Powerhouse PRR Class L1s 2-8-2 Mikado Locomotives: History of a Legend

If you’re a brass train collector, does the Pennsylvania Railroad L1s 2-8-2 locomotive rank as one of your favorites? You’re not alone: Revered among both collectors and railroad enthusiasts alike, this infamous locomotive boasts a significant place in rail history.

These 2-8-2 “Mikado”-type steam locomotives were in service on the PRR during the early 1900s – some 574 locos were made between 1914 and 1919. While other railroads may have had more Mikados in total, the PRR boasted the largest class of 2-8-2’s around. They were built by Baldwin Locomotive Works, Pennsy’s own Juniata Shops, as well as Lima Locomotive Works.

The Pennsylvania Railroad also sold some of these landmark L1s locomotives to other railroads:

  • 4 to the Lehigh and New England Railroad, in 1941
  • 2 to the Cambria and Indiana Railroad, in 1941
  • 3 to the ATSF (Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway), in 1945
  • 2 to the Interstate Railroad, in 1948
  • 2 to the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad, in 1948

Highlights of the L1s 2-8-2 Locomotive Design & Mods

The L1s design was considered state-of-the-art for the era, but initially fell short as far as modern features – a consequence of the Pennsylvania Railroads conservatism, it was said. Notable features absent:

  • A mechanical stoker
  • Power reverse
  • Feedwater heater

Eventually, all L1s locomotives were outfitted with power reverse. By 1947, most (512) were equipped with a mechanical stoker. Fast fact: Ten remained oil-fired, which stemmed from an experiment resulting from the coal-miners’ strikes back then.

After WW2, the headlamp and turbo-generator on the L1s 2-8-2’s switched locations in a bid for more efficient maintenance. This modification was also seen on most other Pennsy locomotives. Otherwise, their overall appearance didn’t change much over the years.

Just two years following the introduction of the L1s, the 2-10-0 “Decapod” locomotives seemed to outshine them in pretty much every way. One of the chief benefits of the 2-10-0 Decapods was their axles – five of six were powered.

Interestingly, the 2-10-0 was not extensively popular, but rather was favored by some railroads which were operating in largely mountainous territory, such as the Erie Railroad, and of course, the PRR, where these powerhouses could handle hefty coal and mineral trains.

Plenty more specs on the nuts & bolts of the 2-8-2 Mikado are available here. If you’d like to see more deail on the 2-10-0’s, you may find this useful.

The Powerful PRR L1s 520 Locomotive Has a Story to Tell

During the Great Depression, many L1s locomotives were taken out of service; they would later return during the Second World War. The L1s enjoyed a quiet run…until a major incident in the war era that would go down in history…

It is the last of the class – PRR No. 520 – that has quite a storied past. Built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in December 1916, the formidable 520 survived a massive boiler explosion that occurred on November 14th, 1942 when she was hauling freight near Cresson, PA.

The engineer and brakeman were killed in the blast; the conductor and a fireman were injured, and property damage occurred to a nearby home where two occupants also sustained injuries. The windows were blown out, and even a rug in the residence was set ablaze.

The impact derailed the tender along with six tank cars, but the seemingly indestructible 520 was repaired and entered service once again. As the dieselization movement picked up steam (no pun intended 😉), the Pennsylvania Railroad retired the #520 in 1957.

The 520 then entered the Pennsylvania Railroad’s collection of locomotives for preservation. In 1979, the locomotive was donated to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. It’s now preserved at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. The L1 2-8-2 Mikado isn’t the only locomotive this vast museum houses – check out the highlights of their many other trains here.

Not travelling to the great state of PA anytime soon? The Railroad Museum even offers a virtual tour of the PRR Class L1 2-8-2 right here.

Pennsylvania Railroad L1s 2-8-2 Locomotives in HO Scale

Between 1965-1976, hundreds of brass model locomotives depicting the Pennsylvania Railroad Class L1s in HO scale were supplied by United (Pacific Fast Mail). Later on, in 1978, Key Imports offered HO scale models. In more modern times, the infamous Broadway Limited Imports offered up their version of the Pennsy class L1 locomotives.

Given their popularity among model railroad hobbyists, it’s not surprising that the L1s was also produced in other scales. For instance, Lionel presented an O Scale offering of the famed locomotive in both Pre- and Postwar versions.

Though it’s been well over a half century since the legendary L1s 2-8-2 Mikado locomotive steamed along in service, she will live on for generations on the layouts and in the collections of aficionados around the globe.

Looking for a Class L1s 2-8-2 locomotive to add to your collection? See what HO Scale locomotives we have available & ready to ship to you today.