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The Canadian Pacific Ry built two 4-8-4's in 1928. With a change of motive power chiefs after their construction, it was decided to not build any more 4-8-4's, but rather to concentrate on 4-6-4's. But, these two 4-8-4's held down Montreal-Toronto (313 miles) trains 21 and 22 nightly, for 26 years. Without incident. In 1954, these trains were dieselized and the two 4-8-4's were shifted to the Montreal-St. John, NB run (The Atlantic Limited). Alas, the US Interstate Commerce Commission would not allow the locomotives to traverse the State of Maine, because they had nickle steel boilers. This limited their run to Montreal-(infamous) Megantic, which was too short to be practical.  Why was this a concern? I seem to recall that nickle steel led to crystallization and boiler leaks. Can anyone further illuminate this issue?

Last edited by mark s
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Kelly - Yes, leakage of the boiler and ultimately boiler replacement on such locomotives as all of the Great Northern's 2-8-8-2's, which were reboilered in the late '40's. Did the leakage pose any safety hazard necessitating an ICC ban? Seems as though it would have been more of an operational problem for the railroad. Curiously, the Canadian Pacific 4-8-4's remained in service until 1957 and 1958, respectively, and were never reboilered. Finnicky to fire and operate, but no boiler difficulties ever reported.

       CTA - The Canadian Pacific 4-8-4's operated with a 275 psi boiler pressure, very high for the period in which they were built (1928). Was it the nickle steel that allowed such high pressure?

       Gary/Superwarp - I had not heard of boiler problems with the NYC Niagaras, but they sure did not last in service very long. Earlier Mohawks and Hudsons worked in larger numbers, later, then the Niagaras. Perhaps someone can shed some light on that issue. Why did Niagaras last such a brief time? Steam locomotive historian/analyst Robert LaMessena speculated that the NYC had no jobs on the railroad that required so much power - that Mohawks could handle the work. That does not sound completely plausible to me.

        Thank you, all, for commenting!

The NYC J-3A Hudsons were built new with nickel steel boilers to save weight. After a few years, they exhibited "trans crystalline" cracks that was traced to the boiler water treatment used. Many of these engines had one or more boiler courses replaced, and at least five and possibly ten super Hudsons received welded boilers. A batch of ATSF 4-8-4's built at the same time also had this problem, and I believe that these boilers were replaced.

The boilers of all of the Niagaras were  replaced with welded boilers in the 1948-49 time frame. Due to their high availability and utilization, the RR might have thought that this was in line with normal boiler life for engines that as a fleet were running over 18,000 miles per month per engine. The last Niagara to have its boiler replaced was #6015, and the boiler used for that replacement was the boiler from poppet valve Niagara #5500, which had a welded boiler. The #6015 was the last Niagara to receive class repairs at Beech Grove. The above info is from the records of the last Chief Mechanical Engineer of the NYC, William Edson.

I was not aware of any state or federal restrictions re use of locomotives with nickel steel boilers, and would appreciate the original source of that information.

Hudson 5432 - Have no documentation re the ICC forbidding nickle steel boilers, but the banning of the Canadian Pacific 4-8-4's by the ICC to travel across Maine has been documented in a Trains article on the 4-8-4's and an Omer Lavallee (the lauded Canadian Pacific historian and author) book on the CPR Int'l of Maine Division. Perhaps it was an ad hoc decision by a local ICC regulator?

       Excelent information and discussion. Was completely unaware that the NYC reboilered the Niagaras! Now do recall that NP had boiler leakage problems with their 4-8-4's. Not only new boiler courses, but, if memory serves, apllied patches.

       It would, of course, make sense, that a leaking boiler could cause a boiler failure, but can't say I have come across a description of that. Low water - oh yes - Rio Grande Challenger #3703 in 1953, for example, exploded due to low water and crown sheet failure, killing 4 men.

      Al - Did a cursorary review of "Canadian National Steam" by Donald R. McQueen, an extremely meticulous study of CNR steam, and no reference was made to boiler leakage. But, then, most of CNR modern steam ran at 250 psi, which the NP reduced their 4-8-4's to, so perhaps no CNR nickle steel boilers and more moderate steam pressure. CPR ran it's modern steamers in the 275-285 psi range.

       Thank you to all participants - good data and thoughtful analysis.

Last edited by mark s

mark s

Thanks for the info. I have the McQueen book but have not yet absorbed all of that detail. I may also have the Trains article on the 3100 and 3101-will have to look.

On NYC, the RR tried double riveting and even triple riveting on the J-3's that originally ran at 275 psi and were reduced to 265 psi. The welded J-3 boilers were 1/2 inch thicker than the original boilers based on drawing references such as the arc for the sand dome listed as a separate drawing group. It seems that almost every RR had problems with at least one class of power, the PRR Q2 comes to mind.....

I also enjoyed the information provided in this thread. Thanks to all. 

Unfortunately the ICC resisted welded boilers until it was too late to "save" steam power.  The McQueen book is very well detailed, although rather oddly laid out. You will be most impressed with the heroic efforts the CNR went to in terms of streamlining and elephant ears, to raise smoke exhaust out of engineers' eyes and passngers windows and ventilation. Not the stodgy old "gubmint" operation most would think.

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