Steam locomotives came in all sizes. Some, like the two truck Shay we looked at last week, were designed to go almost anywhere. Others were so huge that only certain lines could handle them. Even on a railroad as big and as fond of big power as the Union Pacific, the 9000s were limited to where they could roam.
Built between 1926 and 1930 by ALCo, the 4-12-2s were the ultimate extension of traditional steam building models. To this point, adding power was achieved by increasing the length of the boiler and putting more drive wheels underneath. While 10 drivered locomotives were relatively common on railroads across the country, only the Union Pacific dared push it to twelve. The locomotives were initially built for fast freight service across the plains of Nebraska. Some later found their way in service on other parts of the system, but there were places these locomotives couldn’t go.
To help compensate for the long wheelbase, the locomotives were delivered with blind driving wheels on the third and fourth axles. This meant that these wheels did not have flanges on the inside edge like most. On tight curves, these wheels could extend out from beyond the head of the rail, while the other wheels kept the locomotive in line. The locomotives were also equipped with lateral motion devices on axles one and six which allowed the axles to move back and forth in curves. These devices were so effective that the blind drivers were found to be unnecessary.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the exceptional length of the wheel base the proved to be the 9000s’ greatest troubles but their third cylinders. Three cylinder locomotives were a common trend in locomotive production in this period. The third cylinder, sometimes with a direct feed from the boilers, other times working off of lower pressure steam from the two outboard steam chests, provided a boost in power. With this cylinder, the wheels were not quartered at 90 degree intervals (meaning the left and right side rods were offset by a quarter turn) but by 120 degrees. This results in a very distinctive 6-chuff / wheel rotation sound as opposed to the normal 4. You can hear this for yourself as an aging No. 9009 was caught on tape by Howard Fogg. The same syncopated sound can be heard on most Shays for the same reason.
On the 9000s, the inner cylinder was connected to the second axle. The outer cylinders connected to the third thanks to use of the Gresley gear, which used a pair of hinged levers to control the inner valve from the outer. This was located in front of the cylinders, beneath smokebox. These were the largest locomotives to use this system. The UP later converted them to a double-Walchaerts valve gear. Ultimately, no matter which arrangement was used the ultimate problem of these locomotives was the same as other three-cylinder locomotives. Maintenance on the inner cylinder was simply next to impossible.
Union Pacific rostered 88 of the enormous locomotives. Only one survives – No. 9000 which is on static display at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona, CA. While the Russians tried building a 4-14-2 prototype after seeing the Union Pacifics under construction, this locomotive simply tore apart the rails and was promptly stored and soon scrapped. In the coming years, the Union Pacific and other roads would turn to articulated locomotives and new “Super Power” designs which increased the size of the firebox to generate greater power all without the complications of third cylinders and lengthy frames.
Like its prototype, the Lionel 9000s aren’t going to go around just any curve. The models, with tender, are nearly two and a half feet long. By cheating a little and making the drivers on axles two, three, four and six all blind, we were able to get these monsters around O-72, which is of course much tighter than the prototypes were ever expected to handle.
The 4-12-2 returns to Lionel’s line this time with some new features including LEGACY and whistle steam. You’ll get:
- LEGACY control – capable of running on TMCC and conventional as well
- Odyssey II speed control with On/Off switch
- LEGACY Railsounds including
- Crewtalk and TowerCom communications
- Six official railroad speeds
- DynaChuff synchronized with 32 speed steps
- Quilling Whistle along with appropriate warning sounds
- Bell with single hit or continuous sounds
- Sequence Control to narrate an entire trip
- Fuel and speed announcements and refueling sounds
- Powerful maintenance-free motor
- Whistle Steam Effect
- Fan-driven smoke unit with adjustable output
- Wireless tether
- Lighting Effects including
- Directional headlight and back-up light
- Marker lights on tender
- Class lights on smokebox
- Cab interior
- Ashpan glow
- Traction tires
- Die cast metal body, pilot, trucks and tender body and trucks
- Detailed cab interior with window glass and engineer and fireman figures
- Separately applied builders plates and many more details
- ElectroCoupler on rear of tender
Look for these massive brutes to storm into your dealers in the coming weeks. This run includes No. 9004 in the conventional scheme (6-11342) and No. 9000 in the as-delivered “Overland” scheme (6-11343) and a what-if Greyhound scheme (6-11344). Each retails for $1299.99 (about $100 less than our TMCC version in 2002!)