Great Northern 2-6-2 "Prairie" Locomotives of the USA

Class Details by Steve Llanso of Sweat House Media

Class J-1 / J-2 (Locobase 5388)

Data from table in the June 1907 AERJ. Works numbers were:


27792-27793, 27808-27809, 27816-27818, 27829 in March;

27867-27872, 27878-27879, 27919-27921, 27945-27947, 27955-27956, 27973-27975 in April;

28418-28419, 28428-28430, 28452. 28496 in June;

28522, 28527-28528, 28548, 28637-28638, 28648, 28654, 28671 in July;

28687, 28704, 28756-28757, 28782-28783. 28851 in August.


30080, 30093-30095, 30126, 30134-30138, 30171-30175, 30201-30202, 30236-30239, 30287, 30293, 30312 in February;

30332-30335, 30393-30397, 30440, 30467-30468, 30489, 30502, 30513, 30527-30528 in March; 30560-30561, 30568-30569, 30580, 30600-30601, 30654-30658, 30672, 30717-30718, 30733, 30735-30738 in April;

30756-30759, 30778-30780, 30796, 30812-30813, 30838-30840, 30849, 30861-30862, 30879-30882, 30898-30900, 30937, 30957, 30967-30968 in May;

30999-31000, 31005-31007, 31035, 31082, 31100, 31117-31120 in June

These were Prairie freighters to move fast freights across relatively flat profiles. They featured a long Belpaire firebox, low drivers, and a long wheelbase. In addition to the 50 in the 1906 order (manufactured from March to August), the GN bought another 100 J-2s a year later. Baldwin produced that latter batch in February-June 1907.

1549 was completed by Baldwin with a Schmidt superheater; see Locobase 12959.

Unlike Santa Fe's experience, however, the Great Northern wasn't really satisfied with the arrangement. Fifteen were converted to H-6 class 4-6-2s in 1923, the others entered retirement in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Class J-1-S/ J-2 -S (Locobase 7492)

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

Beginning in the 1920s, the GN took these J-2s in hand and upgraded them. They were unusually successful in substituting heating surface in the flues and in the 30 superheater elements for the lost heating surface in the 122 small tubes they deleted - the total heating surface nearly matches that of the saturated boiler. Also, the railroad increased the size of the cylinders while cutting the boiler pressure, thus losing little calculated tractive effort while stressing the boiler less.

Fifteen of these engines later made their way to the Spokane, Portland & Seattle.

Class J-3-S (Locobase 8853)

Data from GN 1916 Locomotive Diagrams supplied in May 2005 by Allen Stanley from his extensive Raildata collection. See also Data from Baldwin Locomotive Works Specification for Engines as digitized by the DeGolyer Library of Southern Methodist University Volume 29, p 46. and "Superheating," Railroad Age Gazette, Volume XLV, No 2d (24 June 1908), p.321. Works number was 28851 in August 1906.

Locobase 5388 describes the large class of J-1/J-2 Prairies with saturated-steam boilers supplied to the Great Northern over a short period. By the time this class entered service, German and Canadian reports about the benefits of superheating led several American railroads to explore the devices. Of particular interest was the smoke-tube superheater developed by Wilhelm Schmidt, although the Canadian Pacific used a variation called the Vaughan-Horsey.

The GN ordered a single J-1 (and a single freight engine) that retained the Belpaire firebox, but featured a Schmidt superheater. 1549 was fitted with 12" piston valves and adopted a Baldwin variation of the Walschaert valve gear. The Baldwin specs from 1906 suggested the 1549 developed tons more tractive effort than did the original J-1s, yet the TP figure supplied on the same page is 26,600 lb. The boiler pressure is given as 210 psi, but the 1916 figure probably reflected practice very soon after delivery. Also, Baldwin's calculation of superheater area in 1906 came up with 566 sq ft.

Two years later, the RAG reported on the results of trials: "In passenger service a test on the Kalispell division showed a saving of 13 per cent in water and 14% per cent in coal per car mile, while in freight service on the Wlllmar division the saving was 30% per cent in water and 28% per cent in coal per ton mile, the coal figures being 137% for the simple and 98 pounds for the superheaters per 1,000 ton miles, both very satisfactory figures for prairie type engines in freight service on an undulating road. The company also reports a comparison for nine months between a superheater freight engine and a similar simple engine, showing 137 pounds of coal per 1,000 ton miles for the superheater against 171 for the simple, and a cost for repairs of 4 cents per mile against 3.87 cents, a reduction in the coal consumption of 20 per cent with practically the same cost of repairs.

Originally designated J-3, it was redesignated J-1-S (probably when the railway decided it would be a lone engine). In July 1925, the GN sold 1549 to the Spokane, Portland & Seattle as their F-1 (466). As the F-1, the engine ran until May 1948.

Class Q-1 (Locobase 8859)

Data from GN 1916 Locomotive Diagrams supplied in May 2005 by Allen Stanley from his extensive Raildata collection.

A true curiosity, this locomotive had a leading truck, three driven axles, and a trailing axle under the cab. A Prairie, right? especially with the 69" drivers? But then under the tender was a pair of low-pressure cylinders, another set of 3 drivers and a trailing truck. So it was an articulated Mallet, right? Well, no, because after all it was the rear engine that pivoted, not the front. And it isn't really a tank engine, although it had drivers under the water and coal bunkers.

Beyond that Locobase has no information about this experimental locomotive.

Specifications by Steve Llanso of Sweat House Media
ClassJ-1 / J-2J-1-S/ J-2 -SJ-3-SQ-1
Locobase ID5388 7492 8853 8859
RailroadGreat Northern (GN)Great Northern (GN)Great Northern (GN)Great Northern (GN)
Number in Class1501911
Road Numbers1500-16491550-1649154918
Number Built1501
BuilderBurnham, Williams & CoshopsGNAlco
Valve GearWalschaertWalschaertWalschaertWalschaert
Locomotive Length and Weight
Driver Wheelbase13'13'13'15'
Engine Wheelbase30.75'21.50'30.75'67.54'
Ratio of driving wheelbase to overall engine wheebase 0.42 0.60 0.42 0.22
Overall Wheelbase (engine & tender)63.67'63.62'63.62'67.54'
Axle Loading (Maximum Weight per Axle)53600 lbs53600 lbs53000 lbs53000 lbs
Weight on Drivers151000 lbs151000 lbs151000 lbs151000 lbs
Engine Weight209000 lbs209000 lbs209000 lbs397000 lbs
Tender Light Weight148200 lbs152200 lbs148200 lbs
Total Engine and Tender Weight357200 lbs361200 lbs357200 lbs397000 lbs
Tender Water Capacity8000 gals8000 gals8000 gals9500 gals
Tender Fuel Capacity (oil/coal)13 tons15 tons13 tons10 tons
Minimum weight of rail (calculated)84 lb/yard84 lb/yard84 lb/yard0
Geometry Relating to Tractive Effort
Driver Diameter69"69"69"69"
Boiler Pressure210 psi185 psi170 psi210 psi
Cylinders (dia x stroke)22" x 30"23.5" x 30"25.75" x 30"26" x 30"
Tractive Effort37563 lbs37757 lbs41658 lbs52463 lbs
Factor of Adhesion (Weight on Drivers/Tractive Effort) 4.02 4.00 3.62 2.88
Heating Ability
Firebox Area210 sq. ft211 sq. ft210.77 sq. ft210.77 sq. ft
Grate Area53.15 sq. ft54.15 sq. ft54.15 sq. ft54.15 sq. ft
Evaporative Heating Surface3487 sq. ft2696 sq. ft2718 sq. ft2727 sq. ft
Superheating Surface690 sq. ft470 sq. ft780 sq. ft
Combined Heating Surface3487 sq. ft3386 sq. ft3188 sq. ft3507 sq. ft
Evaporative Heating Surface/Cylinder Volume264.19179.01150.31147.92
Computations Relating to Power Output (More Information)
Robert LeMassena's Power Computation1116210018920611372
Same as above plus superheater percentage11162120211058613873
Same as above but substitute firebox area for grate area44100468424120653999
Power L1830114071865114149
Power MT363.59616.32378.92


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