• What were B&A Berks used for?

  • Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.
Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.

Moderator: Otto Vondrak

  by Boston-and-Maine
Did B&A Berks ever pull passenger cars, or were they used for freight only?
  by NYC_Dave
The B&A A-1 Berkshires were designed for freight use. They had the footboard pilots typical of NYC freight locomotives. They were not designed for speed having only 63" drivers while most other railroads' Berkshires had 69" and 70" drivers.
  by Boston-and-Maine
Good to know, thank you! :-D
  by Noel Weaver
To add to the above, the Berkshires were designed and built for the grades on the Boston and Albany. After the diesels took
over on the B & A, the Berkshires were probably not really suited for the freight train operations over most of the rest of the
system so they ended up in retirement.
Noel Weaver
  by rlsteam
This is something I have been wondering about for a while. I know that the B&A's J2 Hudsons were renumbered in the 5400s and assigned to New York City suburban service -- I think both on the West Shore and on the east side of the river (correct me if that's not the case). But what about the A1 Berkshires? Did they see any service on the System after being displaced on the B&A? Also, I know the P&LE A2 Berkshires went to the Ohio Division, and I once heard they ran the Mackinaw City line as well -- is that true?
  by Allen Hazen
Alvin Stauffer's "New York Central: Modern Power" says that the A1 were retired "en masse" in 1949: from a photo in the book, it seems they got at least as far west as Syracuse, NY, in freight service in their heyday, but there are no photos of them further west after they were replaced by diesels on the B&A.

Comparatively early retirement isn't all that surprising. The newest (A1c) were built in 1930, and they had had been used in heavy freight service on the most mountainous part of the system: my guess is that they were pretty worn. They were booster equipped, and NYC postwar seems to have felt that boosters were an expensive maintenance nuisance (hence removal of boosters in their last years from many Hudsons). They were not built (I am assuming from the dates-- A1c might have been an exception) with one-piece cast frames: more likelihood of their being worn out, more maintenance hassle. With 63" drivers they probably weren't as good at mainline freight as the Mohawks, many of which were newer, and for yard work or local freight probably not much better than smaller and lighter Mikados. As diesels were flooding in, the System was in a position to cull its steam locomotive fleet, and the A1 seems like a good candidate for early retirement.

Since they were bought for freight service, they may not have had steam lines for providing train heat, making them even less likely to be used in passenger service.
  by Alloy
NYC_Dave wrote:The B&A A-1 Berkshires were designed for freight use. They had the footboard pilots typical of NYC freight locomotives. They were not designed for speed having only 63" drivers while most other railroads' Berkshires had 69" and 70" drivers.
This is interesting. I had made an assumption that on any given Whyte system wheel arrangement, the driver sizes would be comparable on any given design. This post shows that that was not the case.
  by erie2937
Some B&A Berkshires were used in pusher service on the Buffalo Division. I have seen time books which record pusher assignments eastward out of Gardenville Yard to SS-42(Corfu).

Also, I have seen time book references to B&A Berkshires used in pusher service on the Youngstown Branch southward out of the coal dock area up the hill toward Dorset.

Both references date to the late '40's/early '50's.

H.T. Guillaume
  by Allen Hazen
Locomotives of the same Whyte designation (=wheel arrangement) came in different sizes, and for types like 4-8-4 which could be used either for freight or passenger service often with high-drivered/low-drivered versions. For example, 4-6-2 in the U.S. had drivers ranging from 69" (with possibly a few even smaller), I think, to 80": low-drivered versions being used for fast freight or for general passenger service on lines not suited to high speeds, high-drivered for passenger service on good track. The New York Central, whose mainline express Pacifics usually had 79" drivers, also had a large number of low-drivered 4-6-2, some with footboard pilots for freight service, which were used for passenger service on secondary lines like the Adirondack Division.

2-8-4 Berkshires basically fell into two categories. When the type was introduced in the 1920s it was for what at the time counted as "accelerated" freight service, but it was still what subsequent railroad histories call the "drag freight era". Lima's prototype, the first production order for the Boston & Albany, the Berkshires built for the Boston & Maine, the Chicago & Northwestern, the Illinois Central were all of this low-speed type with 63" drivers. The Erie -- a comparatively small railroad trying to compete with its larger and more prosperous neighbors by providing faster freight service -- then requested (and got from all three main steam locomotive builders) a 70" drivered version. This was slightly reduced in size (90 square feet of grate area instead of 100) to produce the 69" drivered Nickel Plate Berkshires; most later 2-8-4 were essentially copies of the Nickel Plate's (Pere Marquette's, W&LE's, C&O's, RF&P's, and -- maybe not quite as close a copy -- Louisville & Nashville's). Alco's last steam locomotives, the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie's A-2 class Berkshires, were an anomaly: 63" drivered Berkshires built in the era of the 69" drivered type.

(I can't remember the driver size, but there was one order of 2-8-4 that didn't fit in either category: a miniaturized version for the Norfolk Southern, a not-particularly-prosperous southern line whose track probably wouldn't have tolerated the weight of one of the bigger Berkshires.)


I know some of the Nickel Plate 2-8-4 had steam connections allowing them to be used in passenger service, and I think some of the L&N's did too, but I don't know about other railroads' Berkshires.
  by rlsteam
Additionally, the Virginian had some of the AMC 2-8-4s similar to those of the C&O. Also, both AT&SF and C&NW had a few Berkshires, and then after WWII both SP and AT&SF acquired ex-B&M 2-8-4s and, in a few cases, rebuilt them removing the Coffin feedwater heaters. And the Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo had two, the only ones ever built in Canada. Then, if you count the later career of C&O 2716, it was the Southern's only 2-8-4 (perhaps it was leased, not owned).
  by rlsteam
Sorry, I reviewing the post above I see you already mentioned the C&NW's Berkshires.
  by Allen Hazen
I missed a few. The DT&I had some 2-8-4: 63" drivered, but built later than most of the low-drivered versions. As for Southern-- two of the B&A A1 were sold to some small railroad in the South, I forget which. Given the number of smaller roads SR absorbed, they MAY be "Southern with an asterisk".
I recall an interesting story about the TH&B Berkshires. TH&B had decided they liked the Berkshire idea, but buying from Lima would have incurred import duties, and the two Canadian locomotive builders couldn't offer an economical price for just two locomotives when they would have to do so much new work (like: prepare forms for casting the cylinders, etc).
Then Alco built 2-8-4 for the C&NW: C&NW ordered enough to make the new work economical. At which point MLW, an Alco subsidiary, was able to borrow the molds so they could build the two for TH&B.
((Off topic: on your site, RL, there is a dimensional drawing of a New York Central C1 duplex. Where is this drawing from?))
  by eddiebehr
The small railroad in the South was the Tennessee, Alabama & Georgia. (TAG Route)
  by rlsteam
Oops, I also forgot the DT&I 2-8-4s, with the enclosed cabs. As to the NYC proposed C1a "Niagara" duplex drawing, that was sent to me in April 2004. Someone scanned it from Alvin Staufer's "New York Central Later Power 1916-1968." I suppose the credits are there on the drawing, but the scan came to me at a low resolution and the printing is too small to read. If I could get a better scan I would certainly attribute it to the proper source.
  by Allen Hazen
Thanks for the replies!
Eddiebehr: ... and the TA&G was bought by the Southern in 1971. On the other hand, most of it has been abandoned and the small portion still active has been spun off to a short line (Chattanooga & Chicamauga). So it's a judgment call whether the TA&G 2-8-4 can be called in some sense "Southern" (Grin!). (History from the Kalmbach "Historical Guide to North American Railroads.")
Rlsteam: ...and I HAVE the Stauffer book. The not quite legible (in the scan) writing at the lower left says it's a New York Central engineering department drawing of March 1945. I'm on the run now, but I have some thoughts about the C1a: will start a new string for it on this forum when I get a chance.
The original question in this string was whether the B&A Berkshires ever hauled passenger cars. I think we're all agreed that it is unlikely that they were ever used in regular passenger service, but (I have no evidence that this ever happened, but it's a story you could tell if you wanted to defend something on a model railroad against a "rivet counter's" criticisms) there are other possibilities: empty stock movements. So if you wanted to model an A1 pulling passenger stock, just tell people the passenger cars are new, being delivered from the car-builder. I don't know if it did happen, but it might have. (Though, come to thinki of it, passenger and freight stock have different brakes: somebody who knows the technical details-- would this be a reason for using a passenger locomotive instead of a freighter even for moving empty passenger cars?)