Summary: Welcome to the HO Train Showcase Series by Nightwatch Trains, where we’ll highlight a favorite HO Scale locomotive and provide a history on the real-life model.
- Henry Dreyfuss, an industrial design extraordinaire
- Fast Facts: Hudson steam locomotives
- Broadway Limited Dreyfuss Hudson masterpieces
- Are there any Hudson steam locomotives left anymore?
John Deere. Hoover. The New York Central Railroad.
What do these have in common?
The man behind some of their most iconic designs.
There were the John Deere Model A and Model B tractors in 1938, and later on, in 1960, the 1010, 2010, 3010, and 4010 tractors.
Before that was the Hoover model 150 vacuum cleaner in 1936.
And then there was the New York Central Railroad.
About two years after the NYCRR’s streamlined Mercury train (both locomotive and passenger cars) in 1936 came the ultimate Art Deco representation: the NYC Hudson locomotive for the 20th Century Limited.
Early in his career, Henry Dreyfuss demonstrated that a modern design could enhance the New York Central’s image – and boost their bottom line. The rest, as they say, is history.
Dreyfuss designed the Mercury train sets, a family of NYCRR’s daytime streamliner passenger trains that ran between Midwestern cities. Considered a standout example of Streamline Moderne design, it was this early success that landed Dreyfuss the commission for the 1938 redesign of the now-infamous 20th Century Limited.
Dubbed “The Most Famous Train in the World,” the streamlined NYC Hudson locomotive for the 20th Century Limited would ultimately become what many railroad buffs continue to call the “world’s greatest train.”
“Dreyfuss worked with almost pathological restraint, transcending the mindless fashion for streamlining, mixing images of the Machine Age and the Stork Club as only he could. The Century’s steam locomotive wore a shroud often compared to a Spartan warrior’s helmet, its six huge driving wheels pierced with holes and painted aluminum to attract the eye; and at night the churning wheels were lighted.”
-Stephen Drucker, Architectural Digest
Dreyfuss managed to architect the perfect blend of high drama and profound simplicity into one memorable design that gave passengers the red-carpet treatment – literally. Many folks may not realize where the term “red-carpet treatment” came from – so here’s a little history: In NY and Chicago, passengers walked to the train on a luxurious crimson red carpet – hence the well-known phrase.
Fast Facts on the Hudson steam locomotives:
- Henry Dreyfuss was also behind the styling of the Hudson engine, the paint scheme of the train, the logo on the china and linens, and even the blue illuminated sign on the rear of the observation car.
- Inside, the ergonomic interior design featured few corners; outside, that memorable aerodynamic gray shroud encasing the locomotive wasn’t just for looks – it also reduced drag.
- In case you didn’t know the 20th Century Ltd, was roaring through, the remaining five locomotives of the Dreyfuss production featured Scullin Disc Drivers, which were polished aluminum-finish wheel covers lit up from the rear by unmistakable blue spotlights.
- “Hudson” was the model designation for a smooth-grade-traversing locomotive that ran best along level graded track beds like those along the Hudson River.
- Just 10 Hudson locomotives (#’s 5445 to 5454) were made with those infamous art deco design features. In addition, 50 Pullman rail cars and 4 railway post office cars were designed for the NYCRR.
- From 1927 through the late 1930s, most Hudson 4-6-4 steam engines were manufactured at the American Locomotive Company factory in Schenectady, New York. Lima Locomotive Works also produced these titans.
As iconic as his work was, a lot of Dreyfuss’s designs were overlooked.
“Everybody knew the train, but not its designer,” wrote Stephen Drucker in Architectural Digest.
It is often said that Dreyfuss’s locomotive designs garnered so much attention that his contribution to passenger cars have often unnoticed.
One of our favorite HO scale renditions of the infamous 20th Century Limited Dreyfuss Hudson is Broadway Limited Imports BLI-1146 #5452 with the 1938 paint scheme. Some 70 years after its June 15, 1938 initial run from New York to Chicago (in only 16 hours), Broadway Limited first debuted their outstanding HO scale version of the beloved steam locomotive– a brass locomotive and tender body with a die cast chassis.
BLI-1146 NYC 20th Century Limited Dreyfuss Hudson, #5452 Features & Specs:
- Paragon2 Sound & Control System
- Integral DCC Decoder with Back EMF
- Slow speed operation in DC & DCC
- 5-Pole Can Motor w/ Skew Wound Armature
- Metal Kadee-compatible Couplers
- Precision Drive Mechanism
- Prototypical Light Operation w/ Golden White LED Headlight, Rear Light
- Accurate prototypical sounds for the NYC J3a Hudson
- Synchronized puffing smoke with chuff sounds
Newer versions of BLI’s HO scale 20th Century Ltd. Dreyfuss Hudson locomotive feature Paragon3 decoders with Rolling Thunder instead of Paragon2, while the very newest models available at the time of this writing come with Paragon4. Broadway Limited Paragon4 locomotives provide Dual Mode DC & DCC operation, better DC motor control, and a built-in capacitor pack that offers more dependable electrical pick-up to navigate imperfect track.
Are there any Hudson steam locomotives left anymore?
In short, the answer is no. None of the New York Central Railroad’s Hudson units survived – all were scrapped when the railroad went to diesel. As diesel began to reign on the rails in the mid-20th Century, J-Class Hudson locos were eventually retired. The only shred that remains is at the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which houses a converted tender from J-1d 5313.
Henry Dreyfuss wasn’t just a pioneer of industrial design…he was a master visionary, painstakingly sculpting the now-infamous streamlined shape of the ten 4-6-4 J3 Hudson locomotives lined up to pull the 20th Century Limited train.
Though the glory days of steam (and the “red-carpet treatment” enjoyed by passengers) have long since vanished into the mists of history, the Hudson steam locomotives live on in the hearts and minds of railroad enthusiasts, historians and industrial design buffs everywhere.
See what 20th Century Limited locomotives Nightwatch Trains has in stock, or browse our curated collection of HO scale steam locomotives here.