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First Look Review
2-8-4 Berkshire
HObbyline HO 2-8-4 Berkshire Locomotive
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Originally published on:
RailRoad Modeling

2-8-4 Berkshire Locomotive

As the United States grew, so did the tonnage of freight on her railroads. As the tonnage grew, so did the steam locomotives required to haul it. This was achieved by adding more driving wheels under larger boilers. The early Twentieth Century was the era of the drag freight--slow, high-tonnage train, often carrying commodities such as coal or ore. Compared to fast freight trains, drag freight trains have a very low horsepower-to-weight ratio, making them somewhat unpredictable on steep grades or hilly routes. Though not the biggest nor most powerful of the freight locomotives, the 2-8-2 Mikado type (UIC classification: 1D1) became the preeminent heavy hauler in North America. However, by the 1920s it was realized that the 2-8-2 design was about as big as a steam locomotive could grow without detrimental trade offs. Evolving brawn could not address the rail commerce revolution of fast freight.

The original 2-8-4 loco (UIC classification: 1D2) was basically a super-powerful version of the 2-8-2. In 1925, America’s steam locomotive underdog Lima Locomotive Works epitomizing “Necessity is the mother of invention”, creating the new concept of "Super Power"-- a larger firebox, increased superheat, a feedwater heater, improved draughting, higher boiler pressure, streamlined steam passages and a trailing-truck booster engine, and applying limited cutoff. This was the 2-8-4, the original Super Power engine. The type name “Berkshire” came from early demonstrating over the Berkshire Mountains on the Boston & Albany Railroad (B&A). The design was incredibly successful. Approximately 700 Berkshires were built for US railroads. While this was only 2% of the country’s steam fleet prior to dieselization, the mighty engines hauled over 5% of the nation's freight ton-miles.

The iconic Berkshire came in 1934. It was that year that the Nickel Plate Road received its first Berkshires based on a new design from the Advisory Mechanical Committee (AMC) of the Van Sweringen empire. Under the Van Sweringen umbrella were the Nickel Plate Road, Erie Railroad, Chesapeake and Ohio Railway and Pere Marquette Railroad. The AMC's design generated 64,100 lbf (285 kN) of tractive effort and almost immediately became the standard design for subsequent Berkshires.

NKP S-2 Statistics
Length 101'
Drivers 69" dia.
Weight on Drivers 264,300 lbs
Total Locomotive Weight 440,800 lbs
Loco & Tender Weight 802,500 lbs
Grate Area 90.3 sq ft
Cylinders (dia x stroke) (2) 25" x 34"
Cylinder HP 2754 HP
Boiler Pressure 245 psi
Tractive Effort 64,100 lbs
Tender Water Capacity: 22,000 gals.
coal: 22 tons

HObbyline Berkshire Locomotive

HObbyline was a venture by the John A. English Co. of Morrisville, PA, a manufacturer of cast metal loco kits. Around 1960 - '70, they marketed a line of inexpensive non-working plastic kits, the 2-8-4 being one of them. HObbyline engineered their Berkshire with 107 black plastic parts, 2 brass wires, and two packs of small metal fittings.

This model could be motorized. A power unit by Sims Laboratories was popular.

The engineering of this kit is remarkable. The cab and upper half of the boiler are conventionally molded as a single piece like many injection molded electric model engines, as is the tender superstructure. However, the lower half is unique. It is molded with the bottom boiler half and firebox as one piece (conventional) but with the open frame and driver axle leaf springs also molded on boiler! The inside of the frame is open, not a chunk of solid plastic. An amazing job–the tooling must have been very complex. Traditionally, the frame would be two halves to be assembled and attached to the boiler, the boiler often being a left and right half instead of top and bottom pieces. Hobby Line thus ensured the frame and boiler are properly aligned.

Upon this structure the cylinders, valve gear, air reservoirs, pilot (a.k.a., “cow catcher”), and compound air pumps are mounted.. Onto the frame the drivers, pony truck and trailing truck are set.

A full Baker valve gear is provided in plastic. It appears the model was engineered operate. With thin scale links and rods, this would probably be detrimental to the assembly. Building the valve gear could be a delicate procedure.

The various piping is simplified and cast onto the boiler. No serious effort was made to mold the various globe valves and fittings. The lack of the air hose and cut lever on the pilot and tender rear are glaring omissions.

The molding is mostly crisp and sharp. There is a seam line along the top pf the boiler. It is thin and should be scraped away without damage. If you do gouge or nick it a bit, worry not. The boiler was sheathed in a sheet metal jacket which often displayed dents.

Other seam lines that will require more work are along the top back edges of the tender sides. The tender has no bottom. The ladder on the rear is modeled on and thick. The grab irons are also molded on but are more in scale.

The cab lacks any detail except for a simplified backhead. Nor are clear plastic windows provided. Appliances such as the headlight, generator, whistle, and compound air pumps are simplified. The prominent injectors that should hang under the cab are not even suggested. Nor are the brake shoes.

The good news is that if one desires to detail the locomotive, a plethora of aftermarket parts are available. The plastic is thick so drilling mounting holes will be no problem. This is a relatively large model engine, with plenty of room to hang detail items. If detailing the loco is not important, you will still have a pretty good model of the quintessential fast freight steam locomotive.

Test fitting promises a tight model.

Livery and decals

Hobbyline produced a large decal sheet for six railroads: Baltimore & Ohio, New York Central, Pennsylvania, Santa Fe, Southern Pacific and Union Pacific. A set of numerals allow the modeler to choice of engine number. No class or type stenciling, nor reporting marks, were provided. While the large choice of road names is nice, only one of the provided railroads used Berkshires, the Santa Fe. For this kit, Hobbyline printed decals for the Nickel Plate Road. This decal sheet also offers the railroad’s reporting marks.

As for the paint scheme, you have your choice of black or black.


The assembled model is almost 14 inches long. It should make an impressive centerpiece in any railroad diorama from the mid-1920s through the 1950's. If one cares to super-detail it, an excellent model is possible.

For a model decades old, this kit holds up well. This kit can build into a fascinating model with great display potential.

Click here for additional images for this review.

Highs: Fairly well detailed and well molded.
Lows: Molded-on, and simplified, detail.
Verdict: The assembled model is almost 14 inches long. It should make an impressive centerpiece in any railroad diorama from the mid-1920s through the 1950's.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: 1:87
  Mfg. ID: KL-3:295
  Suggested Retail: Varies
  Related Link: Rensselaer Railroad Heritage Website, HObbyline
  PUBLISHED: Dec 15, 2008
  NATIONALITY: United States

About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of ModelGeek. All rights reserved.


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  • HObby Line HO 1/87 Lima 2-8-4 Berkshire
  • HObby Line HO 1/87 Lima 2-8-4 Berkshire
  • HObby Line HO 1/87 Lima 2-8-4 Berkshire
    Single-piece frame and lower boiler
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    Drivers, bogies, fittings
  • HObby Line HO 1/87 Lima 2-8-4 Berkshire
    Valve gear and driving rods, tender trucks
  • HObby Line HO 1/87 Lima 2-8-4 Berkshire
    Valve gear and driving rods, tender trucks
  • HObby Line HO 1/87 Lima 2-8-4 Berkshire
    Cylinder saddle halves, pilot, stanchions, air reserviors
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  • HObby Line HO 1/87 Lima 2-8-4 Berkshire
  • HObby Line HO 1/87 Lima 2-8-4 Berkshire
    Decals for seven railroads