The Chesapeake and Ohio M-1 was the longest passenger locomotive ever built - and perhaps one of the most ill-conceived. In the waning days of steam power, when it was clear to almost anybody that diesel was the new king, a few railroads and most of the steam locomotive builders resorted to desperate measures to give steam one more chance. But even in that experimental era, the M-1 was odd. It was an attempt to combine the power source of a steam locomotive - the boiler - with the running gear of a diesel or electric - a series of relatively small wheels with an electric motor on each axle. The link between the two was a steam-powered turbine that drove a pair of electric generators.
How the M-1 came to be is somewhat uncertain. The standard story is that Robert R. Young, the C&O's energetic and idealistic Chairman of the Board, wanted the postwar C&O to establish passenger service that would be "second to none." Part of his plan was The Chessie, a new premier streamliner on a fast 12-hour daylight schedule between Washington and Cincinnati. Amenities aboard the planned train included dome cars, a diner that converted to a movie theatre, and a "family coach" with a children's playroom. As the C&O was the world's number one coal hauling railroad, and thus very tied to the good will of the coal industry, Young wanted The Chessie to have revolutionary locomotives that were powered by coal. That may seem like an oxymoron today, but somehow it made sense when the three M-1 locomotives were ordered from Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1946. The railroad even built two streamlined coaling docks to fuel the eastbound and westbound Chessies.
However the M-1 originated, its performance posed no threat to dieseldom. Although it was designed as a 6000 horsepower beast with a maximum speed of 100 mph, actual performance was hampered by the fact that the M-1 proved to be quite slippery, a problem shared by the Pennsy T-1 and several other latter-day experimental steamers. The M-1 also had a consistent problem with poor firebox draft; like closing the damper on a home fireplace, this meant the fire was often hard to keep going and the engine tended to run low on steam. The M-1 also proved to be too hungry and thirsty for its own good, another trait common among experimental steamers. And under its smooth streamlined surface was an absolute maintenance man's nightmare of steam plumbing and electrical wiring.
But even if it didn't work very well, the M-1 was a spectacular piece of machinery. It was longer than a Big Boy by 21 feet, and heavier. Appearance-wise, the M-1 was perhaps best described as bizarre: a brightly colored streamlined shell concealing the body of a steam locomotive, sitting on the running gear of a diesel. The interior layout was unique. Up front was a 29-ton coal bunker, larger than that of a Big Boy. Behind the coal sat the engineer and fireman; unfortunately, they got to bathe in the fine coal dust that blew back at them from the bunker - dust that also tended to short out the forward traction motors. Behind the crew was the boiler, facing backward. This meant the engineer and fireman had the electrical and turbine controls in front of them, but the firebox and the boiler controls behind them. In those pre-computer days, an M-1 engineer had to be superb at multitasking, with controls and gauges in front and behind, and an engine that tended to slip or run out of steam. To top it off, if an axle slipped too badly the engine would automatically shut down and force the crew to start up again from idle.
Finally, behind the boiler lay the steam turbine and the generators that provided power to the 10 axle-mounted electric motors - four on each of the large main trucks and two on the trailing truck. Behind the engine was a tender carrying water only - 25,000 gallons of it, again more than a Big Boy. At the front of the tender, a door gave access to a passage into the turbine and generator compartment of the locomotive, which was inaccessible from the cab.
Poor performance and the inevitable onslaught of diesels combined to give the M-1 a short life. Adding insult to injury, The Chessie, the flagship C&O streamliner the M-1 was supposed to power, never entered service. When delivered, its gleaming Budd-built cars with their orange letterboards posed for publicity pictures with the M-1s, but were soon repainted for other service or sold to other railroads. The three steam-turbo-electrics, which arrived on C&O rails in 1947 and '48, worked a bit in passenger service and had disappeared by 1949. No one seems quite sure what happened to them. Apparently they just kind of slunk off into the night, probably to be returned to their builder and cut up.
But while The Chessie never ran on the real C&O, it can run on your layout. The M-1 returns to the Premier line in 2018, available for the first time with Proto-Sound 3.0. The M-1 is offered in its as-delivered orange paint scheme to match the Chessie cars, and the cars themselves are detailed in the passenger car section later in this catalog.