Picture: Museum of the American Railroad.
Story by Roger, age 11
American Locomotive Company, called Alco for short, made steam engines. Two of their most famous locomotives were the 4-8-8-4, nicknamed The Big Boy, and the other was the 4-6-4 Hudson.
The numbers represent the wheel layout, something the engine’s designers created. The first and last numbers, the 4s, represent the wheels that carried the weight of the engine, and helped the engine go around curves in the track. The middle numbers were the drive wheels. They were the wheels connected to the power source and drove the engine. Other numbers, without the dashes, are like serial numbers, each individual engine has a different serial number. It’s easy to get confused, so look for the dashes to tell the difference.
The Big Boy was designed to haul heavy freight trains over the mountains in the western United States for Union Pacific. The Hudson was designed to be a fast passenger locomotive on the East Coast.
The Hudson was built from 1927 to 1938; some 275 in total were manufactured. The Hudson was one of the first stream-lined steam engines. The term stream-lined means the engine’s surfaces were smooth and corners were rounded, especially the nose, or leading edge of the engine. This is to allow good air flow around the engine, most important when the train was traveling at maximum speed. The Hudson was 97 feet long and its top speed was 123 miles per hour.
The name Hudson refers to the Hudson River, where it usually travelled, transporting passengers to and from New York. However, the Hudson also carried passengers to other scheduled destinations, even as far as Chicago.
The Big Boy was built between 1941 and 1944. Only 25 where ever made. It was 132 feet long and had a top speed of 80 miles per hour. Ironically eight Big Boys have survived to this day, mostly as museum displays. But one, Engine # 4014, has been fully restored and can be seen rolling down tracks.
The Hudson has not been so lucky. The entire fleet was scrapped by the late 1950s. This, despite the fact they pulled such famous trains as the 20th Century Limited and The Empire State Express. The Hudson may not have survived into the 21st century, but there are dozens of pictures and paintings of the Hudson.
The Hudson’s main contribution to the history of trains and engines is its modern stream-lined look. Some people say it looks like a rocket on wheels! This design was copied into cars, trucks, and lots of other things you see every day.
So, remember, looks are not everything; sometimes what you do is more important.