid-air, while the flatbed truck drives out of the way.

2 forklifts hold the locomotive in mid-air, while the flatbed truck drives out of the way

easing it off its palette, a few inches at a time

easing it off its palette, a few inches at a time

hitting the rail!

hitting the rail!

See more photos in the Smithsonian Affiliates group pool on flickr.

what can your toaster teach you?

Design your Life

“Design Your Life is an utter pleasure, like a delicious tray of warm brownies that also happen to be nutritious.” – Kurt Andersen, author


Design is not my thing.  It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’d sooner jump out of a plane than wander through a shop like Target or IKEA where rows and rows of modern gadgets remind me that I’m just not chic enough.  I have a feeling I’m not the only one.  So in my search for uniqueness in an overwhelmingly mass-produced world, I found Design Your Life: The Pleasures and Perils of Everyday Things by Ellen and Julia Lupton (St. Martin’s Press, May 2009). 


Ellen and Julia argue that design is more than the stuff we buy at these high end stores or the modern look that moves products at Target and IKEA.  It’s about critical thinking and looking at the world and wondering why things work and why they don’t.  It’s about finding the beauty in the mess of everyday life. 


Covering the pitfalls of the modern toaster, the challenges of a ‘smart’ kitchen, what’s wrong with rolling luggage, and why no one wants to read your blog, this thoughtful book examines the highs and lows of everyday design in a brainy and delightful way that is sure to leave you thinking differently.


And now Affiliates can have the opportunity to meet Ellen Lupton in person!  Ellen is curator of contemporary design at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City and director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.  She is interested in traveling to Affiliates to speak about design to anyone who will listen.  Contact your Smithsonian Affiliations Outreach Manager today to see about inviting Ellen to your museum.


Read the review in the Washington Post.  Or even better, read the blog that inspired the book. 

grab your compass

Affiliates Plimoth Plantation and the Senator John Heinz History Center extend their reach through Smithsonian’s History Explorer and Thinkfinity!

Smithsonian’s History Explorer is a gateway to innovative, standards-based online resources for teaching and learning American history.  History Explorer is designed and developed by the National Museum of American History, a partner in Verizon’s consortium of leading national education experts. The National Museum of American History is an integral part of Verizon’s consortium. 

Teachers need only to visit to search free educational resources from all of the partners. Thinkfinity is a free, comprehensive digital learning platform for high-quality education content, and serves as a portal for millions of American teachers, parents, and students.  The site makes it easy for educators to enhance their classroom instruction with lesson plans, interactive activities, and other online resources.

Now, the unique resources of two Smithsonian Affiliates will be added to History Explorer and will be Smithsonian recommended resources on  You Are the Historian, from Plimoth Plantation, investigates the first Thanksgiving and what really happened at the 1621 harvest celebration.  The Heinz History Center’s Worlds in Motion examines the complexities of interaction among eastern American Indians, colonists and Europeans from pre-contact through colonial times.

Affiliates, do you have exemplary or unique materials on American history that you would like to share?  To nominate your resource or website, or to find out more about the process, please contact your outreach manager

climate change online conference

Ginkgo biloba  Ginkgo biloba

The Smithsonian addresses the global challenge of climate change in a range of ways, including through exhibitions and scientific research. 

From September 29 through October 1, 2009, the Smithsonian will offer an education online conference on climate change to allow teachers and the general public to participate in the Institution’s investigations, meet and question Smithsonian curators and scientists, and deepen our understanding of this critical issue.  Alongside Smithsonian scientists and curators, you’ll look at the issues surrounding climate change from the perspectives of science, history, and art. Registration is free, and now open. 

The conference is broadly organized around three topics: Evidence, Impact, and Response to climate change.  Participants will sample  some fascinating Smithsonian research–everything from an artist’s attempts to document sustainability issues, to a paleoclimatologist’s findings about prehistoric climate change and why it matters, to a discussion about how polar bears are faring in our warming world. 

Curators, researchers, and educators from the Archives of American Art, the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and the National Zoo will conduct twelve different live sessions, and several other units will deliver content in a “virtual exhibit hall.”  The conference features talks, interactives, and resources such as lesson plans and classroom activities, to help make this knowledge as accessible and usable as possible. (See the full agenda.)

 Affiliations is pleased to acknowledge the participation of educator Paisley Cato from the Western Center for Archeology and Paleontology, our Affiliate in Hemet, California.  Paisley worked side-by-side with Smithsonian educators throughout the summer to develop educational materials to complement the conference.

How can Affiliates be involved?  Like the virtual conference on Abraham Lincoln which took place in February (replay at, Affiliates are encouraged to act as hosting sites for shared viewing and discussion with their  local area teachers, educators, and the scientific community.  Follow and comment on the climate change blog, or follow updates on Twitter (#SIClimate) and Facebook (Smithsonian Education).  

Show me the money

In these tough economic times, it’s nice to see some bright spots.  
Congratulations to all these Affiliates who’ve received grants and awards recently.  Well done!

Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art has been awarded a $25,800 grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC) to support ongoing education and exhibition programming.

The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar has received a $3,000 grant from the Preservation Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation to assist with a condition assessment of historic structures on the Center’s 8.3-acre property. 

Birthplace of Country Music has received approval of $1.7 million by the Special Projects and Innovation Committee of the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission for the development of the new museum.


The Institute of Museum and Library Services announced the recipients for the Museums for America grant program including the following Affiliate organizations and their projects:

The National World War II Museum received $150,000 to help finance live performances at the museum including music and entertainment from the World War II era and modern pieces inspired by the war.

B & O Railroad Museum received $110,000 for their “Whistlestop Gateway Project” to develop an interpretive program and a regular rail link to the west end of the museum’s 40-acre campus.

Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center received $137,373 to develop a 4,000-square-foot immersive and interactive exhibit on space exploration from the 1970s into the future.

Michigan State University Museum received $136,323 to complete critical database and technological enhancements for its natural history and cultural collections including imaging more than 10,000 ethnographic objects to the Web.

Durham Museum was awarded $122,850 to digitize and preserve its photo archive collection, which consists of approximately 500,000 images reflecting the history of Omaha, Nebraska.

Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation’s Atomic Testing Museum was awarded $34,933 to conduct a planning project based on establishing a best practices approach to the day-to-day business of the organization that will enhance the capacity of the organization to better serve the southern Nevada cultural and educational community.

Historic Bethlehem Partnership received $57,650 to inventory, pack, and move the collections of the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Art to a new Collections Resource Center.

Heinz History Center was awarded $90,859 for the Life in Western Pennsylvania: A Digital History Resource project to address the critical need for assessment tools for planning digital history sites and measuring the impact of online resources to increase the use of archival collections.

Culture and Heritage Commission of York County received $148,875 to transform the Museum’s static natural history dioramas and exhibits into active, inquiry-based learning experiences by using real specimens and scientific investigation and to create a curriculum-based program for middle school students that meets state curriculum standards.

Wing Luke Memorial Foundation was awarded $150,000 to support Art Beyond Downtown, an initiative to engage new visitors, create opportunities for them to learn about art, culture, and history related to Asian Pacific Americans, and to encourage them to return to the museum and its neighborhood.

new Undersecretary for Science

Dr. Eva J. Pell   




Dr. Eva J. Pell


Eva J. Pell, Senior Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School at Pennsylvania State University, has been named Under Secretary for Science at the Smithsonian Institution. Pell has been Vice President and Dean since 2000 and was promoted to Senior Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School at the university in 2006. She will begin at the Smithsonian Jan. 4, 2010, and report directly to Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough.

As Under Secretary for Science, Pell will directly oversee the operations of the National Museum of Natural History; the National Air and Space Museum; the National Zoo and its Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va.; the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass.; the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md.; the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute in Suitland, Md.; and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.

Pell, 61, brings an environmental science background to this position and a strong track record of leadership. She was a professor in the department of plant pathology at Penn State for more than 35 years. In her role as Senior Vice President for Research at the university, Pell spearheads the development of cross-disciplinary institutes for life sciences, materials, energy and environment, social sciences, cyber science, and arts and humanities; all six institutes report directly to her. She is also responsible for sponsored research, compliance and the university’s animal research center. In addition, Pell is responsible for the Penn State Research and Technology Transfer Organization, which connects Penn State researchers with industries in order to stimulate economic development.  

As Dean of the Graduate School, she oversees graduate admissions, fellowships, awards and curriculum. Pell has developed several programs at Penn State to increase the number of minority applicants for graduate programs.

Pell holds a bachelor’s degree in science from the City College of New York and a doctorate degree in plant biology from Rutgers University. Her research focuses on the effects of air pollution on plants.

Pell has served on panels and advisory boards for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce. She currently serves on the National Science Foundation’s Biological Sciences Advisory Committee. In addition, Pell is active in economic development and serves on a number of Pennsylvania state boards, including the Ben Franklin Center of Central and Northern Pennsylvania and the Life Sciences Greenhouse of Central Pennsylvania. She is also the president of the Penn State Research Foundation and the Research Park Management Corporation.

“We are proud to welcome Dr. Pell to the Smithsonian as our new Under Secretary for Science,” said Secretary Clough. “She is an accomplished scientist, experienced leader and inspired educator who will help us raise the global profile of Smithsonian science. We will benefit greatly from her many talents.”

“Anyone who comes to Washington, D.C., finds him or herself touched by Smithsonian activities, as the Institution is at the nexus between discovery and education,” said Pell. “I am excited and humbled by the opportunity presented to me by Secretary Clough and am looking forward to the possibilities to expand the reach and dimensions of Smithsonian science.”