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If there ever was, or ever could be, an All-American Railroad, it had to be the New York Central (NYC). The NYC has always been a favorite of mine, an interest reinforced, no doubt, by Lionel catalogs and riding P&LE passenger trains in the late 40's and early 50's.
We begin with a basic yard engine, a model no NYC collection can be without, the USRA 0-8-0. NYC's passenger service ran the gamut from suburban locals around the Big Apple to the 20th Century. This brings us to an end of our survey of NYC steam locomotives and their O gauge counterparts.
More than any other carrier it exemplified the best and sometimes the worst of typical U.S. Then too, I went to college in Cleveland, deep in NYC territory where I watched the demise of the Great Steel Fleet in the early 60's. I long ago decided that if I built up a collection of NYC steam locomotives only O gauge would do. Without a doubt, this was (along with the lite 2-8-2) the most successful and wildly copied of all the USRA designs. These engines handled the mainline freights and later classes propelled much of the Great Steel Fleet. Incorporating conical boilers, roller bearings, and other refinements the J3's were the ultimate development of the 4-6-4 on the Central. Built in 1945 and '46 these 27 modern dual purpose 4-8-4's certainly deserve a place in the railroad pantheon.
Add to that, the fact that the NYC gave me my first management job and its appeal becomes obvious. What follows is a bit of NYC (motive power history) in conjunction with their O gauge counterparts.
With a few significant exceptions, most modern NYC steam engines are available on the used O gauge brass market. The first on the roster were the small L1's dating from WWI, but many of these were scrapped prior to WWII. The seven prototypes, built in 1948, were the last steam locomotives built for the NYC System and the last built by Alco. At its height, during and right after World War II the NYC owned extensive property consisting of over 11,000 miles of track.
The remaining engines were confined to branchlines particularly, the Pennsylvania Division. They spent most of their careers in front of passenger trains rather than freight while the B's and C's were freight engines. Unlike the L3's, the L4's were equipped with 72 inch drivers but, like the L3A, without boosters. This was a result of both the efforts of the NYC's public relations department, and the fact that Lionel ensured its fame with their outstanding O gauge models introduced in 1937. Ten of these were streamlined for the 20th Century (2 more in 1941 for the Empire State Express). Louis, the 3005 an L3A is at Elkhart, Indiana, a B11 0-6-0 is in Ohio and a 4-6-0 and a 2-8-0 lay rusting away, in of all places, the Main north woods. Hobbies (USH), Westside, Precision Scale (PSC), and Sunset produced the majority 25 years ago. In fact, one of the last NYC engines I saw was a P and LE USRA 0-8-0 in Monesson, PA in 1954.


All told the class numbered 40 examples and more importantly, they were among the last Mohawk survivors.
Wartime material restrictions forced numerous compromises but they performed outstanding service in both freight and passenger service.
They also introduced the classic New York Central numberplate and oval which was often associated with the railroad in later years. A series of performance tests conducted in 1946 indicated the S1's were just as economical to run as a pair of E7's. If memories of this country's finest steam era railroads are to live on, it is through the medium of the brass model - preferably in O! As we receive new articles from you, our customers, we will be glad to post them on our web site.
Surprisingly though, NYC models do not command near the price of other more popular roads such as ATSF or UP. 641 were on the roster in 1944, and they could be found from Boston to Cairo (except on the P and LE). A college friend has fond memories of L3A's wheeling into Delaware, Ohio on the point of trains 322 and 323 in the middle 50's. They too, were among the last NYC 4-8-2's in steam, running out their days on the Big Four in 1956. The 20th Century Limited or the Commodore Vanderbuilt were as famous overseas as the Flying Scotsman or the Flech D'Or.
After a crossing accident in Indiana in 1946, the shrouding began to be removed during routine shopping. But Niagara's also need people, roundhouses, and water pans - and therein lies the problem. The railroad served the country's most populated cities such as New York, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati, and St. Morgan once called them the All-American Locomotive (although I believe that title really belongs to the USRA 2-8-2's).
The first series of L2A's looked just like long H-10's with Elesco feedwater heaters, lots of plumbing, and big tenders.
They brought out the L4B in the 70's thus bookending the first and the last of the Mohawk series. These were a B & A variant equipped with 75-inch drivers specifically to conquer the Berkshire Hills.
My 0-8-0 model is a mint condition USH version that I purchased from Caboose Hobbies a little more than a year ago. No doubt, a streamlined Hudson is a worthwhile addition to any NYC collection, but it is by no means a must have. In later years, the H5's were primarily a local and branch engine and they lasted until the close of the steam era. They steamed on for the next decade, gradually being forced further and further west winding up their serviceable lives between Cleveland and Chicago in late 1956. By modern standards, the model is somewhat Spartan but the engine is an outstanding performer and runs like a watch (open frame motor and all).
Several O gauge Niagara's have been imported over the years ranging from Psc Crown model to the Weaver offering some ten years. It was mint, unassembled, in the box, which is fine for a collector but I wanted these models to look at. The latter is okay but it suffers from a horrible automobile showroom glossy paint job and a real paucity of detail.


Instead, we have to settle for the H-6's (NYC's light USRA Mikes fulfilled the same functions).
Like the later L2's, these essential engines have never been brought in (one could be built from an All Nation 4-6-2 kit, but that's beyond the scope of this article). This was the Westside version imported some years ago (I have heard the USH brought one in as but this version was nothing but a J3A with spoked drivers).
USH engines were always mechanically excellent but the can motor certainly improved its running qualities. The prototypes of these modern engines were built in 1924 but the development of the Hudson soon rendered them obsolete. It's amazing what people do to a model but once it was stripped off and a new pilot fitted, then the engine turned out to be a bargain.
But more significantly, the next batch of 4-8-2's, the L2B's, C's and D's have never been imported. If I remember correctly, Westside ran into some real problems when they decided to reduce wheel width to scale proportions.
This produced engines that could not negotiate a 48-inch radius curve unless the track was perfect.
Specification wise, identical to the L2A's, these newer engines were considerably cleaned up in appearance and looked like a Hudson. Due to price and problems with Westside, I would leave the Westside Hudson to the collection.
Around 1990, Overland imported another batch of USRA 2-8-2's (in both light and heavy versions). He would swing down the gangway of a K5, catching the tender steps and mounting the deck to take on water. These are the shiny handrails, whistle, and bell as well as smaller than scale wheels on the pilot truck. They were never used on the NYC proper, but if the Big Four is of any interest, then a K5 is a worthwhile addition.
They were the seminal modern era steam locomotive incorporating every known gadget from feedwater heaters to boosters. They marked the beginning of the super power era and even in a non-NYC collection, the H10 certainly deserves a place. It is important to note, though, that, unlike earlier NYC 20802's; the H10's remained the mainline freight power (particularly on the MC, the Big Four and the P and LE).
Too big and heavy for branch line service, they soon disappeared as newer Mohawks displaced them in the last years of NYC steam.
When I was a management trainee in the 60's, two of my mentors were ex -Big Four engineers who regaled me with H10 tales. 320 were built and with a presence of that size it was inevitable that an O gauge model appeared. USH imported an H10B (there were two subclasses A and B) in the 70's and this model is also a must for any NYC collection.



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