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For steam trains, what kind of deaerator was used, if any?

For steam trains, what kind of deaerator was used, if any?


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Deaerators are things that remove dissolved gasses in water. Dissolved O2 and CO2 in water will result in boiler corrosion.

So I'm wondering how this was done back in the old days of steam trains, roughly 1830 to 1900. Did every water station have it's own deaerator? Did they just use chemical scavengers to remove the O2 and CO2?


Short googling did not yield any special hsitoric feedwater plants for steam trains. This document by Altair states:

As the years passed, more efficient feed water treatments developed, boiler metal surfaces were maintained free from scale, and the problem of oxygen corrosion became more pronounced. This corrosion along with a trend to higher boiler pressures and the resultant increase in the temperature of the boiler water, highlighted the need for more efficient deaeration equipment. Oxygen attack on boiler metal is accelerated with increased temperatures.
In the early 1920's the first open feed water heater was designed to specifically to remove dissolved gases. This initial design was a counter-flow tray deaerator with a re-boiler coil arranged in the storage section, and an internal vent condenser water box.

Sp it appears that the first dearator was built in the 1920s. So how was corrsion prevented before? Water, unless it's fresh rainwater, contains dissolved minerals - water hardness. When boiling, these precipitate and form a scale layer. While one does not want this scale layer - worse thermal conduction, eventually closes pipes etc, it is a somewhat effective corrosion protection. Altair hint at this when they mention that the first dearator was designed after feedwater treaatment became better.

However, this is not conclusive proof that there was no daeration pre-1900. This could be shown by a survey of train yards etc, if these had any deaeration equipment. Dearation equipment would be especially useful when the feedwater source is mostly soft surface water.

ETA: Commentors ask for a source for the claim that scale serves as a corrosion protection. German wikipedia on Kesselstein - Scale - has this to say:

In 19. and 20th century, boilers were mostly operated without water treatment. Scale had to removed mechanically by Kesselklopfer ("Boiler-bangers"), using pointed hammers. The specific heat load of boilers then was lower and the boilers had no critical areas in regard to scale, so this way of operation was possible. Modern boilers with effiencies would be damaged quickly by scale, so feed water treatment is mandated in industry codes.


I'm not aware of any use of deaerators in the UK at all.

Some of the companies built water treatment plants, but these were intended to reduce the hardness of the water in order to reduce the amount of scale deposited in the boiler and pipework, and were generally not build until the 1930s - heavy buildup of scale in the injectors can reduce the amount of water getting into the boiler, and a heavy buildup on the firebox can act as an insulating layer, which is bad for the firebox itself. Locos were also subject to regualr boiler washouts, again to remove any loose scale etc.

There's more detail on the LMS* society website here

*London, Midland and Scottish Railway, one of the UK "big four" from 1923 to 1948


Baltimore and Ohio Railroad

Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O), first steam-operated railway in the United States to be chartered as a common carrier of freight and passengers (1827). The B&O Railroad Company was established by Baltimore, Maryland, merchants to compete with New York merchants and their newly opened Erie Canal for trade to the west. A driving force in its early years was the Baltimore banker George Brown, who served as treasurer from 1827 until 1834 and had Ross Winans build the first real railroad car.

The first stone for the line was laid on July 4, 1828, by Charles Carroll, the American Revolutionary leader and last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. The first 13 miles (21 km) of line, from Baltimore to Ellicott’s Mills (now Ellicott City), Maryland, opened in 1830. Peter Cooper’s steam locomotive, the Tom Thumb, ran over this line and demonstrated to doubters that steam traction was feasible on the steep, winding grades.

The railroad was extended to Wheeling, Virginia (now in West Virginia), a distance of 379 miles (610 km), in 1852. In the 1860s and ’70s the railroad reached Chicago and St. Louis. In 1896 it went bankrupt. After it was reorganized in 1899, it grew further, reaching Cleveland and Lake Erie in 1901. In 1963 the B&O was acquired by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company and in 1980 became part of the newly formed CSX Corporation. In 1987 the B&O was dissolved when it merged into the Chesapeake and Ohio.


Deaerator

Mechanical and chemical deaeration is an integral part of modern boiler water protection and control. Deaeration, coupled with other aspects of external treatment, provides the best and highest quality feed water for boiler use.

Simply speaking, the purposes of deaeration are:

To remove oxygen, carbon dioxide and other noncondensable gases from feed water

To heat the incoming makeup water and return condensate to an optimum temperature for:

Minimizing solubility of the undesirable gases

Providing the highest temperature water for injection to the boiler

Deaerators are typically elevated in boiler rooms to help create head pressure on pumps located lower. This allows hotter water to be pumped without vapor locking should some steam get into the pump.

Reason to Deaerate

The most common source of corrosion in boiler systems is dissolved gas: oxygen, carbon dioxide and ammonia. Of these, oxygen is the most aggressive. The importance of eliminating oxygen as a source of pitting and iron deposition cannot be over-emphasized. Even small concentrations of this gas can cause serious corrosion problems.

Makeup water introduces appreciable amounts of oxygen into the system. Oxygen can also enter the feed water system from the condensate return system. Possible return line sources are direct air-leakage on the suction side of pumps, systems under vacuum, the breathing action of closed condensate receiving tanks, open condensate receiving tanks and leakage of non-deaerated water used for condensate pump seal and/or quench water. With all of these sources, good housekeeping is an essential part of the preventive program.

One of the most serious aspects of oxygen corrosion is that it occurs as pitting. This type of corrosion can produce failures even though only a relatively small amount of metal has been lost and the overall corrosion rate is relatively low. The degree of oxygen attack depends on the concentration of dissolved oxygen, the pH and the temperature of the water.

The influence of temperature on the corrosivity of dissolved oxygen is particularly important in closed heaters and economizers where the water temperature increases rapidly. Elevated temperature in itself does not cause corrosion. Small concentrations of oxygen at elevated temperatures do cause severe problems. This temperature rise provides the driving force that accelerates the reaction so that even small quantities of dissolved oxygen can cause serious corrosion.

Operation

Mechanical deaeration is the first step in eliminating oxygen and other corrosive gases from the feed water. Free carbon dioxide is also removed by deaeration, while combined carbon dioxide is released with the steam in the boiler and subsequently dissolves in the condensate. This can cause additional corrosion problems.

Because dissolved oxygen is a constant threat to boiler tube integrity, this discussion on the deaerator will be aimed at reducing the oxygen content of the feed water. The two major types of deaerators are the tray type and the spray type. In both cases, the major portion of gas removal is accomplished by spraying cold makeup water into a steam environment.

Tray-Type Deaerating Heaters

Tray-type deaerating heaters release dissolved gases in the incoming water by reducing it to a fine spray as it cascades over several rows of trays. The steam that makes intimate contact with the water droplets then scrubs the dissolved gases by its counter-current flow. The steam heats the water to within 3-5 º F of the steam saturation temperature and it should remove all but the very last traces of oxygen. The deaerated water then falls to the storage space below, where a steam blanket protects it from recontamination.

Nozzles and trays should be inspected regularly to insure that they are free of deposits and are in their proper position

Tray-Type Deaerating Heater (Cochrane Corp.)

Spray-Type Deaerating Heaters

Spray-type deaerating heaters work on the same general philosophy as the tray-type, but differ in their operation. Spring-loaded nozzles located in the top of the unit spray the water into a steam atmosphere that heats it. Simply stated, the steam heats the water, and at the elevated temperature the solubility of oxygen is extremely low and most of the dissolved gases are removed from the system by venting. The spray will reduce the dissolved oxygen content to 20-50 ppb, while the scrubber or trays further reduce the oxygen content to approximately 7 ppb or less.

During normal operation, the vent valve must be open to maintain a continuous plume of vented vapors and steam at least 18 inches long. If this valve is throttled too much, air and nonconclensable gases will accumulate in the deaerator. This is known as air blanketing and can be remedied by increasing the vent rate.

For optimum oxygen removal, the water in the storage section must be heated to within 5 º F of the temperature of the steam at saturation conditions. From inlet to outlet, the water is deaerated in less than 10 seconds.

The storage section is usually designed to hold enough water for 10 minutes of boiler operation at full load.

Click on image for larger view

Spray-Type Deaerating Heater (Graver)

Limitations

Inlet water should be virtually free of suspended solids that could clog spray valves and ports of the inlet distributor and the deaerator trays. In addition, spray valves, ports and deaerator trays may become plugged with scale that forms when the water being deaerated has high hardness and alkalinity levels. In this case, routine cleaning and inspection of the deaerator is very important.

Economizers

Where economizers are installed, good deaerating heater operation is essential. Because oxygen pitting is the most common cause of economizer tube failure, this vital part of the boiler must be protected with an oxygen scavenger, usually catalyzed sodium sulfite. In order to insure complete corrosion protection of the economizer, it is common practice to maintain a sulfite residual of 5-10 ppm in the feed water and, if necessary, feed sufficient caustic soda or neutralizing amine to increase the feed water pH to between 8.0 and 9.0.

Below 900 psi excess sulfite (up to 200 ppm) in the boiler will not be harmful. To maintain blowdown rates, the conductivity can then be raised to compensate for the extra solids due to the presence of the higher level of sulfite in the boiler water. This added consideration (in protecting the economizer) is aimed at preventing a pitting failure. Make the application of an oxygen scavenger, such as catalyzed sulfite, a standard recommendation in all of your boiler treatment programs.

For more on economizers.

Chemical Deaeration

Complete oxygen removal cannot be attained by mechanical deaeration alone. Equipment manufacturers state that a properly operated deaerating heater can mechanically reduce the dissolved oxygen concentrations in the feed water to 0.005 cc per liter (7 ppb) and 0 free carbon dioxide. Typically, plant oxygen levels vary from 3 to 50 ppb. Traces of dissolved oxygen remaining in the feed water can then be chemically removed with the oxygen scavenger.

Oxygen scavengers are added to the boiler water, preferably in the storage tank of the deaerator so the scavenger will have the maximum time to react with the residual oxygen. Under certain conditions, such as when boiler feedwater is used for attemperation to lower steam temperature, other locations are preferable. The most commonly used oxygen scavenger is sodium sulfite. It is inexpensive, very effective and rapidly reacts with the trace amounts of oxygen.

It is also easily measured in boiler water. In most cases it is the oxygen scavenger of choice. There are instances in some higher pressure boilers (generally above 900 psig), that some of the sulfite may decompose and enter the steam, causing problems in the condensate systems and condensing steam turbines. In these cases, substitute (usually organic-based) oxygen scavengers can be used.

New oxygen scavengers have been introduced in recent years. The decision to use them or rely on sodium sulfite should only be made by those qualified to make boiler water treatment decisions. In all cases the new product should be carefully added and its effectiveness evaluated in accordance with operating procedures.

Phosphate is used almost as often as oxygen scavengers. However, phosphate also plays several important roles in boiler water treatment:

Measurement of Dissolved Oxygen

Indigo Carmine – A colorimetric procedure for determining dissolved oxygen in the 0 to 100 ppb range. Standards are also available for high range (0-1 ppm),

AmpuImetric – This test offers ease of operation and minimum time in collecting reliable data. Capsules are available in the 0-100 ppb and 0-1 ppm range.

Oxygen Analyzers – Offers accurate reliable direct measurement in liquid streams. Used to monitor dissolved oxygen continuously or intermittently at various points in the condensate and feedwater systems.

Oxygen Analyzers

Basically there are two general techniques for measuring Dissolved Oxygen (DO). Each employs an electrode system in which the dissolved oxygen reacts at the cathode producing a measurable electrochemical effect. The effect may be galvanic, polarographic or potentiometric.

One technique uses a Clark-type cell which is merely an electrode system separated from the sample stream by a semi-permeable membrane. This membrane permits the oxygen dissolved in the sample to pass through it to the electrode system while preventing liquids and ionic species from doing so. The cathode is a hydrogen electrode and carries a negative applied potential with respect to the anode. Electrolyte surrounds the electrode pair and is contained by the membrane. In the absence of a reactant, the cathode becomes polarized with hydrogen and resistance to current flow becomes infinite. When a reactant, such as oxygen that has passed through the membrane is present, the cathode is depolarized and electrons are consumed. The anode of the electrode pair must react with the product of the depolarization reaction with a corresponding release of electrons. As a result, the electrode pair permits current to flow in direct proportion to the amount of oxygen or reactant entering the system hence, the magnitude of the current gives us a direct measure of the amount of oxygen entering the system.

The second basic measuring technique uses an electrode system that consists of a reference electrode and a thallium measuring electrode. No semi-permeable membrane is used the electrode system is immersed directly into the sample. Oxygen concentration is determined by measuring the voltage potential developed, in relation to the reference electrode, when dissolved oxygen comes in contact with the thallium electrode. At the surface of the electrode the thallous-ion concentration is proportional to the dissolved oxygen. The voltage potential developed by the cell is dependent upon the thallous-ion concentration in this layer and varies as the dissolved oxygen concentration changes. The cell output rises 59 millivolts for each decade rise in oxygen concentration. This technique uses a potentiometric system. The method measures directly the concentration of oxygen in the sample. As in the first technique, temperature compensation is a must and is achieved in about the same way. In both techniques, interfacial dynamics at the probe-sample interface are a factor in the probe response. A significant amount of interfacial turbulence is necessary and for precision performance, turbulence should be constant.

Source: http://www.cip.ukcentre.com/do.htm

Heat Exchange on Boiler Feed Water

Whenever heat can be recovered from another source, feed water is one of the best streams to receive this heat. The higher the temperature of the feed water going to the boiler, the more efficiently the boiler operates. However, any type of migratory deposition can impede the heat exchange process. Consequently, the highest quality feed water provides the highest heat exchange rate in either economizers or heaters. It is important to understand that none of these heat exchangers can be blown down during boiler operation.

For more information see Economizers and Blowdown Heat Recovery


For steam trains, what kind of deaerator was used, if any? - History

This is a mostly complete steam roster of the D&RGW. In addition, most of the units from the predecessor D&RG are included. Other predecessor roads (particularly the RGW) are less well represented. There are a few oddball units missing, and I'll be adding those in the near future.

D&RG / D&RGW Standard Gauge Steam Rosters
Unit
Numbers
Mfgr.TypeClassEraUnit
Roster
Notes
CB 1-5Lima 0-4-4-4-0T Shay1900-1936Y-
K&H 150-151Lima 0-4-4-4-0T Shay1911-1936Y-
01Baldwin2-8-0TC-411937-1946Y-
20-22 (D&RGW)
805-807 (D&RG)
Alco0-6-0S-23
96
1900-1936Y-
50-59 (D&RGW)
831-840 (D&RG)
Baldwin0-6-0S-33
149
1906-1952Y-
60-62 (D&RGW)
841-843 (D&RG)
Alco0-6-0S-33
149
1909-1952Y-
503-505 (D&RG late)
155-157 (D&RG early)
Baldwin4-6-046S1881-1906Y-
500-501 (D&RGW)
540-549 (D&RG)
Rome4-6-0T-17
115
1889-1947Y-
505-538 (D&RGW)
506-538 (D&RG)
Baldwin4-6-0T-18
106
1887-1926Y-
520-528 (D&RGW)
712-718 (D&RG)
Baldwin4-6-0T-19
130/145
1892-1926Y-
530-533 (D&RGW)
740-743 (D&RG)
Alco4-6-0T-24
161
1901-1928Y-
535-546 (D&RGW)
700-711 (D&RG)
Baldwin
D&RG
4-6-0T-26
150
1896-1926Y-
575-579 (D&RGW)
805-826 (D&RG)
Baldwin2-6-0G-20
100
1891-1936Y-
590-591 (D&RGW)
940-943 (D&RG)
Baldwin2-6-0G-28
154
1898-1926Y-
592-597 (D&RGW)
950-955 (D&RG)
Alco2-6-0G-28
154
1901-1937Y-
600-626 (D&RGW)
630-672 (D&RG)
Baldwin2-8-0C-26
120
1889-1951Y-
630-691 (D&RGW)
555-629 (D&RG)
Baldwin2-8-0C-28
113
1888-1951Y-
720-739Brooks4-6-0T-28
170
1899-1934Y-
750-759 (D&RG/D&RGW)
1001-1010 (D&RG)
Baldwin4-6-0T-31
179
1902-1939Y-
760-793Brooks4-6-0T-29
184
1908-1948Y-
795-796Schenectady4-6-0T-331907-1948Y-
800-805 (D&RGW)
1001-1006 (D&RG)
Baldwin4-6-2P-44
261
1913-1953Y-
900-903 (D&RGW)
960-963 (D&RG)
Richmond2-8-0C-38
183
1900-1936Y-
915-925Baldwin2-8-0C-39
172/187
1905-1941Y-
930-934 (D&RGW)
990-994 (D&RG)
Baldwin2-8-0C-40
199
1901-1946Y-
940-944 (D&RGW)
980-984 (D&RG)
RLW/Alco2-8-0C-40
186
1901-1936Y-
950-964 (D&RGW)
901-915 (D&RG)
Baldwin2-8-0C-41
185
1900-1946Y-
970-973Richmond2-8-0C-42
180
1900-1936Y-
1000-1029 (D&RGW)
1101-1130 (D&RG)
Baldwin2-8-0C-41
190
1902-1950Y-
1031-1039 (D&RGW)
111-123 (D&SL)
Alco2-8-0C-431908-1955Y-
1131-1199Alco2-8-0C-48
220
1906-1956Y-
1200-1213Baldwin2-8-2K-59
280
1912-1956Y-
1220-1229Lima
Alco
2-8-2K-631915-1956Y ex-D&SL
1400-1409 (D&RGW)
1250-1259 (D&RG)
Alco2-10-2F-81
429
1922-1955Y-
1501-1510Alco4-8-2377
M-67
1922-1955Y-
1511-1520Alco4-8-2383
M-78
1923-1955Y-
1521-1530Alco4-8-2378
M-67
1923-1955Y-
1550-1553Roanoke4-8-2M-691926-1948Y-
1600-1609Baldwin4-8-2M-751926-1949Y-
1700-1713Baldwin4-8-4M-641929-1956Y-
1800-1804Baldwin4-8-4M-681937-1954Y-
3300-3307 (D&RGW)
1050-1057 (D&RG)
Alco2-6-6-2L-62
340
1910-1952Y-
3350-3351Alco2-6-6-2L-761942-1952Y-
3360-3375Alco2-6-6-0L-771942-1952Y ex-D&SL
3400-3415 (D&RGW)
1060-1075 (D&RG)
Alco2-8-8-2L-95
458
1913-1952Y-
3500-3509Alco2-8-8-2L-107
532
1927-1956Y-
3550-3564Roanoke
Baldwin
2-8-8-2L-1091943-1951Y-
3600-3609Alco2-8-8-2L-1311927-1956Y-
3610-3619Alco2-8-8-2L-1321930-1956Y-
3700-3714Baldwin4-6-6-4L-1051938-1956Y-
3800-3805Alco4-6-6-4L-971943-1947Y-
D&RG / D&RGW Narrow Gauge Steam Rosters
Unit
Numbers
Mfgr.TypeClassEraUnit
Roster
Notes
1-109 (D&RG) MiscMiscMisc1871-1924Y-
150-154 (D&RG) Baldwin2-6-0451881-1902Y-
158-165 (D&RG) Baldwin4-6-045.51882-1916Y-
166-177Baldwin4-6-047
T-12
1883-1924
1924-1941
Y-
200-227Grant2-8-060
C-16
1881-1924
1924-1941
Y-
228-295Baldwin2-8-060
C-16
1877-1924
1924-1955
Y-
300-306Baldwin2-8-0C-171924-1938Y-
424-429 (D&RG)
315-320 (D&RGW)
Baldwin2-8-072
C-18
1917-1924
1924-1954
Y-
400-422 (D&RG)
340-349 (D&RGW)
Baldwin2-8-070/74
C-19
1881-1924
1924-1962
Y-
430-431 (D&RG)
360-361 (D&RGW)
Baldwin2-8-093
C-21
1916-1924
1924-1951
Y-
432 (D&RG)
375 (D&RGW)
Baldwin2-8-0112
C-25
1916-1924
1924-1949
Y-
450-464Baldwin2-8-2125
K-27
1903-1924
1924-1962
Y-
470-479Alco2-8-2140
K-28
1923-1924
1924-1981
Y-
480-489Baldwin2-8-2K-361925-1970Y-
490-499Baldwin2-8-2K-371928-1970Y-

Most of the surviving Rio Grande steam exists today on the D&RGW's two successor narrow gauges - the Durango & Silverton and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic. These two roads hold the largest collection of Rio Grande steam engines anywhere, and most still operate.

Only one standard gauge steam engine survives today - D&RGW 683, kept at the Colorado Railroad Museum.

Clearly I didn't live through the D&RGW steam era, nor am I adequately omnicient to just come up with this information. Thus, it's only fair that I acknowledge those who have come before me and put the pieces together from which the steam rosters draw.


Railroads During World War II

The nation looked on uneasily as the clouds of war gathered over Europe and Asia. Countering the prevailing isolationist mood, President Roosevelt proposed increased military appropriations in 1938 and the creation of a two-ocean navy. The concept of national defense and the need to rearm gained impetus with the declaration of a limited war emergency on September 8, 1939. The export of scrap iron was halted a year later, and an unlimited national emergency was declared on May 27, 1941. Though not officially at war, the nation was definitely on a war footing.

Railroad traffic increased as the armed forces rebuilt. A freight car shortage occurred in late 1939 for the first time since 1921, and the railroads worked steadily to put long-dormant cars and locomotives back in service. Determined to avoid the chaos that resulted from government seizure during World War I, an Office of Defense Transportation was created to exercise general control over the railroads and ensure that national transportation priorities were met.

Wartime Railroad Restrictions

World War II would prove to be the zenith of public rail transportation. More people and materials than ever before had to travel, and nearly everything moved by rail. Demand increased spectacularly. In 1940, steam railroads handled 378,343 million ton-miles: about 62 percent of all freight. This nearly doubled by 1944 to 745,829 ton-miles, representing 70 percent of all freight transported in the United States. Passenger miles increased at an even greater rate during the same period, from 23,816 million passenger miles to 95,663 million passenger miles. In 1944, the peak war year, more than 75 percent of all commercial passengers traveled by rail, as did an astonishing 97 percent of military passengers.

World War II actually delayed the conversion from steam to diesel locomotives. Steam locomotive builders recognized that the existing technology had been almost fully developed by the late 1930s, and they were willing to concede the superior characteristics of diesel-electric locomotives. Most believed that the conversion from steam to diesel was inevitable, but would occur over an extended period of time as steam locomotives came to the end of their economic lives and were replaced.

It was suggested that some roads would never buy diesels because of their commitment to coal, and that smaller lines would be years in converting because of the availability of low-cost second-hand steam locomotives. The conversion would be gradual and orderly, permitting the manufacturers to invest in new production facilities. The principal builders -- Baldwin, Alco, Lima -- expected to compete against one another for locomotive orders long into the future.

The reality was quite different. Despite the higher cost -- a diesel-electric locomotive cost two and one -- half times as much as a comparable steam locomotive-most railroads were eager to change over as quickly as possible. Wartime production restrictions limited the numbers and types of diesel locomotives that could be produced, so even though they wanted diesels, the railroads, strapped for motive power, had to continue buying steam locomotives.

More than 4,000 locomotives were built for domestic use during the war. The most memorable year was 1944, distinguished by production of the last and best examples of several remarkable steam locomotive designs, including the Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 Big Boys and 4-6-6-4 Challengers, Santa Fe's 4-8-4 Northerns, Baltimore & Ohio's 2-8-8-4s, and Southern Pacific's 4-8-8-2 cab-forwards.

The War Production Board restricted the designing of new steam locomotives, establishing production criteria that were intended to make locomotives more useful during wartime. This resulted in Southern Pacific's 4460-class engines having smaller drivers than their prewar sisters, and the design being copied for the Western Pacific and Central of Georgia. Even the proud Pennsylvania found itself building locomotives derived from a Chesapeake & Ohio design.

Despite restrictions, there were also brave attempts to improve the steam locomotive. The Pennsylvania Railroad was the leader in this direction, developing a direct-drive steam turbine locomotive, two different four-cylinder locomotives, and the shark-nosed T-1 4-4-4-4s. These efforts did little to stem the tide of dieselization: 608 diesel-electric locomotives were built in 1944, compared with 491 steam locomotives. The first Class 1 railroad to fully dieselize was the New York, Susquehanna & Western, which replaced 29 steam locomotives with 16 Alco diesel-electrics between 1942 and the summer of 1945.


How a steam locomotive works

There are two basic areas of activity on a steam locomotive: the boiler where steam is made, and the engine (cylinders, rods, and driving wheels) where steam is used.

The essential action of any steam engine, stationary or mobile, is that of steam under pressure (200-300 PSI for most locomotives) entering a cylinder-piston assembly and pushing against the piston as it expands in an effort to reach normal atmospheric pressure.

Making steam

The production of steam begins with the fire, which rests on grates at the bottom of the firebox. Hot gases rise from the firebed to the upper portion of the firebox, or combustion chamber. On a coal-burning locomotive, the build-up of ash is controlled by shaking the grates so the ashes fall to the ashpan below. At the end of the run, the ashes are dumped from the ashpan hopper.

The gases move from the firebox forward through an array of pipes called flues, or tubes, in the main part of the boiler, which is filled with water. The best way to envision how the inside of a cylindrical boiler looks is to imagine a bundle of drinking straws in a glass (only the glass would be resting on its side, not upright).

Heat from the gases in the flues brings the water to a boil, making steam. The steam rises to the top of the boiler and is collected in the dome, where the throttle regulating the flow of steam to the cylinders is typically located. (More modern locomotives had their throttles located in the smokebox.)

The dry pipe carries the steam from the dome forward to the superheater, an improvement that came into wide use around 1910. The superheater is simply an arrangement of tubing that conducts the steam back through extra-large flues, where it is heated to a higher temperature, before returning it to the steam delivery pipes leading toward the cylinders. The use of superheated, as opposed to saturated, steam brought a 25-30 percent increase in the efficiency of the steam locomotive.

As a pressure vessel, the boiler must be carefully managed, lest it blow up. Safety valves are designed to automatically let steam escape if the boiler pressure gets too high. The top of the firebox, called the crown sheet, must be covered with water at all times. If the water level falls below the crown sheet, the fire’s heat can weaken it, causing the pressurized boiler to explode. Devices like the water gauge, or glass, are provided in the cab for the crew to monitor water level. Low-water alarms are found on newer locomotives.

Using steam

From the steam delivery pipes, the steam enters the valve chests (one on each side). The valves, by moving back and forth, allow the steam to enter the cylinders at times when it can usefully push the pistons. When the steam has done its work, the valve has moved to let it escape, at considerably diminished pressure, to the blast pipe in the smokebox.

The motion of the valves is derived from the crosshead, which moves according to the rotation of the driving wheels and also is connected to the valve gear. The engineer works the valve gear with the reverse lever, so named because it is used to control the locomotive’s direction of travel as well as the timing of valve events.

Once the steam has pushed the piston, a series of linkages – piston rod to main rod, main rod to side rod, side rod to driving wheels – converts the piston’s back-and-forth motion to the rotational motion of the wheels. Counterweights placed opposite the point of attachment of the rods keep the driving wheels balanced.

The earliest locomotives had one pair of drivers, while the largest number of wheels driven from a single set of cylinders was six pairs. Because of their great size or the need for flexibility, many locomotives had two engines – two sets of driving wheels, each powered by a set of cylinders.

To help guide it into curves, many locomotives also had a small set of wheels (either one pair or two) in front beneath the smokebox called a lead or pony truck. Similarly, a two- or four-wheel trailing truck was placed at the rear of the locomotive to support the firebox.

There were many variations of wheel arrangements depending on a locomotive’s intended service and the era of its construction.

Exhausting smoke and steam

After the steam is used in the cylinders, it enters the smokebox via the blast pipe. As the exhaust steam blasts upward toward the stack, it provides draft for the fire by drawing the gases through the flues and into the smokebox. (Fresh air enters the locomotive through open spaces at the base of the firebox.) The mingled exhaust steam and gases then leave the locomotive through the stack. It’s the relatively violent escape of steam from the cylinders that produces the familiar chuff-chuff sound.

As the exhaust is dependent on spent steam leaving the cylinders, provision must be made for exhausting the hot gases, or smoke, when the engineer has the throttle closed. A group of small steam jets called the blower is located in the smokebox for this purpose.

The smokebox also serves to collect partially burned particles of coal from the fire that have passed through the flues. When these accumulate to a depth sufficient to obstruct the flow of gases, some are picked up by the swirling exhaust and thrown out the stack as cinders.

Fuel, water, incidentals

Fuel (coal for most steam locomotives, oil for some, wood in the early days) and water are carried in the tender, a separate car semi-permanently coupled to the locomotive.

Coal was originally fed to the firebox by the fireman with a shovel, but locomotives of any size or modernity are fitted with mechanical stokers. Some locomotives intended for short-haul use were built without tenders they carry a limited amount of their own supplies and are known as tank engines.

Water is added to the boiler by two injectors (one for the engineer, one for the fireman), or an injector and a feedwater heater. An injector uses steam to force water into the boiler, heating the water as it does so. Water from the injector is still cold compared to that in the boiler, so the check valve where it enters the boiler is placed forward, so as not to cool the water near the firebox. More efficient feedwater heaters, fitted to most big steamers after the mid-1930’s, use exhaust steam to preheat the water.

Other accessories found on steam locomotives are safety features that have been carried over, albeit in altered form, as standard equipment on today’s diesels.

The headlight – and other electrical appliances such as marker lights and cab lights – is powered by a small steam-driven turbo-generator. Earlier headlights were oil-burning.

The pilot, which was gradually reduced in size from the “cowcatchers” of the mid-19th century, pushes aside obstructions. To accommodate brakemen, locomotives engaged in lots of switching often had footboards instead of pilots, but these have been outlawed on diesels for safety reasons.

Sand for traction is stored in one or more sand domes, or sand boxes as they’re sometimes called.

The whistle, mounted on the dome of many locomotives, could be placed in several different spots. Mechanical bell ringers replaced the simple action of a crewman pulling on a cord attached to the bell.


Steam locomotives excited the senses and Steamtown works to keep their stories alive!

You'd feel heat from the firebox, smell hot steam and oil you'd hear the whistle, feel the ground vibrate, and watch as one-ton drive rods turned steel wheels. Remember the sound of "chuff-chuff" from the smokestack? Today, you can learn the history of steam railroad transportation, and the people who built, repaired and rode, as we work to preserve a special era in America's industrial history!

“Big Boy” No. 4012 on Display

The large engine makes its triumphant return following an extended cosmetic restoration.

BLW 26 steam locomotive

Ride a seasonal Yard Shuttle - either the Scranton or Nay Aug Gorge Limited - during your Spring/Summer 2018 visit to Steamtown

Enjoy Seasonal Passenger Excursions

Steamtown NHS offers seasonal passenger excursions to various out-of-park destinations, generally May through August and October

Frequently Asked Questions

Check here for basic questions you may have about your trip to Steamtown National Historic Site

Tours and Programs

Descriptions of Tours and Programs you can expect to experience at the Park

Train Rides and Excursions

Here you can find descriptions as well as our scheduled upcoming trips

Steamtown's Big Boy Restoration Project

Steamtown National Historic Site’s Union Pacific “Big Boy” No. 4012 Removed From Public Display For Cosmetic Restoration and Painting

Upcoming Events at Steamtown

Here you will find any and all upcoming events so you can PLAN YOUR VISIT!


The Guide to Lionel's MPC-Era Large Steam Engines

From the high point of Lionel’s ‘Golden Era’ of the 1950s, the 1960s marked a sharp decline in offerings from the most famous of all train makers. By the late 1960s, Lionel had diversified into other businesses and was looking to leave the toy train market. As a result, in 1969 Lionel reached an agreement with General Mills to begin making Lionel trains under license beginning in 1970. General Mills assigned the Lionel division to its subsidiary Model Products Corporation [MPC], and a new era of Lionel trains was born.

While overshadowed by the classic Postwar-Era pieces and the newer, state of the art offerings of Lionel, MTH and other current O Gauge train makers, the MPC era is a fascinating time in Lionel’s history. Due to tight budgets handed down from their superiors at General Mills, Lionel’s managers had to mostly make do with designs and tools made in the 1940s and 50s, and adapt them slightly with more modern production techniques. During the 1970s and early 80s many basic designs were used and used again, but with many imaginative and innovative minor changes to give the Lionel line variety and interest. This is readily evident in the production of Lionel’s bigger steam locomotives of this era.

What is a ‘big steam locomotive’? In this article we define it as a steam engine with a wheel arrangement of 4-6-4 or larger. A few smaller 6-drivered locomotives, like the DC-powered 2-6-4s of 1980, are left off the list as they were more closely related to starter set engines than the big top-of-the-line steamers listed in this article.

Lionel catalogued 23 big steam engines from 1970 to 1986, and all but one—the first—made it to production. They are an interesting case study of the era, as they are an example of MPC/Lionel gaining manufacturing experience as the years went by. The engines gradually became more intricate and complex over the years.

In this article we will take a brief look at each of these engines, their distinguishing characteristics, and the relative rarity and/or demand for each one.

The First—No, Wait, Nevermind: #8062 Great Northern 4-6-4 (1970)

Photo courtesy of the Lionel, 1970

1970 was the first catalog of the MPC era. In it, Lionel catalogued a set headed by a 4-6-4 steam engine in Great Northern colors, numbered 8062. Apparently a reissue of the Postwar-Era 665, the 8062 was in the regular catalog but never made it to production.

Why? Two reasons are most likely. First, Lionel may not have received many orders for the set and decided it was not worth the effort to produce. The toy train business was still in the doldrums in 1970, and demand for a set of this size may not have been very large.

A second reason may have been that the 8062 was lost in the shuffle, in the midst of moving production from Lionel’s old plant in New Jersey to the new location in Michigan. The 8062 was by far the most complex item catalogued in 1970, and whereas other steam engines from 1970 were of a common design and shared many parts, the 8062 would have required an entirely separate production run for its dozens of unique parts and more complex assembly. Given all that was going on in 1970, it’s likely this interesting engine was simply squeezed out of the production timetable.

Ten years later, the number 8062 was used for a Burlington F-3 B Unit diesel.

The ‘Second’ First One: #8206 New York Central 4-6-4 (1972-75)

In 1972, Lionel tried again. This time the 4-6-4, numbered 8206 and lettered for the New York Central, made it to production. It too was a reissue of the Postwar-Era 665 and used its boiler mold and drive train.

The 8206 included a new feature not found on Postwar-Era steam engines, the Electronic Sound of Steam. The Sound of Steam is actuated by the drive wheels on the engine closing a circuit which is connected to a primitive circuit board in the tender, creating a white noise sound resembling the chugging of an engine. The 8206 also had an electronic whistle, but it was unreliable and many 8206s have defective whistles today.

The 8206 was one of the most significant engines of the MPC era. During its first two years MPC/Lionel focused almost entirely on starter sets, with only limited offerings of extra cars and accessories, and no other locomotives other than those included in the sets. The 8206 showed a willingness by the company to bring back some of the bigger, higher-quality pieces from Lionel’s glory days.

Catalogued for four years, the 8206 is relatively common. It is interesting that this engine’s number used the exact same four digits—0, 2, 6, and 8—as the planned 8062 of 1970.

The 8206 was primarily offered as a separate-sale item, but it was also used in one hastily-assembled set in 1972. In the 1970s, 80s and 90s Lionel produced “Service Station Special’ sets, available only through Lionel repair stations. In 1972, the 8206 headed a set with 6 boxcars and a caboose. Since all of the pieces were available separately, the set components are relatively common, but the set box itself is a true rarity.

#8600 New York Central 4-6-4 (1976)

The 1976 Lionel catalog featured a top of the line set called the Empire State express, headed by another New York Central 4-6-4, numbered 8600. However, this engine was not a repeat of the 8206. This 4-6-4 used the boiler casting from the Postwar-era 2046/646 engines, which were bigger and chunkier looking than the 665 design used on the 8206.

Like the 8206, the 8600 has a smoke unit, magnetraction, and the electronic sound of steam. However, the troublesome whistle feature was dropped.

Available only as part of the set, the 8600 is a relatively hard engine to find, but low demand keeps its price reasonable.

#8603 Chesapeake and Ohio 4-6-4 (1976-77)

Introduced in the 1976 catalog, the 8603 is essentially a redecorated 8206, but without the fussy electronic whistle feature. It has a silver boilerfront, making it a little more distinctive than its predecessor.


There are two variations of the 8603. Early models had the rims of the drivers polished, but these quickly succumbed to corrosion. Later models have the driver rims painted white.

Never part of a set and available for only two years, the 8603 is a bit less common than the 8206.

#8702 Southern Crescent 4-6-4 (1977-80)

Until 1977, MPC-era steam engines shared the same color characteristic of their Postwar ancestors—black. That changed in 1977, when Lionel announced the Southern Crescent passenger set, headed by a green, silver and gold 4-6-4.

Using the same design as the 8600 from the previous year, the 8702 also features smoke, magnetraction, and the electronic sound of steam.

Despite being catalogued for four years, the 8702 shows up less often than some of the later decorative 4-6-4s. Also, there are many more of the matching cars on the market than the locomotive.

#8801 Blue Comet 4-6-4 (1978-80)

The following year Lionel brought back one of the most venerable names in its history—The Blue Comet. The original Lionel Blue Comet was a standard gauge set headed by the legendary 400E. This newer, O Gauge version used the standard 2046/646 shell and was mechanically identical to the 8702 from the previous year.


The only differences were in the boilerfront—the 8801 used the feedwater-heater front last used on the 8206--and in the paint. Painted a sharp high gloss two-tone blue, the Blue Comet certainly stands out in any steam locomotive lineup. The paint was very heavily applied, and some 8801s have small drips or runs in the paint.

The 8801 is less common than the 8702 and is more highly valued. It is also one of the few MPC-era engines that has held close to its peak value from the early 1990s. Also like the Southern Crescent, more Blue Comet cars were made than engines. The car/engine ratio also seems more pronounced with the Blue Comet set than the Southern Crescent, which also contributes to the 8801’s price.

#8900 Santa Fe 4-6-4 (1979)

In 1979, Lionel announced a new series called the Famous American Railroad Series, which would commemorate five of the greatest railroads in American history. The first set was the Santa Fe set from 1979. Heading up the set was a 4-6-4 numbered 8900.

The 8900 was essentially a repeat of the 8603 but with a different lettering and paint scheme. Also, like all FARR engines, the tender had the special diamond logo distinguishing the series. It is the smallest of the engines in the FARR series.

Of the five FARR engines, the Santa Fe 4-6-4 is actually the one of the two we see least often at Trainz. Like many early MPC-era steamers, the price for the engine is not exorbitant, but the engine is surprisingly uncommon.

#8002 Union Pacific 2-8-4 (1980)

Through the 1970s, all of Lionel’s big steam engines were 4-6-4s and used one of two different boiler castings. By 1980, Lionel’s production team felt ready to take the next step and bring back the 2-8-4 Berkshire steam engine.

A staple of the Postwar Era, the 726/736 Berkshires headed up numerous top-of-the-line Lionel sets. Unlike the 4-6-4s, the 2-8-4s use worm gears that are much different from the spur gearing used in the 4-6-4s and require an entirely different assembly process.

Two 2-8-4s were produced in 1980. The first was the 8002 Union Pacific 2-8-4, which headed up the second of the Famous American Railroad sets. Painted two-tone gray and with smoke deflectors on the boiler [the first ever Lionel engine so equipped], the 8002 was a popular engine and is quite common today.

However, the 8002 has a unique defect that requires close examination before buying. The gray paint used on the boiler is very sensitive to heat, and if stored in a hot area for a long period the paint will take on a yellowish tint. The smoke deflectors were painted the same color but will not tint if exposed to heat, so comparing the color of the deflectors to the boiler is a quick way to tell if the engine has this problem. Engines with intact paint are worth a fair amount more than those that have yellowed.

The 8002 has magnetraction, smoke, and the electronic sound of steam, but in addition Lionel brought back the electronic whistle last seen in 1975. This new and improved whistle was much more reliable and more realistic.

#8003 Chessie Steam Special 2-8-4 (1980)

Lionel produced a second Berkshire in 1980 to head up a sharp passenger set in Chessie colors. The 8003 features a gray boilerfront and yellow and vermillion stripes, with blue lettering. Like the 8002, this engine features magnetraction, smoke, sound of steam, and a whistle.

Like the Southern Crescent and Blue Comet sets, the cars for the Chessie Steam Special are more common than the engine. This set is also unique in that it is the first time Lionel ever modeled an excursion train.

Bright and distinctive, the 8003 was a hot seller, and today it commands a slight premium over the more common MPC-era steamers.

#8006 Atlantic Coast Line 4-6-4 (1980)

In 1980, Lionel produced a special 4-6-4 available only through JC Penney. This attractive engine, painted in gray and silver and decorated for the Atlantic Coast Line, featured smoke, magnetraction. Sound of steam, and a whistle. It also included a walnut display board with a plexiglass cover.


This engine is often known as ‘The Silver Shadow’, and it remains one of the more difficult MPC-era steam engines to locate.

#3100 Great Northern 4-8-4 (1981)

The 1981 catalog featured the third set in the Famous American Railroad Series, a Great Northern set headed by a 4-8-4 numbered 3100. The 3100 was essentially a repeat of the 8002 Union Pacific 2-8-4, but with a 4-wheel front truck and a neat black and green paint scheme. It has all of the standard features of the big engines of the era—smoke, magnetraction, sound of steam, and a whistle.

A popular set, the 3100 and its matching cars are relatively common today, but this set is seen less often than the UP set from the previous year.

This engine was also one of the few MPC-era locomotives numbered outside of the 8000 numbering series. Why this was done remains a mystery.

#8100 [#611] Norfolk and Western 4-8-4 (1981)

By 1981 Lionel had reintroduced nearly every locomotive design from the Postwar era. Only two notable steam locomotives remained, and the first, the Norfolk and Western 4-8-4, was included in the 1981 line. The original Lionel 4-8-4, numbered 746, was catalogued from 1957 to 1960 and headed several top of the line freight sets.

In 1981, matching aluminum passenger cars [another reissue first brought back in 1979] were made creating what many consider the finest set of the MPC era. Unlike the 746, the new model, 8100, carried a prototypical number [611] and the striping on the engine more closely matched the actual colors used on the real locomotive.

Complete with smoke, magnetraction, sound of steam and a whistle, the 8100 was a sensation when it hit the shelves in 1981 and for years was one of the most highly valued Lionel locomotives ever made. Like most MPC engines, more recent models have brought its value down a fair bit, but the 8100 remains one of the most in-demand of all engines from the era.

#8101 [#659] Chicago and Alton 4-6-4 (1981)

1981 was MPC/Lionel’s best year. Some of the most popular sets and locomotives of the period were included in the ’81 catalog. One such set was the Chicago and Alton ‘Red Train’, headed up by a 4-6-4 in Alton’s fantastic dark red, silver and gold decoration.

The 8101 locomotive was a repeat of the 8702 Southern Crescent locomotive, but with an electronic whistle added. The tender, however, was something entirely different. Until this point, all of MPC/Lionel’s big steamers had used the same 2046W-type streamlined tender. But the 8101 sported a 2224W tender, last seen in 1940. Riding on 6-wheel trucks, the tender gave the engine a heftier look compared to previous 4-6-4s. The tender also carried a prototypical number, 659.

Well-received and very popular, the 8101 is more common than the 8801 Blue Comet and is seen about as often as the 8702 Southern Crescent.

#8210 Joshua Lionel Cowen 4-6-4 (1982)

In 1980, Lionel released a series of six boxcars commemorating the 100 th anniversary of the birth of Joshua Lionel Cowen, founder of the company. Two years later, a matching engine and caboose were made to complete the set.

Numbered 8210, this 4-6-4 was mechanically a repeat of the 8101 Alton Hudson, down to the 6-wheel 2224W tender. Painted a dark brown with gold accents, it has a bit of a muted but stately appearance.

This engine was also available through JC Penney with a matching display case. Due to this dual availability, the display case is much harder to find than the engine, since only the JC Penney engines included it.

#8215 [#779] Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 (1982)

After the rush of big engines that hit the market in 1980 and 1981, Lionel backed off in ’82, offering only two large steam engines. But the second of the two, the 8215 Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4, was only offererd in the Fall Collector Center catalog, and the entire production run sold out before the regular 1983 catalog was printed.

Given a prototypical number and sporting the same features as previous 2-8-4s, the 8215 had the added bonus of the big 2224W die-cast tender. Perhaps most importantly, this 2-8-4 carried the name of one of most famous of all railroads to run the 2-8-4, the Nickel Plate Road. The NKP ran its Berkshires until 1958, and the 8215 carries the number 779, which was the last 2-8-4 ever built.

The 8215 has a realistic, all-business look that had been missing from some of Lionel’s steam engines in previous years, which may have contributed to its popularity. It is seen less often than the earlier MPC 2-8-4s, but is worth about the same.

#8307 [#4449] Southern Pacific 4-8-4 (1983)

Following the success of the Norfolk and Western 4-8-4 in 1981, Lionel reissued the streamlined 4-8-4 two years later, giving it a new boilerfront and painting it in Southern Pacific’s fantastic Daylight colors. Made to match the SP aluminum cars made a year earlier and given a prototypical number, 4449, the 8307 became the most valuable of all MPC steamers by 1990. However, it has seen its value diminish as newer scale-sized SP 4-8-4s were made in the 1990s and 2000s. But the 8307 is an uncommon engine and remains the centerpiece of any 1970s-80s collection.

It is mechanically identical to the 8100 and including the same features. Unlike many Lionel passenger sets, the cars are actually as hard to find as the engine, likely because this is the only MPC-era passenger set to have two engines, the other being the 8260/61/62 F-3 ABA diesels from 1982.

#8309 [#4501] Southern 2-8-2 (1983)

1983 also witnessed the release of the fourth Famous American Railroad set, this one honoring the great Southern Railway. Lionel went back to the standard Berkshire formula, but this time changed the 4-wheel rear truck to a 2-wheel version, resulting in the first 2-8-2 in Lionel history.

Possessing the same features as the Berkshires, the 8309, actually numbered 4501 in honor of a Southern locomotive used for excursion service on the Tennessee Valley Railway Museu, (which explains the T.V.R.M. initials on the top of the tender flanks). Like the actual 4501, the model was painted in Southern’s famous green and gold passenger scheme. The engine as produced was painted a much different green than that shown in the 1983 catalog, which showed a much darker green and different lettering style.

Made at a time when Lionel was having production difficulties, the 8309 apparently had a shorter production run and is the most highly valued of the five FARR steam engines.

#8404 [#6200] Pennsylvania 6-8-6 Turbine (1984-85)

The fifth and final Famous American Railroad set commemorated none other than the Standard Railroad of the World, the Pennsylvania. To head up the set, Lionel brought back the 6-8-6 turbine, last seen in 1955. A greatly scaled-down model of the Pennsylvania’s ill-fated answer to diesels, Lionel used the turbine in numerous Postwar-era sets.

This new turbine, 8404, most closely resembled the 682 turbine of 1954-55, which was the last of the Postwar engines. Unlike the 682, the 8404 was painted in dark green with a silver smokebox and boilerfront. Like all other top of the line steamers from the time, this engine has magnetraction, smoke, electronic sound of steam, and a whistle.

The 8404 was made in Mexico. In 1983 Lionel decided to move production out of Michigan as a cost saving measure, but poor planning led to disaster. The 8404 was delayed almost a year, and these engines, while good runners, seem to have had more production problems than most Lionel locomotives.

The 8404 is in the middle of the FARR engine rarity scale, being more common than the 8900 Santa Fe 4-6-4 and 8309 Southern 2-8-2, but a bit harder to find than the 8002 Union Pacific Berkshire or 3100 Great Northern 4-8-4.

#8406 [#783] New York Central 4-6-4 (1984-85)

By 1984, only one great Postwar-era locomotive remained for Lionel to tackle—the Scale Hudson. Unlike other 4-6-4s, the Scale Hudson is a ¼” the foot accurate model of the real J-1e Hudsons used by the New York Central. First introduced in 1937, the original Scale Hudson [700E] was also the most highly detailed and ran on special, solid-rail track. Discontinued in 1942, the Scale Hudson was brought back in 1950 and modified slightly to run on regular Lionel track. This engine, #773, was a legend in its time, appearing only in 1950 and being brought back for a brief encore in 1964.

The MPC Scale Hudson was based on the 1964 model, but included the now-standard 2224W die cast tender and all of the usual features associated with Lionel’s high-priced steam engines. Keeping an eye on history, the Lionel design team gave the engine a number [783] reflective of its Postwar heritage.


Highly anticipated, the 8406 sold quickly, but production problems in Mexico delayed its release until 1985. While valued less than subsequent Hudson releases, the 8406 is actually less common than the Scale Hudsons produced in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

#5484 TCA 4-6-4 (1985)

Beginning in 1980, Lionel produced a series of green and gold passenger cars for the Train Collectors Association [TCA]’s annual conventions. To wind up this series in 1985, Lionel produced a special 4-6-4 in matching colors.

The 5484 Hudson has the same features as the 8210 and 8101 Hudsons, and it also includes the 2224W die cast tender.

This is probably the most difficult of all MPC steam locomotives to find. It was never catalogued, is not well known, and its number is out of sequence, so many collectors fail to notice it in price guides. To give a comparison, at Trainz the 5484 has been outnumbered by the more desirable 8100 Norfolk and Western 4-8-4 by a ratio of five to one.

#8606 [#784] Boston and Albany 4-6-4 (1986)

Lionel used 1985 to catch up production and straighten out the problems associated with production move to Mexico, eventually giving up and returning to Michigan. Thus, no new top of the line steam engines were catalogued in ’85, marking the first time in ten years this had happened.

1986 was also a year of turmoil for the company, as the transition of ownership from General Mills to Detroit real estate developer Richard Kughn began. But in the meantime, Lionel found time to close out the era by adding three interesting steam locomotives to the roster.

The first was another Scale Hudson, 8606. Essentially a repeat of the 8406, the 8606 possesses a white boilerfront and Boston and Albany lettering. It also has a cab number [784] keeping in line with the Scale Hudson numbering scheme.


More distinctive about the 8606 is how it was sold. Lionel offered it directly to customers, bypassing its dealer network. This created a lot of animosity and was not repeated.

The 8606 was considered very rare when first released, but over time it became apparent that it was produced in greater quantities than initially believed. At Trainz we have seen just as many 8606s as 8406s.

#8610 [#672] Wabash 4-6-2 (1986-87)

With the end of the Famous American Railroad Series, Lionel embarked on a new path, introducing the ‘Fallen Flags’ line. Commemorating railroads that had been bought or merged into other lines, the Fallen Flags would eventually number seven sets, the last being produced in 1993.

The first set honored the Wabash Railroad, and was led by a Hudson-type engine using the smaller boiler casting last seen on the 8900 Santa Fe Hudson in 1979. However, this engine was not a 4-6-4 but rather a 4-6-2, as Lionel repeated the rear truck swap trick used on the 8309 Southern 2-8-2. The engine also kept with recent tradition and carried a prototypical number [672]. Unlike the FARR engines, this locomotive carried no markings identifying it as part of a special series.

Initially the 8610 and its matching passenger cars were slow sellers. The catalog illustration was not correct the engine looked pale and washed out in the pictures. When released, the engine’s dark blue and gold lettering was a hit, and for a time it was highly popular.

Interestingly, the Wabash set was the only Fallen Flags passenger train set. All others were freight trains.

#8615 [#1970] Louisville and Nashville 2-8-4 (1986)

The final MPC-era big steam engine was a special made for JC Penney. Known as ‘Big Emma’, this engine was decorated for the Louisville and Nashville, one of the most prolific operators of 2-8-4s. A repeat of the 8215 from 1982, this engine also included a display board with a plexiglass cover. It carries a prototypical number, 1970.

This last engine is also one of the rarest. We have seen far fewer 8615s than any of the other 8-drivered locomotives, including the streamlined 4-8-4s. It is arguably one of the scarcest MPC-era steam engines, second only to the 5484 TCA Hudson of 1985.

The following year, Lionel became Lionel Trains, Inc. and the Modern Era was born. The first steam engines made by LTI closely resembled the later MPC engines, but over time new designs took hold, and eventually these Postwar-style Hudsons and Berkshires became a memory.

Today’s steam engines include features that were only a dream when Southern Crescent and Famous American Railroad sets ruled Lionel’s rails. While the great steam locomotives of the 1970s and 80s are no longer state of the art, they were the finest engines of their day. They are a vital part of Lionel history and laid the foundation for the toy train renaissance of the 1990s. While their value in dollars may have diminished a bit, their value to Lionel’s ultimate success has not.


Shay Locomotive

Ephraim Shay (1839-1916) was a logger himself, and like those who try to build a better mousetrap, he decided to build a better logging locomotive. In 1880, he constructed a successful prototype, basically a flatcar with a steam boiler mounted amidships fuel and water on opposite ends. What set this locomotive apart was the unusual cylinder arrangement. Two vertical cylinders drove a crankshaft, which in turn drove a pair of geared trucks through a system of universal joints and sliding shafts (jackshafts). On most Shays, the boiler is offset to the left of center, to balance the cylinders on the right.

In 1882, Ephraim assigned the rights of the locomotive that would bear his name to a company that would eventually become Lima Locomotive Works (Lima, OH, pronounced LIE-mah). They refined and enlarged the design: Shays could burn coal, oil or wood, and varied from tiny two cylinder, two truck models to three cylinder, four truck monsters weighing over 400,000 pounds.

Shays produced a distinctive sound due to the rapid firing of the cylinders it seemed they were going about 60 mph, whereas they were actually chuffing along at 12 mph! This slow speed, high tractive effort locomotive could climb grades as great as 14 percent. One other advantage the Shay had was the exposed cylinders and running gear.This made repairs relatively easy, as everything was accessible.

Shay production lasted until 1945. There were 2,771 Shays built, of which approximately 84 still exist. It's a testimony to the Shay design and construction quality that many of these remain in active service many decades after they were built. Most of the survivors are in tourist railroads &ndash there is one at Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad at Felton, near Santa Cruz.

In the center of Cadillac MI, you can see a city park honoring Ephraim Shay, with a two-truck Shay on display. You can also visit the location where the first Shays were built, to see modern replicas run by the current landowners - George Ice.

The L.E. White mill owned three Shays - #2, #4 and #5 on the roster. The first (#800 on the Lima Works list) was built in 1903 the second (#957) was built in 1904 and the third (#2942) was built in 1917. All three were abandoned in 1936. All three Shays were delivered as wood burners but were all converted to use oil.

Typically a Shay could pull 10 times its own weight - #2 weighed 53,000 pounds which meant she could pull some 250 tons of logs.

This Shay - picture right - worked at Glen Blair. When the Glen Blair mill closed in 1925 the Shay was stored in the shed and lay undisturbed until this photo was taken in 1938. This Shay was built in 1889 and is believed to have been the first Shay on the Mendocino Coast. She was bought by the Glen Blair Redwood Company in 1903 from the Usal Redwood Company. She was scrapped by the Union Lumber Company (who bought the Glen Blair redwood Company) in 1947.

This Shay (left) was employed at Union Landing
Click photo to see more pictures of Shay Locos

The Union Lumber Company's Shay (#2) (right) - was formerly the property of the Glen Blair Redwood Company and spent most of its working life on the Ten Mile Branch.

The museum at Elk contains a model built by Colin Menzies of a Two Truck Shay. The model was built by Colin in 1/24 scale &ndash ½ inch to the foot. It is a static model ( i.e it is not powered). It is atypical of the class of Shays owned by the L.E. White Company. The entire model was constructed from drawings and photographs by Colin of styrene plastic with the exception of the wheels which were bought. It took some 400 hours to complete.

Another of Colin's models of a Shay Locomotive is shown left (click photo to see all pictures)

Right are pictures of a live steam model of a Shay Locomotive owned by club member Deb Smith (click to see more photos)

Colin Menzies&rsquo widow Diane has been kind enough to give to our club another of Colin&rsquos incredible models (see gallery lower left). This one is of a very early Shay with a vertical boiler. Like the model in the gallery above left, it is unpowered and was built from scratch using plans that Colin drew from measuring photos. Right, is an 1880 picture that shows what the real thing of this type of Shay looked like.

There are several Shays &ldquoalive&rdquo in California and three of them still operate.

The YMSPRR Shay under steam

The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad (YMSPRR is a historic 3 ft narrow gauge railway with two operating Shay steam locomotives located near Fish Camp near the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park. The YMSPRR began operations in 1961, utilizing historic railroad track, rolling stock and locomotives to construct a tourist line along the historic route of the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company. The two Shays operate daily during the summer months, while the railroad&rsquos Model A &ldquoJenny&rdquo railcars, capable of carrying about a dozen passengers, typically handle operations during the off-season.

More Shays live and operate at the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad near Felton, The Railroad owns several Shay locomotives. Not all are operational as some are undergoing renovation and extensive refurbishing.

The Dixiana, Roaring Camp Engine #1, is one of three engines designated a National Mechanical Engineering Historical Landmark.

The Dixiana has an historic and varied past. The "Dixie," as she is affectionately called, was built by Lima Locomotive Works, Shop No. 2593, on October 12, 1912. She served on six different short line railroads before coming west to California. Although she saw service on the famous Smokey Mountain Railroad in Tennessee, it was a little narrow-gauge mining railroad (now abandoned) in Dixiana, Virginia, that gave her the name " Dixiana." A two-truck engine, the Dixie weighs 42 tons with a tractive effort of 17,330 lbs. and has 29 ½" drivers. Three 10 x 12 inch cylinders can maintain 180 pounds working pressure. The beloved Dixie was dubbed Roaring Camp Engine #1 because it was the first locomotive acquired by founder, F. Norman Clark, who inaugurated steam train service from Roaring Camp on April 6, 1963.

The "Sonora" is one of only 83 Shays in
N. America, and one of the few operational
Shay engines in existence today.

The second operational shay is the Sonora, Engine #7. She is a three-truck, 60-ton Shay engine built in 1911 by Lima Locomotive Works, factory number 2465. The West Side Lumber Company purchased the engine from the Butte & Plumas Railroad, where it was engine #4, and renumbered it #7. After long years of service, it was retired and stood in a county park in Sonora. It was refurbished to operate in 1977 as engine #7 for the West Side & Cherry Valley Railway, part of Quality Resorts of America Inc. Purchased by Roaring Camp in 1985, the engine was retained as #7 and nicknamed "Sonora," in honor of its gloried past.

The "Sonora" is one of only 83 Shays left in North America, and one of the few fully operational Shay engines in existence today.

There are two non-operational Shays at the Timber Heritage Association Engine Barn in Samoa near Eureka. Click here for the listing of their locos and click on a loco for more details.

The Shay Locomotive &ndash Titan of the Timber by Michael Koch Published by World Press Inc in 1971

Michael Koch was considered to be the leading expert on the Shay Locomotive. This book is the 'must have' Shay reference guide for those interested in the complete history of Ephraim Shay and his geared steam locomotive that remained the most popular logging locomotive until the end of steam and railway logging in general. Mostly it is of use for modelers and prototype researchers, going into exhaustive detail about changes and improvements to the engine over time, as well as documenting the history of the Lima Locomotive Works and other manufacturers the Shay as well as a chapter devoted to the Willamette locomotive. The book also includes a complete roster of every Shay ever built by Lima.

It is now a very rare and very expensive book (only 400 were printed), but worth the price if this subject is a major interest of yours. We are lucky to have access to one of these rare copies.

This site is an excellent starting point if you would like to learn more about Shay Locomotives.

The Willamette Locomotive by Steve Hauff and Jim Getz, Published in 1977

In Michael Koch's book, "The Shay Locomotive – Titan of the Timber" there is a short chapter on the Willamette Locomotive. This book is solely about the 33 geared Willamette locomotives that were built by the Willamette Iron and Steel Works in Portland, Oregon between 1922 and 1929.

If you were alive in November, 1922 and were passing the Willamette plant you could not have missed a large banner stretched across a geared locomotive which proclaimed, "First Locomotive Built in the West". The polished new geared locomotive was destined for service at the Coos Bay Lumber Company.

At first glance she looked like a Shay. But, she couldn't be a Shay because that was the trademark of the Lima Locomotive Works. To the trained eye she was different. She wasn't a Heisler or a Climax or even a geared locomotive made by Baldwin. She was a Willamette.

The Willamette locomotive was very similar to a Shay, but had many differences, as the company that made them intended on making an "improved Shay", even though the "Pacific Coast Shay", later made by Lima, took up many of the features on the Willamette. Six Willamettes survive one of the six is being restored at the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad in Mineral, Washington.

The Willamette was not significant because of the originality of its design. Similar to, and often called a copy of the Shay, its refinements forced its competitor to improve its own product.

This book is an excellent record of the geared locomotive that Willamette built – its shortcomings and advances, its failures and successes.

Please use this form if you have any comment, feedback or questions about the content or functionality of this website


Railroad’s Critical Role in the Civil War

The Civil War is renowned for the introduction and employment of many new weapons, including rifled artillery, machine guns and submarines. To this list should also be added railroad weapons, which were the predecessors of modern armored fighting vehicles.

During the war, railroads were second only to waterways in providing logistical support for the armies. They were also vital to the economies of the divided nation. A great deal has been written about railroads in the war, and in particular the spectacular engineering feats of the U.S. Military Railroads’ Construction Corps under Herman Haupt. But strangely, the tactical employment of locomotives and rolling stock, which was actually quite widespread, has thus far escaped serious attention.

Large military forces were, of course, the worst danger to railroads. Because they supplied the units that were on campaign, railroads were often major objectives–an army without supplies cannot operate for long. Since the only sure way to deal with large-scale threats was with a force of similar size, armies often stayed near the railroad tracks. While armies campaigned, locomotives and rolling stock provided logistical support, and some also performed tactical missions. These missions included close combat, especially when the situation was fluid or when the railroad provided a convenient avenue of approach to an opponent.

In such situations, commanders sometimes sent locomotives to reconnoiter the terrain and gain information on enemy troop dispositions. While this may seem like a risky venture, gathering information was often worth the risk, and lone locomotives could quickly reverse direction and move as fast as 60 mph, far faster than pursuing cavalry. With such great mobility, locomotives were also useful as courier vehicles when commanders had to rush vital intelligence to headquarters. This communications service was an important advantage in a war where raiders frequently cut or tapped telegraph lines.

Useful as they were for tactical and logistical support, locomotives were vulnerable to derailments and sharpshooters, who might perforate a boiler or a crewman. Federal officers accordingly inspected rails and armored some of their engines against small-arms fire. Unfortunately, their crews found that the armor trapped too much heat inside the cabs and limited egress if there was an accident. This was an important consideration, since a ruptured boiler could scald a crew in their iron cab like lobsters in a pot. This grisly prospect encouraged many crewmen to take their chances by jumping from the cab in the event of a derailment. An eventual compromise included applying armor to some parts of the cab and installing small oval windows, thus reducing the chances of a sharpshooter’s bullet penetrating the glass, while still affording adequate visibility for the crew.

In special situations, locomotives served as rams. Troops might start a locomotive down a track with a full head of steam to damage an enemy train or railroad facilities, or to attack troops. On one occasion, Confederate soldiers lurking near a burned bridge suddenly saw a burning ammunition train hurtling straight toward them, forcing them to skeddadle. Troops sometimes launched individual cars, also set ablaze, against opponents, or used them to burn bridges. The potential for such railborne threats prompted commanders to build obstructions on the tracks.

Freight trains might also deceive an enemy. A train might run back and forth into an area, tricking scouts into reporting that the enemy was reinforcing his position, when in fact he was leaving. One Federal ruse involved sending a deserted train down the tracks to entice masked Confederate artillery into firing, thereby revealing their location to counterfire.

While trains might serve as artillery bait, they could also transport heavy guns to the battlefield. Commanders took this idea a step further during the war by mounting heavy artillery pieces, which were very cumbersome to maneuver in the field, on flatcars for combat operations. Locomotives or manpower propelled these railroad batteries, dispensing with the horses that normally were the prime movers for the guns and eliminating the need to hitch or unhitch the gun from the horse team. This enabled a battery to fire on the move, a significant advantage over its horse-drawn counterparts.

To protect railroad batteries against counterfire, builders mounted thick iron and wooden shields on the flatcars at a 45-degree angle to deflect enemy projectiles. Batteries fired through the shields’ embrasures and then recoiled along the length of the cars, arrested by ropes. The crews then reloaded the weapons and pushed them back into battery position.

Not all railroad batteries had armor protection. Some relied on mobility, covered firing positions, and firing during periods of low visibility to limit their exposure to enemy artillery. Other railroad batteries relied on their superior range to batter opposing forces from afar. With such capabilities, railroad artillery was appropriate for siege and harassment operations as well as head-to-head encounters between armies.

As an army advanced, it often had to rebuild railroads that the fleeing enemy had destroyed. Construction trains, forerunners of modern engineer corps vehicles, thus became indispensable to military operations. These trains required armed protection, and infantrymen and cavalrymen often accompanied them.

Also useful in railroad warfare were armed trains, which, as their name implies, carried combat-ready troops and, at times, artillery. Their march order, or sequence of cars, is noteworthy. The locomotive was placed in the train’s center, where it received some protection from the train’s cars and its own tender. Generally speaking, flatcars–sometimes laden with troops and artillery–rode at the train’s ends to provide the best fields of fire. Passenger cars or boxcars might ride between the flatcars and the locomotive.

Armed trains performed several missions. In some instances they doubled as construction trains. They also patrolled tracks, conducted reconnaissance missions, and escorted supply trains. Individual armed cars also accompanied supply trains, usually coupled to the front of a locomotive. On one occasion, armed Federals in mufti stole a Confederate train and wreaked havoc on the line. Meanwhile, another Federal armed train, only recently commandeered from the Confederates, carried a conventional force through Confederate territory to rendezvous with the renegade train.

Some armed trains carried sandbags or another form of shielding for the troops on board, but this was not always the case. In the first few months of the Civil War, troops disdained cover, since they were accustomed to tactics best suited for the smoothbore musket. They considered cowering behind cover during combat to be less than manly.

As the war progressed and the lethality of rifled muskets became all too evident, soldiers’ attitudes changed toward using cover in combat. Naval events at Hampton Roads, Va., which included a duel between the ironclad vessels Monitor and Merrimack, convincingly illustrated the efficiency of iron plating in stopping projectiles. Shortly thereafter, ‘monitor fever’ swept the nation as ironclad enthusiasts lobbied for the construction of a huge ironclad fleet. Army officers also caught this fever, and ironclad railroad cars soon appeared across the nation. Fittingly, troops called them railroad monitors, to honor the Federal vessel that inspired the fever.

The first railroad monitors resembled iron boxcars. Light artillery pieces were fired from hatches cut in the hull. Small-arms apertures cut in the sides allowed infantrymen to supplement the fire of the main guns. The car’s armor was only thick enough to withstand small-arms fire, however, so commanders generally relegated the boxcar-shaped monitors to areas known to be infested with partisans.

Railroad monitors carried several infantrymen. However, firing artillery and muskets from within the cramped confines of a railroad car must have been confusing and dangerous. Ultimately, monitors carried riflemen with repeating rifles inside the car, which had an artillery piece mounted on the top of the car that commanded all sides of the train. This arrangement separated the infantry from the artillery while substantially increasing fire- power, but at least one unimpressed reporter referred to it as a ‘hermaphrodite.’

Another means of segregating the infantry from the artillery was the rifle car. Rifle cars resembled ordinary boxcars, but their shielding was placed inside the cars. Musket apertures on all sides offered their crews wide fields of fire for small arms. Like the artillery-bearing railroad monitors, rifle cars could guard key railroad features, protect repairmen, supervise railroad guards and escort supply trains. Just as rifle monitors foreshadowed modern tanks, rifle cars were early versions of infantry fighting vehicles.

Along with rifle cars came a new type of railroad monitor that used thick, sloped iron casemates that could deflect light artillery projectiles–an important capability when Confederate horse artillery lurked nearby. These new railroad monitors resembled elongated pyramids and were the same shape as casemated ironclad vessels (turrets were not used with the light artillery on railroad monitors, though armored railroad cars in subsequent conflicts did use turrets). With their thick armor and cannons, these railroad monitors were similar to modern tanks.

Rifle cars and monitors coupled to a locomotive formed an ironclad (or armored) train. A simple ironclad train consisted of a locomotive and a railroad monitor. Optimally, however, an ironclad train employed a number of cars in a specific sequence as had the armed trains. A railroad monitor rode at each end of the train. Coupled to these were rifle cars, with the locomotive and tender positioned in the middle. This march order distributed firepower evenly, provided mutually supporting small-arms and artillery fire, and afforded the locomotive some protection. Not all ironclad trains had the same number of cars, but this efficacious march order became the ideal for armored trains subsequently used by many nations. Indeed, modern armored forces today use a similar combined-arms approach of mutually supporting firepower, although the vehicles operate independently rather than being coupled together in units, and, of course, are not limited to the rails.

While armor might protect rolling stock from projectiles, explosive devices planted in the roadbed posed serious threats to trains of all types. These torpedoes (known today as mines) included simple artillery shells with percussion fuses as well as specially constructed pressure-detonated contrivances filled with gunpowder. When buried in the roadbed under a crosstie, torpedoes could be detonated by a passing train. Some torpedoes, especially those using artillery shells, lifted locomotives completely from the tracks and shattered freight cars.

Because of the many hazards that might be present on the tracks, some Federal locomotives pushed loaded flatcars over the rails to inspect the tracks or to detonate torpedoes before the valuable locomotive passed over them. These flatcars, known today as control cars, pusher cars or monitor cars (not to be confused with railroad monitors), also protected locomotives from rams.

Another method of preventing attacks on Federal trains was to put hostages with Confederate sympathies on the trains. Some Federal commanders even issued draconian decrees threatening to deport local inhabitants or destroy their farms if depredations occurred on local railroads.

Belligerents also used other vehicles on the railroads. Handcars–small but utilitarian vehicles–were used to inspect rails, transport important personnel and evacuate the wounded. They also helped troops escape superior forces and reconnoiter in fluid tactical situations. In this role they were far more stealthy than locomotives, although they lacked a locomotive’s speed and protective cab. Some handcars were large enough to transport several men, including guards, and were a valuable mode of transport if a locomotive was unavailable. In one instance, a large handcar carried a 10-pounder Parrott gun to duel with a much larger Confederate railroad battery.

Since operable locomotives were at a premium during the war, it was not always economical to use them on missions for which a smaller vehicle would suffice. The Federals therefore applied off-the-shelf technology to warfare, using recently developed steam passenger cars (self-propelled railroad coaches) to inspect the tracks and deliver pay to isolated posts. On such missions, the cars carried some interior armor that protected the steam engine as well as the crew, making the steam passenger cars forerunners of self-propelled armored railroad cars or, as the Russians called them, railroad cruisers. These heavily armed railroad cars proved good substitutes for armored trains, since several cars were not dependent on a single locomotive for mobility.

Civil War railroad operations were characterized by the widespread use of locomotives and rolling stock to support armies tactically as well as logistically. Americans set precedents for a variety of modern armored fighting vehicles, including armored railroad cars, armored trains, railroad batteries and other railroad weapons. Moreover, tanks, armored personnel carriers, engineer vehicles and self-propelled artillery can also claim American railroad weapons as their conceptual ancestors.


This article was written by Alan R. Koenig and originally appeared in the September 1996 issue of America’s Civil War magazine.

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