Great Northern 2-8-8-0 Locomotives of the USA

Class Details by Steve Llanso of Sweat House Media

Class N-1 (Locobase 307)

Data from Recent Construction #91 (Baldwin Locomotive Works, 1918), p. 28-29. See also DeGolyer, Volume 42, pp. 286+. (Thanks to Chris Hohl for his 30 May 2016 email noting the original tender capacities and weights.) Works numbers were 38074 in July 1912; 38130-38132, 38167, 38186-38189, 38225-38228 in August; and 38281-38284, 38371-38373, 38382-38384, 38415-38416 in September..

Originally built by Great Northern with relatively tall drivers for a compound articulated. They presented an imposing appearance, showing a high Belpaire boiler over ten axles of running gear. Firebox heating surface included 81 sq ft (7.53 sq m) of combustion chamber All four cylinders were fed through 15" (381 mm) piston valves.

The last eight were oil burners and trailed tenders carrying the same amount of water as the first 17, but holding 4,500 US gallons (17,033 litres) of fuel oil.

The Baldwin specs describe the Emerson "New Type" superheater. The engines were big and superheated and presumably presented some new challenges. So the specs contain some "Hereafter" notes tweaking details. One, however, implied a higher level of urgency. Referring to a letter from F A Neely received on 3 November 1912, the note said "Give particular attention to riveting of cylinder saddles and caulking of same."

"Leaky seams" forced the railroad to remove lagging from all the boilers in the first batch save that of 2016 and caulk them. A least some high-pressure cylinders leaked and the flexible stay bolts at the back end of the combustion chamber either required redesign or at least more stays. (The firebox had 900 Tate flexible staybolts in all as well as 200 Tate expansion staybolts on the entire roof of the combustion chamber.)

The N-1s were simpled in the 1920s, becoming N-2s and later N-3s in the process (Locobases 2802 and 6445, respectively).

Class N-2 (Locobase 2802)

Data from GN - 1 1929 Locomotive Diagrams supplied in May 2005 by Allen Stanley from his extensive Raildata collection.

These were the tallest locomotives on the Great Northern because the designers had to get the large firebox above the rearmost driving axle. Delivered as N-1 compounds by Baldwin in 1912 (Locobase 307), these engines were simpled in the mid-1920s, using Worthington feedwater heaters and generating 100,200 lb of tractive effort. The Belpaire firebox with its 81 sq ft (7.53 sq m) in the combustion chamber and 36 sq ft (3.34 sq m) arch remained unchanged. They did get 13" (330 mm) piston valves on all four cylinders. Moreover, the boiler sacrificed 64 small tubes for 18 more flues to accommodate a considerable increase in superheater area.

Some were converted to oil burning and trailed tenders carrying 17,000 US gallons (64,345 litres) of water and 4,600 gallons (17,411 litres) of fuel oil.

In the early 1940s they got new frames and roller bearings as well as a larger grate; at that point they became N-3s; see Locobase 6445

Class N-3 (Locobase 6445)

Data from (visited 7 January 2005). See also GN 4 - 1946 Locomotive Diagrams supplied in May 2005 by Allen Stanley from his extensive Raildata collection.

Delivered as N-1 compounds by Baldwin in 1912 (Locobase 307), these engines were simpled in the mid-1920s (N-2; Locobase 2802). S Kip Farrington, Jr, Railroading Coast to Coast (New York: Bonanza Books, 1976), p. 156. Note that they still had the characteristic Belpaire firebox.

In the early 1940s, the N-2 class (Locobase 2802) got new General Steel Casting Co cast-steel beds, new Baldwin-built nickel-steel boilers, and Timken roller bearings as well as a larger grate; at that point they became N-3s. The firebox was reworked and had a larger combustion chamber contributing 144 sq ft (13.38 sq m) to firebox heating surface area. An additional 33 sq ft (3.07 sq m) came from arch tubes. A comparison with the 1912 compound N-1's factors (Locobase 307) shows what a huge increase in power these rebuilds represented.

The railway substituted exhaust steam injectors for the Worthington feed water heaters installed in the 1920s. Elesco supplied the injectors for 2000, 2003-2009, 2016, and 2022. 2012 had one Elesco and one Sellers injector. The other 14 had Sellers injectors. Below the boiler, the railroad installed Timken roller bearings on all driving axles.

The timing couldn't have been better, either. The first of the rebuilds (2024) was completed on 10 February 1940, the last (2009) wrapping up almost exactly two years later on 12 February 1942. Thus the greater horsepower was available in time for the Great Northern's World War II traffic spike.

And did the N-3s ever deliver, according to Charles R. Wood, in Lines West (New York: Bonanza Books, 1967), p 109, describes them as: "Amazing engines, they hauled ore on the iron range, hustled time freights on the Kalispell Division and served in heavy duty passenger service on troop trains." On the latter service, Wood quotes Mr. J S Miller, Assistant to the Superintendent of Motive Power in 1945/46 as saying that N-3s could " like a deer" and hit speeds of 50-60 mph.

S Kip Farrington recorded a 17 November 1943 cab ride on Extra 2014 East as it pulled 180 cars weighing a total of 16,740 tons (15,218 tonnes).

Virtually all of the class was retired in 1955.

Specifications by Steve Llanso of Sweat House Media
Locobase ID307 2802 6445
RailroadGreat Northern (GN)Great Northern (GN)Great Northern (GN)
Number in Class252525
Road Numbers2000-20242000-20242000-2024
Number Built25
Valve GearWalschaertWalschaertWalschaert
Locomotive Length and Weight
Driver Wheelbase16.50'16.50'16.50'
Engine Wheelbase45.25'43.25'43.25'
Ratio of driving wheelbase to overall engine wheebase 0.36 0.38 0.38
Overall Wheelbase (engine & tender)52.50'98'99.67'
Axle Loading (Maximum Weight per Axle)52500 lbs52500 lbs57400 lbs
Weight on Drivers420000 lbs420000 lbs459200 lbs
Engine Weight450000 lbs450000 lbs489200 lbs
Tender Light Weight154000 lbs365400 lbs365400 lbs
Total Engine and Tender Weight604000 lbs815400 lbs854600 lbs
Tender Water Capacity8000 gals21500 gals21500 gals
Tender Fuel Capacity (oil/coal)13 tons24 tons24 tons
Minimum weight of rail (calculated)88 lb/yard88 lb/yard96 lb/yard
Geometry Relating to Tractive Effort
Driver Diameter63"63"63"
Boiler Pressure210 psi210 psi265 psi
High Pressure Cylinders (dia x stroke)28" x 32"25" x 32"22" x 32"
Low Pressure Cylinders (dia x stroke)42" x 32" (2)
Tractive Effort98422 lbs113333 lbs110751 lbs
Factor of Adhesion (Weight on Drivers/Tractive Effort) 4.27 3.71 4.15
Heating Ability
Firebox Area326 sq. ft359 sq. ft436 sq. ft
Grate Area78.40 sq. ft78.40 sq. ft95 sq. ft
Evaporative Heating Surface6446 sq. ft5837 sq. ft5782 sq. ft
Superheating Surface1368 sq. ft1868 sq. ft2188 sq. ft
Combined Heating Surface7814 sq. ft7705 sq. ft7970 sq. ft
Evaporative Heating Surface/Cylinder Volume282.65160.53205.34
Computations Relating to Power Output (More Information)
Robert LeMassena's Power Computation164641646425175
Same as above plus superheater percentage194282041531972
Same as above but substitute firebox area for grate area8078393484146736
Power L187611482327327
Power MT367.90622.461049.58



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