4-8-4 "Northern" Locomotives in the USA

The 4-8-4 was the ultimate wheel configuration for the modern passenger and fast freight steam locomotive. The eight driver arrangement was usable on almost every main line in North America and with drivers up to 80 inches in diameter allowed any reasonable speed that the railroad could handle. The four wheel trailing truck supported a larger firebox for maximum steam levels allowing for extra boiler capacity. The four wheel leading (or pony) truck completed the best combination for riding and tracking.

With the surge in passenger business in the 1920's most railroads were being forced to operate extra trains or run their scheduled trains in sections simply because the locomotives in use could only haul about 12 cars. It was out of this need that the "super powered" locomotives were developed and of them the 4-8-4 was the most numerous and widely used.

The first 4-8-4 was built by the American Locomotive Company, in January, 1927, for the Northern Pacific. This locomotive was basically the 4-8-2 modified to accommodate a large grate area and a very deep firebox which was required to burn the very low grade of bituminous coal that the Northern Pacific produced from its own mines. This new wheel arrangement was dubbed "Northern Pacific", which was quickly shortened to "Northern".

There were 36 North American Railroads that owned and operated a total of 1,126 "Northern" type locomotives.

Some railroads, particularly the southern ones, rejected the "Northern" name and used names with a more regional connection. The C&O called them "Greenbriers"; the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western used the name "Poconos"; the Lehigh Valley came up with "Wyoming"; the Nashville, Chattanooga & St.Louis named them "Dixies"; the New York Central chose "Niagaras"; the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac named each of its 27, 4-8-4s after southern generals, governors and statesmen; the Southern Pacific used the name "Golden State"; the Western Maryland dubbed them "Potomacs" and in Canada, the CNR named them "Confederations" while the Nacionale de Mexico called them "Niagras".

The Timken Demonstrator

In 1930, the Timken Company took delivery of its own 4-8-4 Northern locomotive from the American Locomotive Company. Timken wanted to demonstrate the advantages of roller bearings on steam locomotives and thus became one of the very few private owners of a main line locomotive.

This locomotive carried road number 1111 and the Timken name and became known as "four aces" on the many railroads that tested it. In the two years it traveled the country it ran up an impressive record in both passenger and freight operation.

Designed for fast freight and passenger service, this locomotive was tested in drag freight operation and consistently did well without helpers. On one occasion it started a 132 car freight train of 9,864 tons.

Timken had "four aces" built so that the boiler pressure could be varied between 235 and 250 psi and its weight could be shifted between the drivers and trucks thus allowing the demonstrator to have a tractive effort of 59,900 lbs at 235 psi and 63,700 lbs at 250 psi. The locomotive weighed 417,500 lbs, had 73" drivers and 27 x 30 cylinders.

While being tested on the Northern Pacific, number 1111 suffered crown sheet damage. Timken was essentially finished with it and did not want a damaged locomotive and NP did not want to repair a locomotive it did not own. In order to resolve this stand-off, NP bought the locomotive, repaired it, numbered it 2626 and used it until 1955.

Information for this introduction to Northerns provided by Richard Duley.

Builders of 4-8-4 "Northern" Type Locomotives (by Richard Duley)

Railroad LineQuantity, BuilderName
Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe65 BaldwinNortherns
Atlantic Coast Line12 Baldwin1800s
Canadian National130 MLW 30 Canadian Locomotive WorksConfederations
Canadan Pacific2 CPRNortherns
Central of Georgia8 LimaBig Apples
Chesapeake & Ohio12 LimaGreenbriers
Chicago, Burlington & Quincy8 Baldwin 28 CB&QNortherns
Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific10 ALCO 41 Baldwin 1 CMStP&PNortherns
Chicago & North Western35 BaldwinNortherns
Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific85 ALCONortherns
Delaware & Hudson15 ALCONortherns
Delaware, Lackawanna & Western55 ALCOPoconos
Denver & Rio Grande Western19 BaldwinWesterns
Grand Trunk Western37 ALCO 6 LimaConfederations
Great Northern20 BaldwinNortherns
Lehigh Valley21 ALCO 16 BaldwinWyomings
Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Sainte Marie4 LimaNortherns
Missouri Pacific15 Baldwin 25 MPNortherns
Nacionales de Mexico16 ALCO 16 BaldwinNiágaras
Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis25 ALCODixies
New York Central28 ALCONiagaras
Norfolk & Western14 N&WJs
Northern Pacific13 ALCO 36 BaldwinNortherns
Ontario Northland5 Canadian Locomotive WorksNortherns
Reading30 ReadingNortherns
Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac27 BaldwinGenerals, Governors & Statesmen
St. Louis San Francisco25 BaldwinNortherns
St. Louis Southwestern10 Baldwin 10 SLSWNortherns
Southern Pacific10 Baldwin 60 LimaGolden States
Spokane, Portland & Seattle3 BaldwinNortherns
Texas & Louisiana Lines4 BaldwinGolden States
Toledo, Peoria & Western6 ALCONortherns
Union Pacific45 ALCOFour-Eight-Fours
Wabash25 BaldwinNortherns
Western Maryland12 BaldwinPotomacs
Western Pacific6 LimaNortherns

A Dimensional Comparison of Northerns

RailroadATSFCB&QCMStP&PC&OGNNC&StLNPN&WNYCPhiladelphia & ReadingSPUP
Class2900O-5A/O-5BS3J-3bS-2J3-57A-5JS-1bT1GS-6FEF-3
Wheel Arrangement4-8-44-8-44-8-44-8-44-8-44-8-44-8-44-8-44-8-44-8-44-8-44-8-4
Series2900-29295608-5635260-269605-6062575-2588570-5892680-2689600-6136001-60252100-21294460-4469835-844
Cyl:Dia x Stroke28x3228x3026x3227.5x3029x2925x3028x3127x3225.5x3227x3227x3025x32
Driver Diameter8074747280707770797073.580
Boiler Pressure300250250255225250260275275240260300
Grate Area108106.596.210097.7577.3115107.710194.490.2100.2
Evaporative Heating Surface5,3125,2374,4785,4344,7814,2034,6725,2714,8234,9204,8524,294
Superheater Heating Surface2,3662,4031,4382,3152,2651,7821,9302,1772,0731,2141,8341,400
Weight on Drivers293,860279,030259,300292,800247,300228,000295,000288,000275,000278,200270,300270,300
Total Engine Weight510,150474,620460,000506,300420,900400,500508,500494,000471,000441,300468,400490,700
Maximum Axle Weight77,50073,20074,00069,74067,900
Tender Weight464,700359,000364,100388,200326,560285,000443,500378,600337,000367,700317,800421,550
Total Engine and Tender Weight974,850833,620824,100894,500747,460685,500952,000872,600808,000809,000786,200912,250
Overall Wheelbase108.1790.6995.598.4491.1786.3197.595.497.2198.42
Tractive Effort79,96867,54162,11968,29958,30556,92069,75677,89961,56867,98465,75963,750
Tractive Effort Booster
Maximum Speed
Drawbar Horsepower

Railroads that used 4-8-4 "Northern" Locomotives in the USA (data provided by Steve Llanso of Sweat House Media)

Surviving Examples of 4-8-4 "Northern" Locomotives in the USA

No.ClassF.M. WhyteGaugeRailroad LineLocationStatusBuilder InfoNotes
292629004-8-44'-8½"AT&SF New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society, Albuquerque, NMoperationalBaldwin #69814, 1944 Previously placed on display in Coronado Park, Albuquerque, NM. Test fired on August 20, 2018. Moved under its own power on July 24, 2021. Will debut in excursion service soon. Became the second steam locomotive to be equipped with Positive Train Control.
1 (2101)T-14-8-44'-8½"Reading B&O Railroad Museum, Baltimore, MDdisplayReading Shops, 1945American Freedom Train Damaged in a roundhouse fire in Russell, KY in 1979. Traded by Ross Rowland to the B&O Railroad Museum in exchange for C&O 614.
838FEF-34-8-44'-8½"UP UP engine house, Cheyenne, WYstoredAlco (Schenectady) #72785, 1944 Used as a spare parts source for UP 844.
844 (8444)FEF-34-8-44'-8½"UP UP engine house, Cheyenne, WYoperationalAlco (Schenectady) #72791, 12/1944Featured in Shining Time Station. Only steam locomotive in the United States to never be retired by a major class 1 North American railroad. Renumbered to 8444 between 1962 and 1989. Taken out of service in 2013. Returned to operation in 2016.
2100T-14-8-44'-8½"Reading B&O Roundhouse, Cleveland, OHrestorationReading Shops, 1945 Operated the Iron Horse Rambles excursions from 1959 to 1964. From Elgin Co. RY Museum, St. Thomas, ON, then Richland, WA, restoration by American Steam Railroad Preservation Association. Being converted back to burn coal.
614J3a4-8-44'-8½"C&O C&O Railway Heritage Center, Clifton Forge, VAdisplayLima #9306, 06/1948Iron Horse Enterprises From B&O Railroad Museum, then Port Clinton, PA. Acquired from the B&O Railroad Museum by Ross Rowland in exchange for Reading 2101 in 1979. Restored to operation in September 1980. Previously operated in early 1999. Awaiting restoration back to operation.
814FEF-14-8-44'-8½"UP Rock Island Depot Museum, Main & 16th, Council Bluffs, IAdisplayAlco (Schenectady) #68822, 1937
5633O-5A4-8-44'-8½"CB&Q Douglas Railroad Interprative Center, C&NW Depot, Douglas, WYdisplayCB&Q (West Burlington) #66108, 1940 Donated in May 1962.
291329004-8-44'-8½"AT&SF Riverview Park, Fort Madison, IArestorationBaldwin #69801, 1943contact info Cosmetic restoration only.
450145004-8-44'-8½"SLSF Museum of the American Railroad, Frisco, TXdisplayBaldwin #64450, 1942
5629O-5B4-8-44'-8½"CB&Q Colorado Railroad Museum, Golden, COdisplayCB&Q (West Burlington) #66104, 1940 Donated in September 1963.
2584S-24-8-44'-8½"GN Havre depot, Havre, MTdisplayBaldwin #61238, 1930
4-8-414"Kiddieland Limited Hesston Steam Museum, Hesston, INoperationalWagner & Sons Miniature Train Co, 1950 From Kiddieland, Melrose Park, IL.
S-24-8-44'-8½"CMStP&P open area, Ingomar, MTdisplay Tender only.
375937514-8-44'-8½"AT&SF Locomotive Park, 315 W Beale St (US 93), Kingman, AZdisplayBaldwin #60385, 1928
261S-34-8-44'-8½"CMStP&P GN Shops/Minneapolis Junction, Minneapolis, MNoperationalAlco (Schenectady) #71974, 07/1944 Restored to operation in 1993. Taken out of service in 2008. Returned to operation on December 12, 2012. Considering a possible conversion to burn oil, according to a March 2021 feasibility study.
292129004-8-44'-8½"AT&SF Amtrak Station, Modesto, CAdisplayBaldwin #69809, 1944 From Beard Brook Park.
576J3-574-8-44'-8½"NC&StL Tennessee Central Railroad Museum, Nashville, TNrestorationAlco (Schenectady) #69786, 1942 NCPS Nashville Steam Preservation Society From Centennial Park in Nashville, TN.
3028QR-14-8-44'-8½"NdeM New Hope & Ivyland Railroad, New Hope, PAstoredAlco (Schenectady) #74383, 1946AHTS Now owned by the ALCO Historical & Technical Society.
833FEF-24-8-44'-8½"UP Utah State Railroad Museum, Ogden, UTdisplayAlco (Schenectady) #69174, 1939From Pioneer Park, Salt Lake City. Displayed with Centennial 6916.
5000R-67a4-8-44'-8½"CRI&P Steam Railroading Institute, Owosso, MIoperationalAlco, 1929Tender only. Used as an auxiliary water tender for PM 1225.
819L-14-8-44'-8½"SSW Arkansas Railroad Museum, Pine Bluff, ARrestorationSSW, 1942 Featured in 'Extreme Steam : Classic North American Steam Locomotives' and 'End of the Line'. Previously operated in October 1993. Cosmetic restoration only. Operational restoration is still being considered by the museum in the near future.
2102T-14-8-44'-8½"RBM&N (Reading) RBM&N headquarters, Port Clinton, PAoperationalReading Shops, 1945Operated the Iron Horse Rambles excursions from 1959 to 1964. Previously operated in October 1991. Test fired in January 2021. Restored back to operation on April 6, 2022.
700E14-8-44'-8½"SP&S Oregon Rail Heritage Center, Portland, ORout of serviceBaldwin #62171, 1938 Restored to operation in 1990. Taken out of service in December 2014. Undergoing mandated 1,472-day inspection and overhaul. Currently scheduled to return to operation again later in 2022.
4449GS-44-8-44'-8½"SP Oregon Rail Heritage Center, Portland, ORoperationalLima #7817, 1941American Freedom Train Featured in Tough Guys. Restored to operation in 1975. Pulled the American Freedom Train from 1975 to 1976. Taken out of service in 2013. Returned to operation in late 2015.
2575S-24-8-44'-8½"GN Oregon Rail Heritage Center, Portland, ORoperationalBaldwin, 1930 Tender only.
484GS-644-8-44'-8½"WP Western Pacific Railroad Museum, Portola, CAdisplayThe engine was scrapped after retirement in 1953, but the tender still survives today. The tender was later converted into a steam generator for their rotary snowplow.
291229004-8-44'-8½"AT&SF Pueblo Union Depot, Pueblo, COdisplayBaldwin #69800, 1944
611J4-8-44'-8½"N&W Virginia Museum of Transportation, Roanoke, VAoperationalN&W #388, 1950 Fire up 611 Named Spirit of Roanoke. Also nicknamed Queen of Steam. Appeared in National Geographic - Love Those Trains. Restored back to operation in March 2015. Operated at the Strasburg Railroad in 2019 and 2021.
292529004-8-44'-8½"AT&SF Old Sacramento, Sacramento, CAstoredBaldwin #69813, 1944
2124T-14-8-44'-8½"Reading Steamtown National Historic Site, Scranton, PAdisplayReading Shops, 1947 Operated the Iron Horse Rambles excursions from 1959 to 1963. Piston rods cut. Cosmetically restored in 2019.
451645004-8-44'-8½"SLSF Missouri State Fair Grounds, Sedalia, MOdisplayBaldwin #69732, 1943
5631O-5A4-8-44'-8½"CB&Q Broadway and 5th, Sheridan, WYdisplayCB&Q (West Burlington) #66106, 1940 Donated in February 1962.
452445004-8-44'-8½"SLSF Grant Beach Park, Springfield, MOdisplayBaldwin #69740, 1943
5614O-5A4-8-44'-8½"CB&Q Patee Park, St. Joseph, MOdisplayCB&Q (Aurora) #70584, 1937 Donated in May 1962. Oldest surviving CB&Q Northern type.
4460GS-64-8-44'-8½"SP Museum of Transportation, St. Louis, MOdisplayLima #8013, 1941Last locomotive to operate and pull a passenger train for the SP.
8014-8-415"ATT&NW Arborway T.T. & Northwestern Railroad, Steelville, MOoperational privateMerrick Light Railway Equipment, 2006
6325U-3-b4-8-44'-8½"GTW Age of Steam Roundhouse, Sugarcreek, OHdisplayAlco (Schenectady) #69631, 19422001 photo Displayed in Battle Creek, MI in 1959. Local restoration effort failed. Purchased by Jerry Jacobson in 1993. Restored to operation in 2001 and used on fantrips. Retired from excursion service in 2006 in need of repairs.
450045004-8-44'-8½"SLSF Route 66 Station, Tulsa, OKdisplayBaldwin #64449, 1942
6323U-3-b4-8-44'-8½"GTW Illinois Railway Museum, Union, ILdisplayAlco (Schenectady) #69629, 1942 Last steam locomotive operated by the GTW.
265S-34-8-44'-8½"CMStP&P Illinois Railway Museum, Union, ILdisplayAlco #71978, 1944
290329004-8-44'-8½"AT&SF Illinois Railway Museum, Union, ILdisplayBaldwin #69791, 1943From Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, IL.
H4-8-44'-8½"C&NW Illinois Railway Museum, Union, ILstoredBaldwin, 1929 Tender only.
U4-8-44'-8½"GTW Illinois Railway Museum, Union, ILstoredAlco, 1941 Tender only.
375137514-8-44'-8½"AT&SF Amtrak/Redondo Junction Shops, Vernon, CAout of serviceBaldwin #60004, 1927SBRHS Restored to operation in late 1991. Featured in 'Boots Malone', 'Key to the City', 'There Goes a Train', 'Pearl Harbor', and more. Taken out of service in 2017. Undergoing mandated 1,472-day inspection and overhaul.
376837654-8-44'-8½"AT&SF Great Plains Transportation Museum, Wichita, KSdisplayBaldwin #62122, 1938

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