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New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad ("Nickel Plate Road") 759

Whyte System Type: 2-8-4 Berkshire
Class: S-2

Builder: Lima Locomotive Works, Lima, Ohio
Date Built: August 1944
Builder's Number: 8667

Cylinders (diameter x stroke in inches): 25 x 34
Boiler Pressure (in lbs. per square inch): 245
Diameter of Drive Wheels (in inches): 69
Tractive Effort (in lbs.): 64,100

Tender Capacity:
    Coal (in tons): 22
    Oil (in gallons): Not applicable
    Water (in gallons): 22,000

Weight on Drivers (in lbs.): 264,300 Total weight: 440,800

Remarks: Engine is not in bad condition, but needs tubes and flues, new superheater units, and valve packing and bull rings. It has Baker valve gear and piston valves. It was overhauled by N.K. Porter in 1958, and received minor work in 1969 for High Iron excursions.

Nickel Plate Road (N.Y., C. & St. L. R.R.) 2-8-4 Locomotive No. 759

History: One of a class of modem, heavy-duty, main line engines, a type first developed in 1925 and dubbed Berkshires by the Boston & Albany Railroad for the mountains over which they first ran, Locomotive No. 759 was one of 80 Berkshires purchased by the Nickel Plate Road (formally the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad) between 1934 and 1949. The American Locomotive Company won the low bid for the Nickel Plate Road's first 15 2-8-4s in 1934. but the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio, built the remaining 65 in a series of subsequent orders.

The 2-8-4 or Berkshire type of railroad engine, according to steam locomotive historian Eugene Huddleston, originated in an effort of the Lima Locomotive Works and its designer Will Woodard to improve on the speed and horsepower of the Mikado 2-8-2 locomotive designed as a standard for the nation's railroads by the World War I federal transportation agency, the United States Railroad Administration, which advanced some admirable standard locomotive designs. Woodard's and Lima's first effort was simply a bigger and better 2-8-2, with the same cylinder and firebox dimensions as the "U.S.R.A." engine design, but with larger boiler, front end throttle, Baker valve gear, the recently developed Type E superheater, and a feedwater heater. This effort, in engines sold to the New York Central, proved successful, but the new Mikados still exhibited some limitations such as wheel slippage and inability to keep up steam at speed over a long period.

Woodard sought to improve on his "super Mikado" by solving these problems too, which led him to expand from a "super" 2-8-2 to a wholly new wheel arrangement, a 2-8-4, designed to accommodate an even larger boiler and firebox to ensure an engine that could produce sufficient steam at speed over long distances. Turned out by Lima in February 1925 for a New York Central System subsidiary, the Boston and Albany, in tests between Albany, New York and West Springfield, Massachusetts, the new 2-8-4 successfully hauled 2,500 tons unassisted by helper engines across the Taconic Mountains of western Massachusetts, known regionally as the Berkshire Hills. Soon the new class of engine, the 2-8-4, was dubbed "the Berkshire," and the New York Central bought 55 of them, while other railroads purchased still more.

A variant, improved series of Berkshire locomotives originated two years later on the group of railroads controlled by the brothers Oris P. and Mantis J. Van Sweringen. These bachelor Cleveland, Ohio, financiers had purchased control of the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, better known as the Nickel Plate Road, by 1916, and when the Interstate Commerce Commission began developing a scheme of railroad consolidation after World War I, the Van Sweringens undertook their own private strategy of consolidation, determined to control one of the major groupings or railroad systems that would emerge. To their ownership of the Nickel Plate they added other carriers, including notably by 1922, the Chesapeake and Ohio and the Hocking Valley, and by 1927, the Pere Marquette, the Wheeling and Lake Erie, and the Erie Railroad. The Van Sweringens' talented subordinate, President John Bernet of the Nickel Plate, moved to the Erie Railroad to revitalize that newly acquired carrier, and took with him Nickel Plate Superintendent of Motive Power William Black. While working for the Erie, Black designed a high-powered Berkshire 2-8-4 with 70-inch drivers, wheels 7 inches larger in diameter than those of the conventional Lima Berkshires. The Erie bought 105 of these.

The Interstate Commerce Commission refused to allow the Van Sweringen consolidation scheme, so the brothers lost interest in the Erie Railroad. Consequently, Black moved to the Van Sweringen-owned Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. For that line he designed a larger variant of the Berkshire, a 2-10-4.

Meanwhile, headquartered in Cleveland, Black also led an Advisory Mechanical Committee that served the four principal remaining Van Sweringen-owned roads, the Nickel Plate, the Chesapeake & Ohio, the Pere Marquette, and the Hocking Valley, a committee that continued to function even after both Van Sweringens had passed from the scene. This committee designed five eminently successful classes of modem high-powered steam locomotives, one of which proved to be the finest class of Berkshires ever made and among the finest steam locomotives ever built.


As a set of builder's photographs representative of the series of Nickel Plate Road Locomotives No. 755 through 769, the Lima Locomotive Works chose to photograph right and left sides (top and bottom, respectively) of Locomotive No. 757 on August 18, 1944. Locomotive No. 759, now at Steamtown, looked identical except for the last digit in its number.
Allen County Historical Society

First produced in 1934 for the Nickel Plate Road, this new design of engine was not merely a copy of Black's Erie Railroad Berkshire, but a mathematically scaled-down version of the C & 0's 2-10-4, which had derived from the Erie Berkshire.

Both Chief Mechanical Officer William Black and his mentor, President John Bernet, soon died, but their Advisory Mechanical Committee survived them, and in 1937 the Pere Marquette ordered another group of the Berkshires designed by the committee.

George D. Brooke had succeeded Bernet as president of the Pere Marquette, the Nickel Plate and the C & O, and the C & O soon purchased a similar class of engines. When Brooke later left the C & O to head the Virginian, that railroad too would soon acquire similar Berkshire locomotives. Two other railroads not controlled by the Van Sweringens and their successors acquired Berkshires of essentially the Nickel Plate design: the Louisville and Nashville and the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac. Other railroads, such as the Missouri Pacific and the Wheeling & Lake Erie, obtained Berkshires whose design derived either from the Boston & Albany Berkshires or from independent design.

Of all of the Berkshires, those of the Nickel Plate Road became probably the most famous, perhaps more famous even than those of the Boston & Albany Railroad from which the type derived its name.

To return to the story of the Nickel Plate Berkshires, historian Huddleston observed that in 1934, the Advisory Mechanical Committee

designed the greatest 2-8-4 ever to take to the rails. The Committee achieved this feat by "slide ruling" down the C&O Texas type of 1930 [the 2-10-4 already mentioned] in all important dimensions (except driver diameter) to a 2-8-4. This new Nickel Plate Berkshire not only looked like a slightly scaled down version of the C&O T-1, it performed like it, for with a tractive effort and weight on drivers 70%, of the T-1's, it had the same factor of adhesion. In fact, the NKP 2-8-4 had one advantage over the C&O T-1--less dynamic augment (jumping up and down) as a result of having less side and main rod weight. With visored headlight in middle of boiler and cast number plate attached, twin shields protecting the air pumps, a platform between the shields, and bell hanging jauntily over the brow of the smokebox, the Erie influence was unmistakable.

This led to that initial purchase from the American Locomotive Company of 15 2-8-4s for service on the Nickel Plate, which designated them as Class S engines.

But it was the Lima Locomotive Works, noted especially as a builder of Shay patent-geared locomotives used primarily by logging and mining railroads, that had built the first Berkshires, and it was Lima, now builder of many fine main line steam locomotives, that won subsequent orders for Berkshire-type locomotives from the Nickel Plate. The Nickel Plate bought eight of these in June 1942, Nos. 715 through 722, designated as Class S-1, and in 1943 bought seven more from Lima, these in a new Class S-2, Nos. 730 through 734 being delivered in March and Nos. 735 and 736 in June. The difference between the S-1 and S-2 classes appears to have been principally in the weight on drivers, 258,000 lbs. for the S-1 and 264,000 for the S-2, and the total weight of engine and tender, 421,000 pounds compared with 440,800 pounds. The other vital statistics of the two classes of Nickel Plate Berkshires were the same: 25-inch diameter cylinders with 34-inch stroke, 69-inch diameter drive wheels, 245 pounds per square inch boiler pressure, 90.3 square feet of grate area, and tractive effort of 64,000 pounds. Because of its greater weight, the S-2 had a slightly greater adhesion factor.

The S-2 in the Steamtown collection, No. 759, came with the Nickel Plate's third order of Berkshires from Lima, order No. 1184, placed on June 25, 1943, in the middle of World War II. The order called for 15 identical locomotives, and these the builder delivered in two increments: Lima outshopped Nos. 755 through 762 in August, 1944, and the remaining seven, Nos. 763 through 769, in September 1944. The company photographer made builder's photographs of No. 757 as representative of each of these 15 locomotives on August 18 and 19, 1944.

After World War II, the able management of Nickel Plate President John Davin made the old New York, Chicago & St. Louis a highly efficient freight carrier, characterized by heavy traffic density, sustained fast speeds, and specialized consists. It handled "bridge" traffic between East St. Louis, Peoria, and Chicago as its three western termini, and Buffalo, its eastern terminus. The Nickel Plate offered the shortest, fastest route between Chicago and Buffalo. The line primarily traversed flat land and featured many long tangents or stretches of straight track on which a capable locomotive could really step out.

In 1949, the railroad bought another 10 Berkshires from Lima, these classed as S-3, being still heavier engines. . No. 779, turned out in 1949, proved to be the last steam locomotive produced by the Lima Locomotive Works.

In later years, the Nickel Plate made a number of modifications to the locomotives, such as the illuminated number plates slanted at a 45-degree angle on each side of the feedwater heater pre-heater unit. The most striking change came in the early 1950s, when the Nickel Plate equipped these engines with large Mars safety lamps whose penetrating beam oscillated in a figure eight pattern, mounting this second headlight above the fixed headlight. This, and other modifications such as installation of radios in the cabs of some of the Berkshires between 1953 and 1957, called for an increased number of generators, until some Nickel Plate Berkshires had four.

The 80 Nickel Plate Berkshires became famous as locomotives due to their fine performance and efficient design, but also perhaps due to the fact that they were well-proportioned, handsome machines. Trains Magazine said in March 1969 that they

exemplified not only "the engines that saved a railroad" . . . but the larger world of Super Power instigated by her builder and by her wheel arrangement. She had the long stroke, high pressure, big boiler, tall drivers, and generous grate area of advanced but sound design, and her modernity of measurements had been refined with force-feed lubrication, roller bearings, a feedwater heater, and a division-spanning tender.

These 2-8-4s, as mentioned, served the Nickel Plate principally as freight locomotives, rolling across the hills and plains of Ohio and Indiana at speeds of 50 to 70 miles per hour. Locomotive historian Richard Cook said that they "must be ranked among the most successful steam locomotives ever built."

Paul Hackenberger recalled to Richard Cook running Nickel Plate "Berkshires":

My first contact with the Lima-built S-class engines was the No. 730. To say that she was different is an understatement. I was annoyed that the finely ground coal the road used burned in suspension in the S engines; this gave lots of ash, especially in any switching, and I had to shake the grates often.

I found that these engines could really pull. In fact, in about 1952 or 1953, the company began to load the tonnage on these 700's and 5,000-ton trains were something unheard of until then. And yet, those 700's handled the heavy trains with ease.

I always ran the 700's with the throttle to the roof. Those engines have four valves--which didn't open all at once. Most of us engineers, about 80 per cent I'd say, just laid that throttle wide open and worked her more by the cut-off marking on the quadrant and by sound. Those engines were also equipped with a back-pressure gauge. If you didn't open the throttle clear up, you weren't getting all the power that was available.

It didn't take me long to find out the S-class engines were slow to pick up speed, but that was due to their high 69-inch drivers. But when they got going--boy, how they could run! A good hogger [engineer] was able to run from South Lima to Frankfort, Indiana, a distance of 145 miles, in three hours and 30 minutes with a 75 to 85 car train, practically the same as passenger train No. 9. In fact, I often ran around the passenger with the NS-5, the Flying Saucer as we called it. This was the hottest thing on the railroad.

That S-class engine was one you could depend on. You couldn't do that with any of the other engines. They were balanced just right. Why during World War II, when I had an 18 or 20 car troop train, all with heavy Pullmans you know, those engines would just take off with that train and really run!

Oh, how I loved to hear those engines bark! They had the most beautiful exhaust, which just cracked back and echoed across the buildings when I would walk her out of town. There was never an engine built that had a sound like those engines. They were clear at the stack and they just cut 'em off 'right now'; they really cracked. And on rare occasions when two of them double-headed--oh what a sound!

I handled tonnage over here with those 700's and made time just as good as I could do today with three diesel units--and I'm talking about 1,800 horsepower diesel engines.

The 700's were a beautiful engine; they were undoubtedly the best steam locomotive that ever sat on wheels.

Another Nickel Plate engineer, E.A. Donovan, recalled at the request of historian Cook:

As far as the S-class engine is concerned, I'm convinced that it was the most powerful locomotive ever built. They have never been surpassed and represented the highest degree of efficiency in a steam locomotive It was really a thrill to operate them. In fact, it was an art to operate a steam locomotive--just the opposite from running a diesel. With a steam engine you could feel what was happening, and you used your ears in running it. Why, when that locomotive started, you just became a part of it; you functioned as part of that wonderful piece of machinery. They were lovely to handle.

I have worked between Bellevue and Lima, Ohio, and from Lima to Frankfort, Indiana. We used the 700's over the entire distance. When they came to the road they were welcome indeed. The crews soon became convinced that they were well advanced over any previous type of locomotive.

With the 700's, in spite of the tonnage that was loaded on her, I never had one that hung up on me; I never had to double a hill--something that couldn't be said for the smaller engines. Turn-around time at the engine terminal was much shorter, thus making a saving for the company.

The fact that the S-class had so much power took a real throttle artist with a certain sense of feel to get the most out of her. On big trains we could run them wide open, but with a shorter train we couldn't do it. It was a company policy to work them with a wide open throttle whenever possible. The object was to keep a constant pressure of steam going to the valves through the superheater unit to get a high degree of heat. Also, the 700's used steel cylinders, I think that was one of the big things that contributed to the locomotive's success.

I believe they were the most powerful steam locomotive of this type that could be achieved.

Thus the Nickel Plate Berkshires, along with a handful of other locomotive types on other railroads, represented the apotheosis of locomotive development on the eve of the diesel locomotive.


Front and rear views of newly built Locomotive No. 757, photographs of which the Lima Locomotive Works intended to represent the entire lot of locomotives, Nos. 755-769, including Steamtown's 759.
Allen County Historical Society

In May 1958, the Nickel Plate thoroughly overhauled No. 759 in the company's great shop at Conneaut, Ohio. As it turned out, No. 759 was the last steam locomotive the Nickel Plate overhauled. By then rapidly converting to diesel power, the company scrapped other steam locomotives where they stood in the Conneaut shop at that same time.

But Nickel Plate Road No. 759 was not finished. On October 16, 1962, F. Nelson Blount added her to his collection of engines at Steamtown USA at Bellows Falls, Vermont, though without restoring her to operation. That was left to Ross Rowland, Jr., a Wall Street commodity futures broker who on the side founded and served as president of the High Iron Company in the mid-1960s. Rowland's purpose was to restore main line steam excursions using heavy-duty motive power. After some trial efforts, in 1967 he incorporated the High Iron Company and operated still more excursions. He had his eye on 1969, the hundredth anniversary of the completion of the first transcontinental railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah, which he planned to commemorate by operating a heavy-duty steam-powered Golden Spike excursion from the East to the Missouri. Steamtown agreed to make No. 759 available in exchange for excursion profits to complete a roundhouse for its engine collection. Norfolk and Western (which by then had absorbed the Nickel Plate in a merger) leased to High Iron the former Nickel Plate roundhouse in Conneaut, Ohio, for purposes of restoration. After limited repairs, No. 759 steamed up on August 17, 1968, made several trial runs, and on August 30 was christened with champagne and took off for Buffalo with a 15-car excursion run. Subsequently No. 759 handled other excursions.

On May 3, 1969, Nickel Plate No. 759, painted black with yellow lettering and with white driver tires departed New York City for Kansas City with the Gold Spike Special, which Union Pacific locomotives handled from there to Promontory Summit. Subsequently returned to Bellows Falls, Vermont, the engine operated twice in excursion service for Steamtown USA. Leased to others for excursion use, the locomotive apparently operated into Scranton, Pennsylvania, on August 15, 1971, and on July 22, 1973.

After its last main line excursion, from Boston, Massachusetts, to Montpelier, Vermont, and back, over the Boston and Maine and the Central Vermont in October 1973, Locomotive No. 759 deadheaded under steam to Rouses Point, New York, for winter storage in the Delaware and Hudson roundhouse there, since the locomotive had been scheduled tentatively for excursion duty on the D. & H. the following April. Unfortunately, negotiations for that excursion broke down, and the D. & H. management in an apparent fit of pique had the locomotive pulled out of the promised warm roundhouse storage and set out in the icy winter of upper New York State without draining it. Various pipes, connections, and fittings containing water froze and broke. The Steamtown Foundation sued the D. & H. for its negligence.

No. 759 returned to Bellows Falls towed dead in a train in the spring of 1975. In settlement of the lawsuit, the D. & H. contracted out repair work on some of the freeze damage and on July 6, 1975, a Steamtown crew fired up the locomotive and tested it on the enginehouse lead at Riverside, Vermont. Then it rested unused until the spring of 1977, when Steamtown received a request to use the locomotive in a mainline excursion. Steamtown management planned the completion of freeze-damage repairs and an application to the Federal Railroad Administration for an extension on the deadline for replacing the flues. But when they gave the locomotive a preliminary hydro test a flue burst. Recalling the experience of having two flues blow out while one of Steamtown's older locomotives was in service, and at the suggestion of Steamtown's boiler-repair contractor, Steamtown management decided to reflue the locomotive. The boiler contractor removed all the older flues, and Steamtown ordered a new set. Then sponsorship for the proposed excursion fell apart, Steamtown cancelled the order for new flues, and a partially disassembled No. 759 awaited an uncertain future. She remained in that status during and after her move to Scranton.

Twenty Berkshire-type locomotives survive in the United States today, six of them from the 80 that operated on the Nickel Plate Road. These include No. 755 at Conneaut, Ohio; No. 757 in the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania at Strasburg; No. 759 at Scranton; No. 763 at Roanoke, Virginia; No. 765 at Fort Wayne, Indiana; and No. 779 in Lincoln Park at Lima, Ohio. Of the remaining surviving Berkshires, 12 were C & O locomotives, and two came from the Pere Marquette.

Condition: Nickel Plate Road No. 759 is in need of a major overhaul including flues, but reportedly is a basically sound locomotive that can be restored to operable condition.

Recommendations: Nickel Plate Road No. 759 is exactly the sort of main line, heavy-duty 20th century steam locomotive that should be the main focus of the Steamtown collection. It is recommended that a report be completed on the subject of this locomotive, after which it should be restored both cosmetically and mechanically and operated occasionally for either excursions or interpretive demonstrations.

In terms of the research in the report, there is extensive published literature on this class of locomotives. The report needs to synthesize that literature and concentrate on pinning down the details of modifications specifically to Locomotive No. 759 over time, and on obtaining copies of photographs of it when it was in service, representing all stages of its career and its modifications and especially when it was in freight service on the Nickel Plate. Operational history of that particular locomotive, together with oral history of any of its surviving crews, should also be a part of the report.


Boyd, Jim. "The Berk Goes to Work." Railfan & Railroad, Vol. 3, No. 6 (Sept. 1980): 26-35. [This article features No. 759's sister locomotive 765 on the Toledo, Peoria & Western.]

Cook, Richard J. Super Power Steam Locomotives. San Marino: Golden West Books, 1966: 7, 9-15, 19-23, 58-60, 126-129. [The quotations of Paul Hackenberger and E.A. Donovan are from pp. 59, 60.]

__________. Famous Steam Locomotives of the United States and Canada. Cleveland Heights: Author, 1974.

"The Dispatcher's Table," Railroading, No. 25 (Oct. 1968): 3-7.

Ferrell, Jack W. North American Steam Locomotives: The Berkshire and Texas Types. Edmonds: Pacific Fast Mail, 1988.

"Further Adventures of 759: The Berkshire Visits Roanoke." Railroading, No. 27 (Apr. 1969): 20-24.

Hampton, Taylor. The Nickel Plate Road: The History of a Great Railroad. Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1947.

Harding, Talbot. "Nickel's Plate's S-3: The Newest in Steam." National Railway Historical Society Bulletin, Vol. 38, No. 3 (1973): 6-8, 47.

Hirsimaki, Eric. Lima, The History. Edmonds: Hundman Publishing, Inc., 1986. [See pp. 201-205, 350-351.]

_________. The Nickel Plate Years. North Olmsted: Mileposts Publishing Co., 1989. [See especially p. 109.]

Huddleston, Eugene L. The Van Sweringen Berkshires. Hicksville: N.J. International, Inc., 1986.

This excellent locomotive history, a principal source for this narrative on Locomotive No. 759, appeared first as a series in Railfan & Railroad, beginning in Vol. 5, No. 4 (May 1984): 36-42; Vol. 5, No. 5 (July 1984): 42-49; Vol. 5, No. 6 (Sept. 1984): 34-39.

"Landmarks and Post-Era Steam," Railroading, No. 36 (Nov. 1970): 21-24. "Lima delivers its latest 2-8-4's to the Nickel Plate," Trains (Sept. 1949): 39. News Letter," Railroading, No. 25 (Oct. 1968): 22.

"One More Time: NKP 759," Railroading, No. 40 (Sept. 1971): 21-24. "Photo Line," Railfan, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Winter 1974): front cover, 38-39.

"Promontory Diary: l. Will There Ever Be Another Training Like This One?" Railroading, No. 29 (Aug. 1969): 6-23, front and back covers.

"Promontory Diary: II. Celebrating and Returning," Railroading, No. 30 (Oct. 1969): 19-31.

Railroading, No. 39 (July 1971): 2, 7, 10, 12; No. 41 (Nov.-Dec. 1971): 2; No. 49 (1st Quarter, 1974): 4, 5, 7, 19-22, back cover.

Rehor, John A. "The Engines That Saved a Railroad: The Success Story of Nickel Plate's 700's," Trains, Vol. 22, No. 12 (Oct. 1962): 18-32.

__________. "First 56, Engine 758: 'The Railroad is Yours.'" Trains, Vol. 22, No. 12 (Oct. 1962): 33-35.

__________. The Nickel Plate Story. Milwaukee: Kalmbach Publishing Co., 1965.

__________,and Philip T. Horning. The Berkshire Era: A Pictorial Review of the Nickel Plate Road, 1934-1958. Rocky River, Authors, 1967.

"The Return of 759: A Photographic Record." Railroading, No. 25 (Oct. 1968): 8-2 l. Sentiments Formal and Informal." Railroading, No. 34 (June 1970): 2. Steamtown News, Special Edition. n.p., n.d. (ca. 1979): 3-4.

"Three Famous Cutoffs, Six Historic Bridges: And Two Action-Filled Days behind Berkshire 759."

Railroading, No. 34 (June 1970): 4-17.

"A William A. Swartz Photo Sampler." Locomotive Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Winter 1984): 58.

Wood, Don. NKP 759 Is Alive and Well." Trains, Vol. 9, No. 5 (Mar. 1949): 29-42.

Young, William S. "S-1, S-2, S-3, S-4: The Erie Berkshires, I, Bernet and Black," Railroading, No. 34 (June 1970): 18-34. [The Erie Berkshires were 'cousins' of the Nickel Plate Berkshires.]

__________. "S-1, S-2, S-3, S-4: The Erie Berkshires, II, The Working Years." Railroading, No. 35 (Sept. 1970): 6-15.

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Last Updated: 14-Feb-2002