The Berkshire locomotives of the 2-8-4 arrangement were perhaps one of
the most beautiful steam designs ever built for medium-heavy duty. Of
course, not only were these locomotives aesthetically pleasing, they
could lug a heavy freight train as well! While the locomotive class
was very successful and purchased by a number of different railroads
when it debuted in the 1920s, it is best remembered for its work on the
little Boston & Albany Railroad where it also received its name when
the model was being tested in the Berkshire Mountains of New England. The Berkshire locomotive came about because of the hope of the Lima
Locomotive Works, an established and well-known manufacturer of steam
locomotives, to improve the USRA Mikado design (2-8-2), which lacked
sufficient speed and horsepower. Based initially from a New York Central
Railroad H-7 Mikado design, what Lima ultimately came up with was a
locomotive that included a larger, 100 square foot firebox that
necessitated the need for an extra trailing axle giving the locomotive
(designated a Class A-1) a 2-8-4 wheel arrangement.
The New York, Chicago & St. Louis (the Nickel Plate Road) quickly
took a liking to these powerful and aesthetically pleasing locomotives.
Between 1934 and 1949 the Nickel Plate took delivery of some 80 2-8-4s,
all built locally by the Lima Locomotive Works. NKP 765 was part of the railroad's S-2 class
and was assigned to hauling main line freight trains around Bellevue,
Ohio (the Berks became the railroad's flagship locomotives hauling
virtually all of its high priority freight and passenger trains). Overall the Nickel Plate's Berkshires could produce just over 64,000
pounds of tractive effort, 245 psi of boiler pressure, and held a top
speed of around 70 mph. Being one of the most technologically advanced
steam locomotives built during the late 1930s and through the
early/mid-1940s the Berkshire saw a relatively short service life on
most railroads, including the NYC&StL. Nickel Plate Road 765 remained in regular service for only about 15 years before she was retired in June, 1958 (as you may note in the chart below, the railroad's S-3 Class of 2-8-4s saw less than 10 years of service!).
NKP 765 survived the fate of most of her sisters and other steam
locomotives when the railroad, as a gesture of good will, asked if the
city of Fort Wayne would like one of its 2-8-4s to be preserved on
static display. The city accepted the offer but received the 765
instead of sister 767 as it had requested. Efforts to return
NKP 765 back to operational status began in October, 1975 after the
Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society had been formed in 1972 to
restore the locomotive. After about four years of work Nickel Plate 765 returned to steam
on the first day of September, 1979. Between that time and 1993 she
logged over 52,000 miles of excursion service in more than half of
states east of the Mississippi River. Her most celebrated jaunts during
these years was likely pulling the New River Train hosted by
the Collis P. Huntington Chapter of the NRHS along the New River in
West Virginia during the fall seasons of 1986 and 1993 (it was not long
after this time that CSX disallowed steam locomotives to be operated on
its railroad citing rising insurance costs).
After her 1993 operating season NKP 765 was shopped for a general
overhaul of her running gear although her owners instead decided to give
her a full rebuild. This effort took much longer than expected, mostly
because of the astronomical cost involved in carrying out the rebuild.
It took the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society eight years to raise
the money needed for her rebuild, which began in 2001 and was completed by October, 2005 when she officially returned to steam. With fewer states to now operate in due to CSX's policy NKP 765
has nevertheless remained successful hauling various excursions and
participating in other events, where she continues to draw large crowds.
Nickel Plate Road's 2-8-4 Berkshires
If you would like to NKP 765 in operation please visit the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society's website
to learn when her next scheduled excursion will be. For more reading about the Nickel Plate's fleet of Berkshires a good book on the subject is, "Berkshires Of The Nickel Plate Road," by author Kevin Holland. The title explores the road's entire fleet of 80 Class S 2-8-4s from the time they were delivered until retirement and disposition of those units which were preserved for posterity, such as #765. The book is 124 pages and features more than 150 pictures.
Nickel Plate Road #765