How To Timeless Classics Lionel No. 11131 Union Pacific 4-8-4 steam engine

Lionel No. 11131 Union Pacific 4-8-4 steam engine

By Bob Keller | June 24, 2024

Many consider this O gauge FEF-class dynamo the greatest ever

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Rarely does a locomotive capture both the elements of power and beauty. As train enthusiasts we love the power aspect, but often the result is boxy, odd, or bland. The Union Pacific’s ten FEF-class steam locomotives set a standard for rugged beauty, and one in particular has had an operation life of 79 years. That locomotive is 4-8-4 No. 844/8444, introduced in 2008 and returned a year later.

The legend

The Union Pacific commissioned the American Locomotive Co. to build 10 4-8-4 Northerns designed to be capable of 120 mph and able to pull passenger trains at a steady 90 mph.

In the nuts and bolts department, the 908,000-pound FEFs produced 4,000 to 5,000 hp. Originally coal burners, they were converted to burn fuel oil in 1946.

Proud passenger haulers, they were bumped to fast freight duties when diesels replaced them on the railroad’s premier passenger trains. Then UP ended steam operation, and the FEFs were stored, awaiting salvage.

steam locomotive on track
Union Pacific 4-8-4 Northern-type No. 844 pictured at LaSalle, Colo., in 2009. Bruce A. Daugherty photo

In the end four were saved — Nos. 814, 833, 838, and 844. Unlike the others on display, 844 remains in service today, leading steam-powered excursion trains as a goodwill ambassador.

Lionel’s challenge

What do you do when you wish to render a world-famous locomotive in O gauge? You avail yourself of photos, diagrams, blueprints, and anything else you need to get it right. After all, this isn’t an extinct locomotive like the Dreyfuss Hudson that few people alive saw in action. The fact that tens of thousands of people from every walk of life have seen it, photographed it, and smelled the smoke raises expectations. Did they get it right? Let me quote the lead paragraph of the review in the September 2008 issue of Classic Toy Trains:

“Let’s cut right to the chase. This is the finest steam locomotive that Lionel has ever made. Period. End of discussion. Insert photo of me puckering up to give this steamer a big old smooch. Whew. I’ve taken a deep breath. I’ve cooled down. Now, on with the rest of the review.”

Lionel does a superb job on what I call “Big and heavy” power. From the Big Boy 4-8-8-4 to the Western Pacific GS-6, detailing and performance have been top notch. But the FEF has a little extra going for it.

The design is well-balanced with careful detailing all around.

steam locomotive model on gray background; Lionel No. 11131 Union Pacific 4-8-4
The No. 11131 was made from 2008-2009.

The pilot looks like a heavy hunk of steel, with red-tipped air lines emerging through slats on the left side. On the pilot deck you can see an uncoupler arm. You’ll spot four tiny conduit lines emerging from the compressor shield and running downward.

The air-deflecting elephant ears gently curve rearward and inside toward the boiler. The smokebox has heavy rivet and seam detail. The headlight has illuminated engine numbers, and just above is a warning light. Up top are additional number boards, classification lights, and a bell. The twin smokestack hides behind a curved shield to facilitate upward movement of smoke.

nose of steam locomotive

The boiler is clutter-free: smooth lines, with plenty of cast-in rivets and boiler bands. The walkways along the boiler are smooth but have perforations suggesting water drain holes. An add-on handrail runs the length of the boiler. There is a large sand dome with two add-on grab irons on each side. Other add-ons include pop-off valves and a turbine.

The cab is fully enclosed and houses two crew figures. The cab has firebox glow and interior lighting. Flip the cab over and you’ll spot run/program and speed control switches.

Below the running boards are additional details: great riveting on the firebox, water drain lines, and reversing linkage. The running gear is simple, yet beautifully crafted.

The tender is a masterpiece, with a four-wheel pivoting truck and a 10-wheel rigid truck, hence the nickname “centipede.” The trucks have cast-in detailing and add-on water lines.

There are ladders on each corner, and up top are an oil hatch and three water hatches. These open to expose RailSounds/Signalsounds switches and a volume control.

Just a pretty face?

front of steam locomotive with smoke; Lionel No. 11131 Union Pacific 4-8-4Nope; the FEF also delivers awesome performance. There could be a bit of hesitation in moving at the lowest speed levels. Our sample model’s low speed was 2 scale mph, with a top speed of 66 smph. Drawbar pull was an impressive 3 pounds, 8 ounces.

Our sample features the Legacy control system, speed control, smoke unit, coil coupler, and a superb sound package. The sound was incredible, actually goosebump-inducing. My favorite was counting the chuffs of each wheel rotation at low speeds.

If you didn’t buy one of these, I hope your buddy did. Lionel’s UP 4-8-4 puts on quite a show!

Learn more about locomotives from every era in our special issue, Great Toy Train Locomotives.


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