During World War I, Uncle Sam nationalized the railroads when they proved unequal to the task of moving massive amounts of men and materiel for the war effort. The agency that ran the trains was the United States Railroad Administration, or USRA, and one of its chief accomplishments was the creation of 12 steam engine designs that lasted for decades. According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, USRA locomotives were "the first successful standardization of American motive power" - and the only standard designs until the diesel era.
The most popular of the USRA designs was the 2-8-2 Mikado, which was heavy main line steam power in the World War I era. USRA Mikados came in a light version with a smaller axle loading for lighter rail and a heavy version for use on heavier rail. Under the USRA, 625 Light Mikes were turned out by the "Big Three" American locomotive builders - Alco, Baldwin, and Lima - representing more than a third of all government-built engines.
The very first USRA engine built was Baltimore & Ohio No. 4500, a light Mikado that is preserved today in the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, MD. At the direction of Baldwin Locomotive Works Senior VP Samuel Vauclain, No. 4500 was constructed in a record 20 days so Baldwin would have the honor of delivering the first USRA locomotive on July 4, 1918.
The USRA designs were modern but conservative; they broke little new ground but incorporated the best practices of their day. USRA Mikes were delivered with a mechanical stoker and power reverse at a time when the Pennsy's new L1s Mikados were still hand fired and had screw-operated hand reversing units.
After the war, the basic USRA designs were used by railroads across the nation, and about one-quarter of the Mikados built in the United States were either of USRA designs or descendants of those designs. While Mikados were generally relegated to lesser duties as heavier power arrived in the 1920s and '30s, many USRA Mikes outlasted later, more modern steam engines because they were relatively simple and durable. The last 2-8-2 built for U.S. service was a light Mike of USRA design constructed by Lima in 1944 for the Akron, Canton & Youngstown, and B&O No. 4500 steamed for 39 years before retiring in 1957.
Constructed with dozens of added-on detail parts, the USRA Light Mikado joins the M.T.H. HO lineup for 2008. While other manufacturers have offered fine models of this classic engine, we believe none matches the combination of accurate details, sound quality, slow speed performance, and synchronized puffing smoke featured by our die-cast model.
For its initial run, we offer the Light Mike in two undecorated versions and decorated and correctly numbered for four railroads, with road-specific details including accurate, legible builders plates; footboard or boiler-tube pilot; smokebox or boiler-top mounted bell; and high-mounted or centered headlight. Each road name is offered in three engine numbers. For the B&O, we offer the first USRA locomotive, No. 4500, and two of the additional 99 Light Mikes the B&O received from the government and rostered as Class Q-3. For the Pennsylvania Railroad, we offer three of the five USRA Mikes the Pennsy kept, painted in near-black PRR Brunswick Green; the other 33 Mikes it received were sent packing in short order and wound up on the Missouri Pacific and the Frisco. Our New York Central models represent three of the 143 USRA-built members of the road's Class H-6. And our Union Pacific engines are replicas of USRA copies ordered by the road in the 1930s.
Did You Know?
William E. Woodard, one of the designers on the USRA Locomotive Committee, went on to inaugurate the "Super Power" concept that guided steam locomotive design from the mid-1920s to the end of the steam era. Super power engines were designed for power at speed, in contrast with the low-speed drag freight service that railroads delivered in the early decades of the twentieth century
Quillable Whistle: Using a DCS handheld controller you can "play" the whistle on any USRA Mikado or NYC Mohawk, in the same manner that an engineer plays the whistle cord on a prototype steam engine. .