How To Prototype Railroads Why I love the 2-8-4 Berkshire locomotive

Why I love the 2-8-4 Berkshire locomotive

By Rene Schweitzer | July 12, 2022

A childhood memory of an O gauge model kindled a fondness for this steamer

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Berkshire 2-8-4 locomotive: When I was a kid, my dad once showed me his childhood Lionel set. He had a Lionel no. 726RR Berkshire set with a few extra pieces stored in a metal crate. I never got to see it set up or operate, unfortunately.

I had no idea what a Berkshire was back then, but I never forgot that train. In fact, a few years after I started working at Kalmbach for Classic Toy Trains, I sneaked the engine out of the house and refurbished it as a surprise for my dad.


2-8-4 steam locomotive
2-8-4 steam locomotive No. 8015 Illinois Central was an early customer for Lima’s landmark 2-8-4 design, ordering 50 at the conclusion of the A-1 demonstrator’s visit to the system (IC also bought the A-1 itself). Numbered in the 7000 series upon delivery in 1926, the Berkshires were renumbered to the 8000s when IC rebuilt them beginning in 1939.
Classic Trains collection

Between 1929 and 1949, 611 Berks were made, with Chesapeake & Ohio having an impressive 130 engines on their roster. Several have been preserved and two are operational in the Midwest.

Nickel Plate Road
In a 1954 view from the running board of NKP Berkshire 703, standing in the siding at New Douglas, Ill., with freight 49, sister 710 roars by with eastbound 98.
Philip R. Hastings photo

It’s also the engine used in the beloved movie, The Polar Express, and bonus, that engine (No. 1225) is still operating today. Read more about No. 1225 in our steam locomotive profile.

If you’re interested in the Berkshire, many manufacturers have made models over the years. My favorite model will always be the postwar Lionel version, though I’d prefer the 726 version with Magna-Traction instead of my dad’s 726RR. I’ve listed just a sampling of them. I’ve also included a link to the Lionel postwar engine wallpaper image from CTT, so a Berk can adorn your computer desktop.

We also sell a Nickel Plate Berkshires puzzle in our store.

Want to read more articles like this? Read about Eric White’s favorite engine.

O gauge models

K-Line B&O Berkshire

Lionel Polar Express

MTH Premier Line NYC Berkshire


HO scale models

Bachmann “Van Sweringen” Berkshire (see photo above)

Walthers HO 2-8-4 Berkshire with sound

Walthers upgraded model from 2007 (photo above)

Life-Like Proto 2000 Pere Marquette Berkshire

N scale model

Life-Like Berkshire

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