Rare Brass Trains: Grand Trunk Western 4-8-4 U-4-b Steam Locomotive


Today, we’re shining a spotlight on a favorite from the Nightwatch Trains private HO Scale brass train collection:

The Grand Trunk Western Railroad 4-8-4 U-4-b Northern type HO scale brass locomotive

This rare gem is for sale! Click here to see the listing.

One of just 75 factory painted such HO scale locomotives made, this obscure model was imported by Van Hobbies Scale Models & manufactured by Samhongsa Korea in 1982.

Canadian-based Van Hobbies was an importer of Canadian brass model locomotives. Brass models were typically manufactured by Samhongsa, as this U-4-b is.

Step back in time to discover the history behind the real-life U-4-b 4-8-4 steam locomotive.

The 6400 Series Steam Locomotives, Canada’s First Streamlined Design

The U-4-b Class was made for the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, which was the US subsidiary of the Canadian National Railroad (CNR). U-4-b locomotives were mostly used on passenger trains, although they were sometimes used for the sporadic freight run.

If you’re a rail fan, you’ve probably noticed that the class GTW U-4-b 4-8-4 steam locomotives (numbered 6405-6401) bore a strong resemblance to their Canadian CNR counterparts (numbered 6400-6404). Here’s a little history on the Canadian National Railway 6400 series:

  • The first locomotive, No. 6400, was constructed in 1936.
  • They were 4-8-4 “Confederation” or “Northern” type locomotives.
  • Canada’s first streamlined locos were these five U-4-a’s.
  • The 6400 series didn’t feature the infamous bullet nose type streamlining, but instead had more of an “upside-down bathtub” design.
  • Around 1960, the 6400 was withdrawn from service.
  • Since 1967, the 6400 has been in the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa, CA.

Streamlined Locomotives Become a Marketing Tool for Railroads

Did you know? Another point of interest is the reason behind the streamlined 6400 series: According to The Golden Age of Streamlining by Colin Alexander, the intention of the streamlined design was not necessarily to enhance performance, but to eliminate drifting smoke to improve the crew’s visibility.

With her striking appearance, improved visibility came in more ways than simply clearing smoke from the crew’s line of vision. The eye-catching streamlined silhouette of the 6400 became a strong marketing tool for the Canadian National Railroad.

The most famous number of the series is the first, 6400, known for pulling the 1939 royal train which carried King George VI and Queen Elizabeth throughout Canada.

It was also a major attraction at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

Quick facts about the Grand Trunk Western 4-8-4 Class U-4-b locos:

  • Locomotives were numbered from 6405-6410
  • Manufactured by Lima Locomotive Works in 1938
  • A total of 6 locomotives were built
  • Similar in design to the original U-4-a’s
  • One visible difference was the air intake on top
  • Featured a sleeker, more streamlined design
  • The last of the class U-4-b’s to remain in service was #6405

What Ever Happened to the Canadian National 6400 Series?

The 6400 is the sole survivor of the U-4-a Class 6400 series. The remaining locomotives (numbered 6401-6404) were retired and scrapped decades ago.

Through about the mid-1950s, passenger service on the Grand Trunk Western was still steam-operated. The only outlier at that time was the Detroit-Port Huron motor train.

It’s interesting to note that as dieselization took place, steam locomotives in Canada and on the Grand Trunk Western operating through the Great Lakes region (which was Canadian-owned) stuck around for a little while longer than on most other railroads in the United States.

Unfortunately, no original U-4-b’s were preserved. As diesel locomotives began to reign on American railroads, they too were removed from service and eventually scrapped by the very early 1960s.

History was preserved at least somewhat – in HO scale. The Van Hobbies Grand Trunk Western 4-8-4 U-4-b steam locomotive showcased here has beautiful factory paint and outstanding attention to detail throughout.

That’s the beauty of model trains: they give us a glimpse into the past that might otherwise have been lost to time.

“Trains, like time and tide, stop for no one.” -Jules Verne


Nightwatch Trains specializes in collectible vintage HO scale trains, with an emphasis on brass trains. See what quality HO scale brass we have in stock and ready to ship.