Wootten firebox

From TrainSpottingWorld, for Rail fans everywhere
4-6-0 camelback locomotive, complete with Wootten firebox.

The Wootten firebox is a type of firebox used on steam locomotives. The firebox was very tall and wide to allow combustion of anthracite coal waste. Its size necessitated unusual placement of the crew, examples being camelback locomotives. The Wootten firebox made for a free-steaming, powerful locomotive, and the cheap anthracite fuel burned almost smokelessly; the combination made for an excellent passenger locomotive, and many camelbacks were purchased for this service.


John E. Wootten was the Superintendent of Motive Power for the then Philadelphia and Reading Railroad (later simply the Reading Railroad) from 1866, and General Manager of the system from 1876. He saw the vast piles of anthracite waste in the area as a possible plentiful, cheap source of fuel if he could develop a firebox that could burn it effectively. Through experiments, he determined that a large, wide firebox with a slow firing rate worked best, with a thin layer of the fuel and moderate draft.

The typical locomotive firebox of the day was long and narrow, fitting in between the locomotive's frames. The successful trailing truck and the firebox mounted behind the drivers had not yet been developed. Wootten instead mounted his huge firebox above the locomotive's driving wheels. The problem now arose that with a cab floor at the then standard tender deck height, it would be impossible for the locomotive's engineer to see forwards around the firebox shoulders. Instead, a cab for the engineer was placed above and astride the boiler. The fireman, however, remained at the rear with minimal protection from the elements.