The Nickel Plate's 2-8-4 Berkshires belonged to one of steam's finest family trees. The first 2-8-4, Lima Locomotive Works A-1, inaugurated the superpower era in 1925. A four-wheel trailing truck allowed the A-1 to have a larger firebox and boiler, producing a combination of power and speed never seen before in a steam locomotive. Initially tested on the Boston and Albany Railroad, the new wheel arrangement was dubbed the Berkshire after the mountain range it conquered on the B&A.
At about the same time, the Van Sweringen brothers of Cleveland, Ohio assembled a group of railroads under their control, including the Chesapeake & Ohio, the Nickel Plate Road, the Pere Marquette, and the Erie Railroad. Under the leadership of talented designer John Black, an Advisory Mechanical Committee was formed to design engines for the Van Sweringen roads. The group turned out some of the finest locomotives of the super power era, and perhaps its crowning achievement was the "Nickel Plate Berk," a 2-8-4 introduced in 1934 and called by steam historian Eugene Huddleston "the greatest 2-8-4 ever to take to the rails." Engineers loved its looks, speed, power, and wonderful sound; as one recalled, "It was a thrill to operate them." Intended for fast freight, the 700-series Berks could also take off with an 18-20 car WWII troop train.
The Nickel Plate Berk returns to the Premier line in 2015, cataloged for the first time with Proto-Sound 3.0, upgraded with additional details and wireless drawbar, and featuring sounds from prototype NKP Berk No. 765, restored and in excursion service by the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society.