Clarence M. Darden, Superintendent of Machinery – NC&StL (1930 – 1957) was a pioneer in the field of railroad mechanical engineering. His work not only led to the creation of NC&StL 576 and its siblings, but he was a visionary in the use of one-piece cast frames and the way he employed the most modern technology of the era.
Darden was born on a farm in Greensville County, VA., near Emporia on November 11, 1887. Educated in Richmond where he took courses at the old Virginia mechanical institute, he entered the Engineering Department at the Richmond plant of the American Locomotive Company as a draughtsman. From 1908 – 1912, Darden served in the Mechanical Engineering Department of the Chicago & Alton RR at Bloomington, Ill., coming to the NC&StL Ry on March 1, 1912 as Chief Draughtsman, to which the additional duties and title of Mechanical Engineer were soon added. On April 15, 1930, Mr. Darden became Superintendent of Machinery until 1957 when transferred to the L&N RR with the same title until retired on March 1, 1959.
One of the early proponents of steel bed frames cast integral with cylinders of steam locomotives, Darden was a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. One of his favorite projects was the elimination of boiler studs by moving as many locomotive accessories and pipes as possible to hang on the frame instead. The work in this field resulted in US patent No. 1,955,376, issued to Mr. Darden in May 1934, and used by the Commonwealth Division of General Steel Castings Corporation (old Commonwealth Steel Corp.). An image of a Class J3 frame on the erecting floor is shown below.
Later, Mr. Darden’s ideas were incorporated in the design of modern steam locomotives not only built for North American railroads, but also engines shipped after the Second World War to many nations, including India, Turkey, Africa, and Australia. Thus Mr. Darden’s work has benefited railroads the world over.