Why would a guy from Texas be interested in the Great located Northern Railway, located more than a thousand miles to the north? Well, my wife came from St. Cloud, Minn., so while making visits to the area to see in-laws and outlaws, I began to look around at the railroads. I found the Great Northern and Northern Pacific. The more I learned about GN, the more I could see why it has always been a popular railroad among modelers and railfans. Its popularity has been enhanced by the large number of brass GN steam locomotives that have been imported. Let me tell you some reasons why I believe GN is so popular.
One of the first things that comes to mind are the neat steam engines used by GN. Early in its history, the line decided to use Belpaire fireboxes on their locomotives. All engines built for GN since 1891, with the exception of three classes (S-1 4-8-4's, 0-3 2-8-2's and Z-6 4-6-6-4's), have had Belpaire fireboxes. Also, there were a few engines without these fireboxes obtained from some small railroads that GN purchased. The Pennsylvania was the only other railroad that used large numbers of steam engines with Belpaire fireboxes. In addition to this distinctive feature, GN used a colorful paint scheme on many of their engines, sometimes called the Glacier Park scheme. The exact colors used have been debated for years by experts on GN and almost everyone has his own concept of the exact colors. It appears that different shops used slightly different variations of this scheme over the years. This scheme was not frequently used after 1942, but I believe I have seen a photo of an engine painted with this scheme circa 1950. Basically, the scheme consisted of a green boiler, black domes, cab, tender and in some cases green cylinders with polished cylinder heads.
GN was a very frugal road and in many cases rebuilt old cars and engines into more modern equipment instead of purchasing new items. Examples of this were the two major rebuilds of the class N 2-8-8-0's, building heavy 2-8-2's from old 2-6-6-2's, building 21 0-2's from poor-running 4-8-2's, etc.
GN electrified a 71-mile portion of their main line in the Cascades and owned an electric interurban line in Washington. Even on the diesel roster they had some unusual engines such as an early diesel built in 1926, several of the rare NW5's and the only NW3's built. Add to this the Alco heaven on the West Coast. GN diesels were first painted in an attractive scheme of green and orange separated with yellow stripes (the Empire Builder colors). Later, a nice paint scheme of blue, black and white was applied to a number of engines (the Big Sky scheme).
Great Northern Steam Roster
|R/N||QTY.||CLASS||WHEEL ARR.||BUILDER||B/D||CYLS.||DRIVER DIAM.|
|1-26||27||A-9||0-6-0||Baldwin, GN, Rogers||1903-1912||19x26||49"|
|49-57||9||A-9||0-6-0||Baldwin, GN, Rogers||1903-1912||19x26||49"|
|73-94||22||A-9||0-6-0||Baldwin, GN, Rogers||1903-1912||19x26||49"|
|380-399||20||A-9||0-6-0||Baldwin, GN, Rogers||1903-1912||19x26||49"|
|780-790||11||C-4||2-8-0||GN(rebuilt from F-8)||1926-1930||20x32||55"|
|850-869||20||C-2||2-8-0||GN(rebuilt from F-6)||1925-1927||21x32||55"|
|870-873||4||C-5||2-8-0||GN(rebuilt from F-5)||1929-1930||20x32||55"|
|875-899||26||C-3||2-8-0||GN(rebuilt from F-9)||1925-1927||21x32||55"|
|1350-1374||25||H-5||4-6-2||GN(rebuilt from E-14)||1921-1927||23½X30||73"|
|1375-1384||10||H-7||4-6-2||GN(rebuilt from E-14)||1926-1927||23½X30||73"|
|1710-1724||15||H-6||4-6-2||GN(rebuilt from J-1, J-2)||1921-1927||23½X30||69"|
|2030-2043||14||R-1||2-8-8-2||Baldwin, GN||1925,1928||28x32, 28x32||63"|
|2175-2189||15||Q-2||2-10-2||GN(rebuilt from P-1)||1928||29x32||63"|
|3300-3344||45||0-5||2-8-2||GN(rebuilt from L-2)||1922-1925||25x30||63"|
|3350-3371||22||0-6||2-8-2||GN(rebuilt from L-1)||1925-1926||28x32||63"|
|3375-3395||21||0-7||2-8-2||GN(rebuilt from M-2)||1929-1930||31x32||69"|
As with most railroads, traffic and terrain played a major role in the development of the locomotive roster. Let's examine how these factors affected the engines used on GN. Early in this century GN built lines in northern Minnesota so it could haul iron ore from the Mesabi Range to the trans-shipment facilities located at Superior, Wis., on Lake Superior. For this traffic, heavy 2-8-2's and 0-8-0's were used for mine runs and switching, while 2-8-8-0's and 2-6-8-0's were used for the runs to port. West of the Twin Cities GN traversed the northern portion of the Great Plains. Here it was desired to run fast trains, even for freight. Mikados were well-suited for this service and GN developed the classic O-8-class engines that were probably the heaviest, most powerful and best of that wheel arrangement ever built. In the mountains, articulateds were used to pull trains. GN was one of the first roads to use articulateds with the purchase of 2-6-6-2's in 1906. In all, GN owned about 160 articulateds in five different wheel arrangements. To cross the Cascade mountain range, GN built the Cascade Tunnel, the longest in the world for a number of years. To combat exhaust fumes in the tunnel, GN electrified 71 miles of of mainline track in this area.
GN played a most significant role in developing Glacier National Park and this park was extensively advertised by GN with slogans painted on freight cars. From about 1920 until merger into the Burlington Northern, the mountain goat was used as a symbol for GN. GN ran some of the best passenger trains in the country with the Empire Builder being the flagship for many years.
In addition to the iron ore mentioned earlier, GN hauled agricultural products from the farm belt in the upper Midwest, forest products from several areas and apples from Washington.
Just as with most early railroads, GN at one time had a large roster of 4-4-0's. Most of these were gone by 1930, but a few lasted into the 1940's. Unlike many granger roads, GN had only a token number of Moguls, and most were removed early with only one making it into the 1940's. A number of 2-6-2's were on the roster, but most of these were rebuilt into 4-6-2's by the middle 1920's. Most of the 4-6-0's were scrapped by 1935, but a few lasted into the late 1940's. A number of them were rebuilt into Pacifics in the 1920's. Several classes of low-drivered 2-8-0's were on the roster for years, many of which were used for switching duties. The relatively uncommon 4-8-0 was used by GN, but only a few survived into the 1940's.
For many years a large fleet of Pacifics handled passenger service. These were assisted by two classes of 4-8-2's, the first of which was rebuilt into 2-10-2's. The second class, P-2, had a radial stay firebox and was an excellent engine that lasted until the end of steam. Two classes of powerful Northerns were built by GN. The second class, S2, had radial-stay fireboxes. These engines were used mostly for passenger service, but were used for fast freight toward the end of steam operations.
The mainstay for freight was eight classes of Mikados, total of 293 engines. Drag freight was pulled by two classes of slow, powerful 2-10-2's. For mountain service GN developed two classes of modern, powerful 2-8-8-2's. On the iron range, 2-8-8-0's were used with some assistance from the smaller, unusual 2-6-8-0's. During the 1920's the 2-6-6-2's were rebuilt into 2-8-2's.
GN had a small group of 0-6-0's for switching, but these were phased out fairly early in favor of larger, more powerful 0-8-0's. GN had a large number of these engines, split into five classes, four of which were rebuilds from old 2-8-0's.
A number of books have been written about the Great Northern and various aspects of it have been covered in numerous magazine articles. I have prepared a list of references that I am aware of on GN, should you wish to find out more about this fine railroad. The Great Northern Historical Society is very active and is one of the best railroad historical societies. If you are interested in GN, joining the society is a must. More detailed articles on GN's A-9 0-6-0's, Class B 4-4-0's and 0-3 2-8-2's have been published in earlier issues of PROTOTYPE MODELER.
GN Reference List
THE GREAT NORTHERN RAILWAY, Wood
LINES WEST, Wood
R&LHS, Railroad History No. 143, Locomotive roster of the GN
THE LAKE SUPERIOR IRON ORE RAILROADS, Dorin
A NORTHWEST RAIL PICTORIAL LOCOMOTIVES OF THE EMPIRE BUILDER, Martin
Editor's Note: Part Two of the GN PhotoRoster - featuring diesel power will appear in the next PM.