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Southern Railway Locomotive 385's Harrison Connnection

May 25, 2022
Southern Railway Train Locomotive 385

There is a former Southern Railway Steam Locomotive which was restored by personnel of the Whippany Train Museum in Whippany NJ that has a Harrison connection.  The Locomotive was rescued from its demise moments before a “welder’s torch” was to take it apart and turn it into scrap metal by a Harrisonian. The story surrounding the locomotive's rescue from the junkyard is a beautiful story with a happy ending and a testament to a man who built his successful company with the assistance of machinery and who felt compelled to preserve historic machinery for the future generations.

The Locomotive that was rescued was built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one hundred and fifteen years ago in 1907.   The Locomotive was used for freight service by the Southern Railway and weighs one hundred and twenty tons.  There were twenty-four locomotives built like it but only two exist today.  The Locomotive is known as Southern Railway 385.  It and its sibling No. 401 are classic examples of early 20th Century American locomotive design and craftsmanship.  Southern Railway 401 is on display at the Monticello Railway Museum in the State of Illinois. The Southern Railway 385 is on display at the Whippany Train Museum.

In its glory days, the Southern Railway 385 locomotive effortlessly towed freight cars with goods and raw materials easily on level ground and in mountainous terrain.  The locomotive was a combination of beauty and strength that helped build America’s industry and economy.  Transporting goods throughout the South stood for how anything was possible in the United State of America.  It survived courtesy of two individuals who rescued the locomotive from being scrapped and extraordinary personnel and craftsman at Whippany Railway Museum.

In 1963, Southern Railway 385 was rescued by Earl H. Gil, Sr. from being scrapped. From 1965 until 1978, Southern Railway 385 now known simply as Old Number 385 was operated by the Morris County Central Railroad (MCCR).  MCCR was the first standard gauge historic preservation railroad in New Jersey.  MCCR was founded by Earle Richard Henriquez-Gil, Sr who lived in Parsippany New Jersey. Most of the Southern Railway locomotives were scrapped in the 1950s but Locomotive 385 was saved because it had undergone a rebuild at Southern Railway’s train maintenance facility in North Carolina so it got an extension on its life.  Part shortages caused other similar locomotives to be put out of service.

Earl H Gill, Sr. further restored the locomotive with the vision of having an excursion railroad in New Jersey.  Gill founded the Morris County Central Railroad and began operations in May of 1965 with the Southern Railway 385 locomotive running from Whippany NJ on the rail lines of the Morristown & Erie Railroad tracks until 1973.  In 1974, Gill moved the Morris County Central Railroad moved its operation to Newfoundland using the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad tracks until  1980.

In 1990, Southern Railway 385 was donated to the Bergen County Vocational & Technical High School (Bergen Tech) in Hackensack, NJ has been in storage with the idea that it would be restored as a student project.

In October of 1990, Joseph Supor, Jr. donated the cost of transporting Locomotive 385 to Bergen Tech and lifting it into place on a railroad track built especially for the locomotive.  Joe Supor would get another call for assistance in 1999 when he received a call that Locomotive 385 was going to be dismantled for scrap.  He immediately made a trip to Bergen Tech and arrived just in time to stop the savage crew from taking the locomotive apart.

Supor then transported the locomotive to one of his warehouses in Harrison and stored it.  He intended to restore the Locomotive and preserve it for future generations to admire and learn from.

In 2005, Earle Gil visited Joe Supor in his office at J. Supor Trucking & Hauling in Harrison.  The two men went to visit Locomotive 385 in one of Supor’s warehouses.  Gil had not seen the engine since 1959. At that meeting in one of Supor’s warehouses, the idea of donating the train to the Whippany Railway Museum was discussed.

Both Earle Gil, Sr., and Joseph Supor Jr. passed away in 2007.  Joseph Supor had expressed to his son Joseph Supor III's wish to donate Locomotive 385 to the Whippany Railroad Museum. In a letter to Whippany Railway upon the donation of the locomotive to the museum, Joseph Supor III stated that “[The family] appreciated how important this locomotive is to the history of the Whippany Railway Museum and are extremely pleased that it will be reunited with his past.  It is our hope that this marvel of American rail engineering will bring many years of happiness to all its visitors and to the staff of the Whippany Railway Museum. “  The Whippany Railway Museum stated that it was an extraordinary effort by the younger Supor to not only fulfill his late father’s wishes to give the public a chance to view this unique transportation treasure but to also honor the preservation efforts and memory of his father.”

In November of 2008, after the extensive renovation of Locomotive 385, lettering expert Walter Myers of the Whippany Railway Museum hand pained in a lettering style of the Southern Railway the name of Joseph Supor, Jr. on the locomotive along with the number 385.

It was a great gesture to recognize the goodwill of Joseph Supor Jr. in saving this wonderful locomotive

The Whippany Railway Museum has the following upcoming events.  Excursion Train on the following dates, June 19, 2022 (Father’s Day), July 10, 2022, September 11, 2022 (Grandparents’ Day), and September 18, 2022.  Pumpkin-Patch Train on the following dates, October 2, 2022, October 9, 2022, and October 16, 2022.

For more information visit the Museum’s website

Photo Credit: Whippany Rail Museum, Anthony Paci, Alan Wishengrad, Paul Tupaczewski (