The following is an article submitted to us by W.L. Gwyer, a Caboose Hobbies customer. We at Caboose Hobbies, Inc. would like for you to enjoy Mr. Gwyer's opinions about New York Central Brass in 'O' Scale. This article has been edited by the Caboose Hobbies Staff. Any misspelling or errors in this document are our own.
NYC Steam in 'O' Scale Brass
By W. L. Gwyer
If there ever was, or ever could be, an All-American Railroad, it had to be the New York Central (NYC). More than any other carrier it exemplified the best and sometimes the worst of typical U.S. railroad practices (whether it was mechanical, signaling, or organization). At its height, during and right after World War II the NYC owned extensive property consisting of over 11,000 miles of track. It had a roster of 5,000 steam and electric locomotives. Its passenger trains were international icons. The 20th Century Limited or the Commodore Vanderbuilt were as famous overseas as the Flying Scotsman or the Flech D'Or. The railroad served the country's most populated cities such as New York, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. It also served many smaller cities as far apart as Cairo, IL. and Lake Placid, NY. The NYC was indeed an American institution, the quintessential American railroad.
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. 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. Add to that, the fact that the NYC gave me my first management job and its appeal becomes obvious. I have always been an O gauger at heart even though I experim
ented briefly with HO brass in the 80's. I long ago decided that if I built up a collection of NYC steam locomotives only O gauge would do. What follows is a bit of NYC (motive power history) in conjunction with their O gauge counterparts. I also outline my own NYC collection.
NYC steam locomotives were popular prototypes for brass importers. This was especially true during the "First Brass Age" in the late 60's and early 70's. With a few significant exceptions, most modern NYC steam engines are available on the used O gauge brass market. U.S. Hobbies (USH), Westside, Precision Scale (PSC), and Sunset produced the majority 25 years ago. Surprisingly though, NYC models do not command near the price of other more popular roads such as ATSF or UP. Only Pennsylvania RR (PRR) engines cost less. This is due to the larger number of PRR prototypes imported. Additionally, these PRR's models are supplemented by large numbers of re-issues now available during the "Second Brass Age."
We begin with a basic yard engine, a model no NYC collection can be without, the USRA 0-8-0. Without a doubt, this was (along with the lite 2-8-2) the most successful and wildly copied of all the USRA designs. Out of the 1,375 built, the NYC (including the P and LE) had 457. They were everywhere. In fact, one of the last NYC engines I saw was a P and LE USRA 0-8-0 in Monesson, PA in 1954. In line with its universal appeal, this engine has been a staple of O gauge brass imports. There was an outstanding brass kit offered by Henry Pierce for years. Both USH and later Westside brought in versions. My 0-8-0 model is a mint condition USH version that I purchased from Caboose Hobbies a little more than a year ago. Prices vary depending on condition, but most cost between $650 to $900. 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). It is an essential beginning.
Next, on the must have list are the Mikes. (We will overlook the 2-8-0's. Yes, the NYC had lots of them but none were offered in O gauge. A G46 was offered in kit form before the war). The most common 2-8-2 was the H5. 641 were on the roster in 1944, and they could be found from Boston to Cairo (except on the P and LE). David P. Morgan once called them the All-American Locomotive (although I believe that title really belongs to the USRA 2-8-2's). This same design was built for the NKP while the Erie N class was close cousins. In later years, the H5's were primarily a local and branch engine and they lasted until the close of the steam era. So far, no one has imported one in O gauge. I doubt if anyone will given the markets proclivity towards Northerns and articulates. Instead, we have to settle for the H-6's (NYC's light USRA Mikes fulfilled the same functions). The carrier owned 144 plus another 30 heavies on the P&LE. The H-6s remained as useful in the early 50's as they were in 1919. I remember seeing one on the MC in 1954 on a local freight. Two versions of the USRA light mike were offered in O gauge. The first was the Sunset model imported in the early 80's. These attractive models suffered from drive problems. The resulting prices are only in the $800 and $1,000 dollar range. Around 1990, Overland imported another batch of USRA 2-8-2's (in both light and heavy versions). These were an improvement over the Sunset model, but at a higher price. I have seen them everywhere from $1,300 on up. They are outstanding models. I had to settle on a Sunset version, as my pocket book is not unlimited! Mine came from a dealer back east already painted NYC. It was repowered and runs very well. At a price of $900, I have no complaints. H7's were the next NYC 2-8-2 series. These engines were built for the LS&MS in the early 1900s. There were 130 examples but none have been brought in, at least in O gauge. From a historical standpoint, however, the H7's have one claim to fame. The H7 was the last NYC steam locomotive in regular service. This brought the steam era to a close in Sharonville, Ohio in 1957. (The bell of that engine stood for years in the Big Four Building in Indianapolis). There is the definitive NYC 20802, however, the most famous, was the H10. Books could be written about these engines designed by Will Woodward and built by Lima. 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). This remained true until the diesel invasion of the early 50's. 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. Not all of them favorable, I might add. 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. They are still rather common and prices range around $1,000 to $1,200. The model I have is almost new and in its original box.
The NYC's bread and butter engines, however, were its 600 plus 4-8-2's (the Mohawks). These engines handled the mainline freights and later classes propelled much of the Great Steel Fleet. The first on the roster were the small L1's dating from WWI, but many of these were scrapped prior to WWII. The remaining engines were confined to branchlines particularly, the Pennsylvania Division. No models of an L1 have been imported. The next important class to consider is the more modern L2's. These 69-inch driven engines started to arrive in 1927. The first series of L2A's looked just like long H-10's with Elesco feedwater heaters, lots of plumbing, and big tenders. 99 were built and most spent their careers on Eastern Lines. Again, USH comes to the rescue. They brought the L2A in years ago and these are a staple in NYC collections. The prices range from $1,400 to $1,600 and these models are still relatively common. Mine came from a dealer in Ohio. The engine has been redetailed and repowered with a can motor. USH engines were always mechanically excellent but the can motor certainly improved its running qualities. As the first of the modern era Mohawks, L2A is a must have for any NYC enthusiast. But more significantly, the next batch of 4-8-2's, the L2B's, C's and D's have never been imported. This is a shame as these were the "standard" freight engines west of Buffalo. Specification wise, identical to the L2A's, these newer engines were considerably cleaned up in appearance and looked like a Hudson. In my view, these are the quintessential NYC Mohawk and they outnumbered the L2A's 2 to 1! Later L2D's would be a good seller and fill a yawning gap in NYC motive power. All may not be lost, however, as Mort Mann of Sunset just may surprise us all and bring one in under the lower price "Third Rail" label.
The next 4-8-2 class was L3's. These were divided into 3 subclasses L3A, B's, and C's. The initial batch, the L3A's, constructed in 1940, were designed as dual service machines. They spent most of their careers in front of passenger trains rather than freight while the B's and C's were freight engines. All told the class numbered 40 examples and more importantly, they were among the last Mohawk survivors. 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. In addition, the star of the Morgan story, "The Mohawk that Refused to Abdicate" was an L3A. Unfortunately, the brass makers have over looked this class. Only Lionel has produced an L3. This is a die cast model and a pretty darn good one too. However, 2 railing the Lionel engine is not a job for the faint hearted.
This brings us to the last Mohawk series: the L4A's and B's. These engines were the product of the war time emergency. They were the last Mohawks built for the NYC. Unlike the L3's, the L4's were equipped with 72 inch drivers but, like the L3A, without boosters. Wartime material restrictions forced numerous compromises but they performed outstanding service in both freight and passenger service. They too, were among the last NYC 4-8-2's in steam, running out their days on the Big Four in 1956. Again, it is venerable USH that comes to the rescue. They brought out the L4B in the 70's thus bookending the first and the last of the Mohawk series. On the collectors market they seem to be a little more common than the L2's. Prices range anywhere from $1,200 to $1,400. I paid $1,350 for mine. It was mint, unassembled, in the box, which is fine for a collector but I wanted these models to look at. I assembled in all its brass glory (which was more of a job than I had thought). The L4B's closed out the development of NYC steam freight locomotives. Now let's turn our attention to the glamour engines, the passenger fleet.
NYC's passenger service ran the gamut from suburban locals around the Big Apple to the 20th Century. Ltd. The NYC operated a vast fleet of passenger engines. These ranged in size from the 4-6-0's to the Hudsons. Not all these models have been imported. At the bottom end, PSC brought in a F12E, the roads large ten-wheeler years ago. Although, a good model they seem to be a drag on the market. The reason is that the F12's were New York City engines. They have little place in a collection built around anything west of Harmon. PSC's efforts would have paid off if they had considered a Pacific. These were the Central's most common passenger engines. In later years, there were only 2 major classes, the 79" driver K3's and the 69" driver K11's. 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). The one NYC Pacific that is available is the Sunset K5. The prototypes of these modern engines were built in 1924 but the development of the Hudson soon rendered them obsolete. Originally built for the MC, P and LE, they were transferred to the Big Four. These became standard passenger power until the 50's. The Sunset K5 is a staple at train meets. These are available in both painted and unpainted versions. The model never sold well, again like the F12, because of its limited geographical appeal. I have one, only because of my Big Four connections. (I had a road foreman friend who used to tell me about his moments of glory while a fireman on No. 12. He would swing down the gangway of a K5, catching the tender steps and mounting the deck to take on water. This would happen on the way to Terre Haute before meeting their adoring public). Prices for these engines reflect demand. The prices range anywhere from $900 to a $1,000. They suffer from the same poor drive design as the USRA series. By no means are they a necessity for a NYC collection. They were never used on the NYC proper, but if the Big Four is of any interest, then a K5 is a worthwhile addition.
Now, all this brings us to the Hudsons. No introductions are needed here. I think the NYC Hudson was this country's most well-known passenger locomotive. 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. They are still a match for any brass import. In any event, there were three Hudson classes: the J1's, the J2's and the J3's. For our purposes, I will excluded the 20 J2's. These were a B & A variant equipped with 75-inch drivers specifically to conquer the Berkshire Hills. The largest class was the J1's (205). These came in subclasses b through e. Some had sunken Elesco feedwater heaters and others had the concealed coffin type. In the Lionel Line, the J1E is what most people think of when they think NYC Hudson. To my knowledge, only one J1E has been introduced in brass. 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). The Westside model is on the market but prices are steep. They range anywhere from $1,700 to $2,500. 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. Due to price and problems with Westside, I would leave the Westside Hudson to the collection. My choice is still the MTH diecast model brought in 2 years ago. While not a brass engine (no snob appeal) they are diecast. The MTH is an excellent model and runs like a watch. The only flaw is that they have the necessary tinplate accouterments. These are the shiny handrails, whistle, and bell as well as smaller than scale wheels on the pilot truck. They are an excellent buy for the money. Prices range anywhere from $900 to $1,000.
Next in Hudson development were the J3's introduced in 1937. Incorporating conical boilers, roller bearings, and other refinements the J3's were the ultimate development of the 4-6-4 on the Central. Fifty models were built. Ten of these were streamlined for the 20th Century (2 more in 1941 for the Empire State Express). They also introduced the classic New York Central numberplate and oval which was often associated with the railroad in later years. As is so typical in the modeling world, the few become the plenty. O gauge has not lacked for J3A's! Both Max Grey, USH, and Westside imported them. Now a new producer is bringing in yet another (at $3,200 I might add). A model of one of these "Super Hudsons" has to be included in any NYC roster. My choice is either the Max Grey or the USH version as the Westside engine. These were based on one of the destreamlined engines with the so-called "Selkirk" front end making the engine look like a L4. Prices for the former are in the $1,000 to $1,400 range. The Westside version seems to go a little higher. This is the only major NYC class I do not yet own, but hopefully one will turn up.
While we are the subject of Hudson, I want to mention the steamlined versions. The Dreyfus 20th Century style was imported by Westside. Recently, Weaver brought in an Empire State version in both 2 and 3 rail. Lionel also produced a full scale Commodore Vanderbuilt several years ago. This was an excellent model, but was offered in 3 rail only. The streamline engines days in the sun were short lived. After a crossing accident in Indiana in 1946, the shrouding began to be removed during routine shopping. By 1950, all where de streamlined. No doubt, a streamlined Hudson is a worthwhile addition to any NYC collection, but it is by no means a must have. For the time being I will pass.
The close of the NYC steam era brought the ultimate steam engine, the mighty S1 Niagara. Built in 1945 and '46 these 27 modern dual purpose 4-8-4's certainly deserve a place in the railroad pantheon. Notably, as one of the best steam engines built on this continent. They challenged the diesels head on and almost won. A series of performance tests conducted in 1946 indicated the S1's were just as economical to run as a pair of E7's. The S1's could match a pair of E7's in availability, turnaround time, and performance. But Niagara's also need people, roundhouses, and water pans - and therein lies the problem. After the tests, it was obvious that the future lay with internal combustion. Further development of the steam locomotive on the NYC ceased. 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. Several O gauge Niagara's have been imported over the years ranging from Psc Crown model to the Weaver offering some ten years. The latter is okay but it suffers from a horrible automobile showroom glossy paint job and a real paucity of detail. I chose the middle ground and found a Max Grey version for about $900. This engine had some baggage. The paint was horrible. 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. Like all US Hobbies and Max Grey imports, some of the details are on the crude side. After some tinkering the beast runs well and is a good example of an S1. It goes without saying that a Niagara is a must for the NYC collector.
There is one other NYC engine class that deserves some comment. These are the P and LE's A2 2-8-4's. The seven prototypes, built in 1948, were the last steam locomotives built for the NYC System and the last built by Alco. Why they were even ordered is a subject of some conjecture. The P&LE were coal haulers. There must have been a few diehards who still thought the steam engine had a place. By 1955, they were sold off to the Big Four and were gone from the roster in 1956. Overland brought in a painted version some years ago. These appear in the O gauge press every once in a while. The prices are high (over $2,000). For the average NYC collector they are interesting but not essential. I would rather spend the money on an L2D!
This brings us to an end of our survey of NYC steam locomotives and their O gauge counterparts. It is sad to note that only five NYC steam engines are in existence. The 2933, an L2D is in St. 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. 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!
IMPORTED NYC BRASS
"O" Scale Steam Locomotives
|NYC Class||WhyteWheel Arrangement||Importer||Appx. Price||Notes|
|S1A||4-8-4||USH, PSC, MG, WVR||$650-1200|
|J1E (Strml)||4-6-4||Lionel (3R)||$800||#1|
1. Commodore Vanderbuilt.
2. Pre-War 17/64 Scale Usually OUTSIDE 3rd Rail.