New York, Chicago & St Louis 2-8-4 "Berkshire" Locomotives in the USA

The New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad was dubbed the "Nickel Plate Road" in a newspaper article in 1882. It seemed to the writer that everything on this railroad, from the tracks to the fittings in the passenger cars, was bright, polished and perfect, as if nickel-plated. The name stuck and the railroad used the name until it merged with the Norfolk & Western and the Wabash in 1964.

There is an alternate story of how the Nickel Plate Road got that name. When William Vanderbilt sought to purchase the NYC&StL, to remove it as a competitor with his New York Central, the price, which he was quoted was, in his view, so exorbitant that he exclaimed, "My God! Your railroad must be nickel-plated!"

In 1927, the Nickel Plate Road was part of a group of railroads controlled by two brothers, Oris and Mantis Van Sweringen. Along with the Nickel Plate Road they controlled the C & O, the Pere Marquette and the Hocking Valley Railroad. The Van Sweringens established the "Advisory Mechanical Committee", which represented the best design talents from the four railroads.

This committee, after exhaustive studies and tests, used the most favorable ratios, proportions and characteristics of the Erie Railroad's 2-8-4 of 1927, and enlarged it into the famous C & O Class T-1, 2-10-4, which were built by Lima in 1930. In 1934, the process was applied in reverse from the 2-10-4 and the equally famous Nickel Plate Road "Berkshire" Class S, 2-8-4 resulted.

In 1934, the NKP took delivery of fifteen of the new "Berkshires" from the American Locomotive Company. These new locomotives were perfectly suited for the NKP and with them they set record after record. In all the NKP bought eighty "Berkshires", fifteen from ALCO and the balance from Lima Locomotive Works and numbered them 700 through 779.

These locomotives had 69" diameter drivers, 25" x 34" cylinders, a 245 psi boiler pressure, they exerted 64,135 pounds of tractive effort and each weighed between 261,100 to 266,030 pounds.

There are six surviving NKP 2-8-4 "Berkshire" type locomotives. They are: number 755 at the Conneaut Railroad Historical Museum in Conneaut, OH, number 757 at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, PA, number 759 at Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, PA, number 763 at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, VA, number 765 at the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society on Edgerton Rd in New Haven, IN and number 779 at Lincoln Park in Lima, OH


ClassQty.Road NumbersYear BuiltBuilderNotes
S15700-7141934ALCONumbers 700-714 scrapped between 1957 and 1961
S-115715-7291942LimaNumbers 715-729 scrapped between 1957 and 1964
S-110730-7391943LimaNumbers 730-739 scrapped in 1961-1962
S-230740-7691944LimaNumbers 755, 757, 759, 763 and 765 are preserved. All the others scrapped between 1960 and 1964.
S-310770-7791949LimaNumber 779 was the last steam locomotive built by Lima and it is preserved. All the others scrapped between 1961 and 1963.

Class Details by Steve Llanso of Sweat House Media

Class S, S-1, S-2, S-3 (Locobase 52)

Data from NKP 5 - 1950 Locomotive Diagrams supplied in May 2005 by Allen Stanley from his extensive Rail Data Exchange. See also Steamtown's Special History Study "American Steam Locomotives: Nickel Plate Road (New York, Chicago, And St Louis) No. 759", archived at [] . (Thanks to Jackie Lien for the 5 April 2017 email pointing the S-2's weight differences and to Chris Hohl for the valve gear ID and for his 22 September 2017 email reporting unlikely boiler pressure values for 177 entries. A Locobase macro caused the error .)

Alco delivered the first 15 S (700-714), works numbers 68646-68653 in September 1934, 68654-68658 in October, and 68659-68660 in November.

Eight years later, Lima began producing three more sub-classes, which differed from the S class in little more than weight.:

S-1 (715-739), works numbers 7860-7867 in June 1942, 7868-7874 in July,

8003-8007 in March 1943, 8008-8009 in April, and 8010-8012 in May. Weights as given in the specifications above.

S-2 (740-769), works numbers 8414-8428 in January 1944, 8663- 8670 in August,

and 8671-8677 in September. Roller bearings on the driving axles. Weight rose to 254,300 lb (115,349 kg) on the drivers, 440,800 lb (199,944 kg) for the engine, and 361,700 lb (164,065 kg) for the loaded tender.

S-3 (770-779), works numbers 9371-9373 in March 1949, 9374-9376 in April, and 9377-9380 in May. Weight on drivers 266,000 lb (120,656 kg), engine weight 444,300 (201,531 kg), loaded tender weight 364,520 lb (165,344 kg).

Firebox had two thermic syphons offering a total of 98 sq ft (9.3 sq m) of heating surface and two arch tubes with an additional 19 sq ft (1.75 sq m). Piston valves measured 14" (356 mm) in diameter, had 8" (203 mm) of travel, a lead of 3/16" (5.1 mm), and lap of 1 11/16"(42.9 mm).

The NPS study notes that William Black designed several of the best-known and most highly regarded freight engines of the Superpower era. After designing the Erie's 2-8-4s, he moved to the Chesapeake & Ohio and drafted the lines for the C&O's T1 2-10-4s (which would be duplicated by the Pennsylvania as their J1s). He headed the Van Swearingen Roads' Advisory Mechanical Committee, which oversaw design for the Chessie, its subsidiary the Hocking Valley, the Nickel Plate, and the Pere Marquette.

The Nickel Plate's Berkshire design emerged from the AMC in 1934 as a "mathematically scaled-down version of the C&O's 2-10-4." The NPS account quotes Gene Huddleston's verdict that the S class was "the greatest 2-8-4 ever to take the rails."

All of the S class had Worthington Type 5 SA feed water heaters, Elesco Type E superheaters, Standard Type MB stokers, Precision Type F-3 reverse gear, and 14" (356 mm) piston valves.

See Railfan & Railroad, March 1994, for a long article by Rich Melvin in which he recounts excursion runs with 765 that demonstrate just how powerful this class was. Melvin underscores the slogan coined by Lima's Will Woodard to explain the SuperPower concept: "Horsepower at Speed." The article contains an excellent analysis of the strengths of a steam horsepower curve (there's more the faster you go) and diesel horsepower (there's plenty at the low end, but the system reaches its upper limit at a speed well below an equivalent steam engine).

Principal Dimensions by Steve Llanso of Sweat House Media
ClassS, S-1, S-2, S-3
Locobase ID52
RailroadNew York, Chicago & St Louis (Nickel Plate)
Number in Class80
Road Numbers700-779
Number Built80
Valve GearBaker
Locomotive Length and Weight
Driver Wheelbase (ft / m)18.25 / 5.56
Engine Wheelbase (ft / m)42 / 12.80
Ratio of driving wheelbase to overall engine wheebase 0.43
Overall Wheelbase (engine & tender) (ft / m)87.73 / 26.74
Axle Loading (Maximum Weight per Axle) (lbs / kg)
Weight on Drivers (lbs / kg)251,100 / 113,897
Engine Weight (lbs / kg)428,500 / 194,365
Tender Loaded Weight (lbs / kg)356,000 / 161,479
Total Engine and Tender Weight (lbs / kg)784,500 / 355,844
Tender Water Capacity (gals / ML)22,000 / 83.33
Tender Fuel Capacity (oil/coal) (gals/tons / Liters/MT)22 / 20
Minimum weight of rail (calculated) (lb/yd / kg/m)105 / 52.50
Geometry Relating to Tractive Effort
Driver Diameter (in / mm)69 / 1753
Boiler Pressure (psi / kPa)245 / 16.90
High Pressure Cylinders (dia x stroke) (in / mm)25" x 34" / 635x864
Tractive Effort (lbs / kg)64,135 / 29091.18
Factor of Adhesion (Weight on Drivers/Tractive Effort) 3.92
Heating Ability
Tubes (number - dia) (in / mm)73 - 2.25" / 57
Flues (number - dia) (in / mm)202 - 3.5" / 89
Flue/Tube length (ft / m)19 / 5.79
Firebox Area (sq ft / m2)460 / 42.74
Grate Area (sq ft / m2)90.30 / 8.39
Evaporative Heating Surface (sq ft / m2)4772 / 443.49
Superheating Surface (sq ft / m2)1992 / 185.13
Combined Heating Surface (sq ft / m2)6764 / 628.62
Evaporative Heating Surface/Cylinder Volume247.00
Computations Relating to Power Output (More Information)
Robert LeMassena's Power Computation22,124
Same as above plus superheater percentage28,539
Same as above but substitute firebox area for grate area145,383
Power L136,458
Power MT1280.38

2020 photo courtesy Jeff Morrell
755 is located at the Conneaut Railroad Historical Museum in Conneaut, OH.
  • Built in 1944
  • Completely overhauled in early 1958, but then was retired in April, 1958 and placed in storage.
  • Donated to the museum in October, 1964.
757 is on display at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, PA.
NYC&StL 757. Photo courtesy Bob Polaneczky.
759 is on display at Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, PA.
NYC&Stl 759
  • In May 1958, the NKP thoroughly overhauled 759 in the company's great shop at Conneaut, OH. It was the last steam locomotive to be overhauled by NKP.
  • F. Nelson Blount added 759 to his collection at Steamtown USA in Bellows Falls, VT in October, 1962 without restoring it to operational condition.
  • After limited repairs, Ross Rowland steamed up 759 on 8/17/68 and made several trail runs.
  • On May 3, 1969, painted black with yellow lettering and white driver tires, 759 led Ross Rowland's "Golden Spike Limited" from Grand Central Station to Promontory, Utah for the "Driving of the Golden Spike Ceremony".
  • 759 returned to Steamtown USA after "The Golden Spike Limited" and operated several excursions.
  • Last excursion was from Boston, MA to Montpelier,VT over the Boston and Maine and the Central Vermont railroads in October, 1973.
  • During the winter of 1973, 759 was stored outside without being drained. Various pipes, connections and fittings that contained water froze and broke. Some of the damage was repaired but in 1977 a flue burst.
  • Moved to Scranton, PA in 19XX
  • Today, 759 is not in bad condition, but it needs tubes, flues, new superheater units, valve packing and bull rings.
763 is on display at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, VA.
NYC&StL 763 NYC&StL 763
  • Taken out of service at Conneaut, OH in 1958, and was officially retired in October, 1964.
  • In 1975, 763 was moved to the Elizabeth Shops of the Central Railroad of N.J. for possible overhaul for use on the American Freedom Train. When another locomotive was selected, 763 was returned to the Virginia Museum of Transportation.
  • In 2007 it was bought by the Ohio Central Railroad and brought to Morgan Run, OH with plans to restore it to operation.
765 is on display at the Ft. Wayne Railroad Historical Society in Ft. Wayne, IN.
NYC&StL 765
  • Taken out of service in 1958 and stored in East Wayne roundhouse in New Haven, IN until 1963.
  • Donated to the City of Ft. Wayne, IN in 1963, renumbered to 767, and placed on display in Lawton Park.
  • Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, Inc. was formed in 1972 to preserve and restore NKP 765.
  • On 9/1/79, after a five year restoration by FWRHS. 765 moved under its own power for the first time in 21 years.
  • To date, Ft. Wayne Railroad Historical Society has run steam excursions in the eastern US totaling over 50,000 miles of live steam operation.
  • 765 ran last excursion in October, 1993
  • 765 was recently in the shop for a running gear overhaul and is currently operational.
779 is on display in Lincoln Park in Lima, OH.
NYC&StL 779
  • Shipped on May 13, 1949 and was the last steam locomotive produced by the Lima Locomotive Works.
  • Was displayed as the ultimate example of modern steam locomotive design at the Chicago Railroad Fair.
  • NKP 779 logged 677,095 miles of operation and cost $187,000.00 in 1949 ($1,242,114 in 1998 dollars).
  • NKP 779 came home to Lima in 1963 and was put on display in Lincoln Park.
New York, Chicago & St. Louis Berkshires that did not survive
All material Copyright ©
Wes Barris