While its competitors needed monstrous engines to conquer mountain ranges, the New York Central did not. Its Water Level Route from New York City to Chicago was a nearly level raceway built along rivers and the Lake Erie shoreline, and the Central's mainline steam engines were racehorses bred for speed on that route. By the early 1930s, the NYC relied on two locomotives for premier services: the 4-6-4 Hudson for its Great Steel Fleet of passenger trains and the nation's largest stable of 4-8-2s for fast freight. Although the 4-8-2 was labeled a Mountain on any other railroad, that would hardly do on the Water Level Route, so the Central named its engines Mohawks after one of the rivers its rails followed.
As the Depression waned in the late 1930s and traffic picked up, the need arose for a dual service locomotive that could augment the Hudson fleet and hustle freight as well. As an experiment, two existing L-2 Mohawks were modified with higher boiler pressure, smaller cylinders, lightweight rods and other reciprocating parts, and roller bearings -which pushed their top speed from 60 mph to the 80 mph needed for passenger work. The success of these engines led to the class L-3 Mohawks delivered from 1940-1942. With over 5000 horsepower on tap, they were equally at home pulling the 20th Century Limited or more than 100 freight cars. A new feature on the L-3s was the largest tender yet seen on a Central locomotive, with a 43-ton-capacity coal bunker. These tenders didn't carry enough water to match all that coal, however, because the Central used water scoops under its tenders and track pans between the rails to enable locomotives to pick up water on the move. One of the most spectacular sights of the steam era was a Mohawk or Hudson taking on water at speed, with excess water blasting out of relief vents on the tender deck.
Like the prototype, our RailKing version of this dual-purpose steamer combines good looks with the muscle to pull heavy freight or passenger loads; it returns to the RailKing lineup for 2014 upgraded with a wireless drawbar and the outstanding features of Proto-Sound 3.0.
Did you know?
Two Mohawks are the only preserved NYC big steam power. L-3a #3001 was sold to the City of Dallas in 1957 and resides today at the National New York Central Railroad Museum in Elkhart, IN. L-2d #2933 was saved from scrapping by employees who hid her behind large boxes in the Selkirk, NY roundhouse for years. In 1962, when scrapping her would have been a public relations disaster, 2933 was donated to the National Museum of Transport in St. Louis.