The Winning Loser – Pennsylvania Railroad Class S-2

Pennsylvania Railroad Class S-2

It was positioned to forecast modern railroad motive power and to remind the world that the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) had not lost its way. It also gave steam locomotive builders and coal mining interests promise that their respective markets would not be decimated by the new Diesel-Electric locomotives that showed early signs of dominating the motive power rosters of the nation’s largest carriers. Instead, the one-of-a-kind PRR S-2 turned out to be a hugely disappointing failure in road service, an expensive engineering miscalculation and a public relations embarrassment that the railroad quickly shelved, consigning it to the growing lines of dead steam power that awaited scrapping by 1949. Times were pivotal: The PRR halted new steam locomotive designs in 1929 to focus completely on the design and perfection of new electric locomotives for the electrified Washington to New York corridor. By 1938 however, management knew that the lines west of the new electrified zone, where double-heading of stream power became the norm and not the exception, needed more modern and efficient steam power. The period from 1939 through 1946 saw the PRR jump-starting that process by fielding new and to some, exotic forms of larger steam power that were all, with one exception (PRR class J-1 that was developed from a proven C&O Railway design of 1930) disasters that left management disillusioned about the future of steam power. Most of that failure stemmed from the PRR making the unfortunate selection of the duplex-drive design (though not with the S-2) that interestingly competitor Baltimore & Ohio tried in 1937 and quickly terminated future experiments electing instead to embrace cautious dieselization. The PRR’s finances started to deteriorate (the railroad posted its first operating loss in 1946 but was hidden from public view by blending income from other investments) and the failure of the late-date PRR steam program coupled with financial drain forced the railroad to announce in 1948 that all mainline passenger trains would be hauled by diesel-electric locomotives; freight soon followed.

The PRR did apply some forward thinking and did in fact make great strides to prolong the use of steam power. In the case of the S-2, road number 6200, the railroad partnered with the venerable Baldwin Locomotive Works (really a collaboration between Baldwin and Westinghouse) for the final design. Baldwin was under financial pressure too since they tepidly commenced a program for diesel-building but did so too late, their products had design flaws and orders for new steam power tanked after 1944. Though not satisfactory in service, the S-2 was a mighty machine that delivered 70,500 lbs. tractive effort. Since this employed the turbine, geared drive, the locomotive made a swooshing sound when it passed instead of the normal chuffing sound of conventional steam power. Like a proud parent, PRR sent the 6200 all over its system first on display and then in various types of test road service including powering the stately Broadway Limited between Crestline, Ohio and Chicago. PRR soon retired the locomotive and tried forgetting about that misadventure. The unreliable nature of the concept, maintenance costs and the economics of dieselization hastened its demise. But the toy train market would not give up so easily.

The Lionel Corporation was one entity that succumbed to the massive, rugged features of the towering. S-2 and created several O-Scale template versions to add to their impressive post-war selection of trains. Lionel artists prepared romanticized images for colorful catalog covers and later created a miniature 3-D replica of the front portion of the S-2 for their signature showroom in New York. Though not yet in a financial quagmire, Lionel was a kindred spirit with the PRR and Baldwin since they too were anxious about what would prove to be a fickle, post-war market for toy trains. The company eventually failed, but unlike the PRR, Lionel’s failure was not due to the S-2 model. The Lionel version of PRR #6200 turned out to be one of the iconic trains of their entire line of toy trains and active collectors still pursue vintage sets. The legacy of the S-2 was largely preserved and perpetuated by that once-popular toy train and that longevity greatly shadowed its problematic prototype.

Now you can capture much of that excitement with the newest run of the PRR S-2 #6200 by BLI. Please take time to review the versions offered including the fantasy, Tuscan red paint scheme. You can be sure that the HO version will deliver, unlike the prototype, outstanding performance, and will be at home on vintage freight or passenger trains. Whether you like the steam giants of the past or the powerful diesel-electric locomotives of the present, our current inventory offers you a great sampling of locomotives and complementary rolling stock to choose from. Our award-winning rewards program makes it easy to add the flavor of the PRR, and other carriers, to your own model railroad.

MB Klein, FAW