The history of locomotives is the story of an ever-increasing need for speed and power, as trains became heavier and schedules more demanding. On France's Paris-Orleans (PO) Railway in the mid-1920s, management saw electrification as the answer, and development of new steam locomotives came to a halt. But André Chapelon, a young development engineer, had different ideas. He persuaded his superiors to let him drastically rebuild one of the PO's aging Pacifics, and the result cemented his reputation as one of the greatest locomotive designers ever. Chapelon analyzed the design of the steam engine from end to end, from the cold water in the tender to the steam exiting the stack. He modified the boiler and firebox to produce more steam with the same amount of fuel, and opened up nearly every steam passage to improve the flow of steam in and out of the cylinders. Testing proved his rebuilt engine delivered 85% more horsepower and was more efficient to operate - music to the ears of the very managers who had resisted his ideas for years.
The success of the original engine, No. 3566, led the PO to rebuild 31 additional Pacifics. When the Nord Railway tested a Chapelon Pacific against its own best power in 1931 and found the Chapelon superior, it too ordered 20 of the "miracle" rebuilds from the PO's shops. And when the PO ran out of engines to rebuild and sell to other railroads, the Nord ordered an additional 28 Chapelon-design Pacifics from other locomotive builders. Chapelons headed many of the most famous French trains, from the Paris-Calais section of the Flche d'Or (Golden Arrow) to the first leg of the Paris-Istanbul Orient Express. To this day, the Chapelon Pacific is considered a high point of French locomotive design, for its combination of speed, power, and economy.
The Chapelon Pacific is based on preserved engine 3.1192, built for the Nord in 1936 and preserved today at the Cité du Train in Mulhouse, France. With over 260 added-on engine and tender detail parts, this is one of the most superbly detailed locomotives we have ever made.