Browse the LE 844 ALCO Northern construction photo gallery
Browse the video installments in the Building 844 Video Series.
I’ve been involved in the live steam and backyard railroad hobby since 1995 when my father and I first visited the Illinois Live Steamers. That experience kindled a love for the hobby that has persisted to this day. For years, I was interested in building a live steam locomotive of my own. Finally, I decided to take the plunge. Over the Winter of 2017, I began researching the prospect of producing a build series for The Steam Channel which would cover the process of constructing a live steam locomotive. I began researching vendors, locomotives, tooling, and many other elements that would be relevant to the series.
My research continued throughout the summer of 2017…until I attended the Buckeye Limited Convention held at the Mill Creek Central Railroad in Ohio. While at the convention, I had the privilege of seeing two Little Engines ALCO Northerns under steam. These were impressive locomotives that immediately caught my eye as I’m a fan of northern class locomotives. With my attention captured, I reached out to Mike Venezia, then owner of Little Engines, and discussed the prospect of a building series. Mike embraced the idea and we got the ball rolling on this project. I decided to have a professional handle the machining work—and it wasn’t long before Jason Johnson, formerly of Gemini Industrial Machine Group, was recommended for the job. Jason came highly recommended and he has extensive experience building, repairing, and restoring steam locomotives of various scales. Jason is also spearheading an effort to scratch build a full-size Pennsylvania T1 articulated steam locomotive with the T1 Trust.
With the Little Engines ALCO Northern selected & Jason onboard for the series—one question was still outstanding…which northern locomotive should be modeled. My choice was between three prototypes: the 844, the SP GS-4 Daylight, and the CB&Q O-5 Northern. While I liked the O-5, I did not like the design enough to invest the resources required to model it in 7.5" gauge. The decision was between the 844 and the SP 4449; ultimately, the 844 was selected for its sleek, simple design.
My aim for this series is to get people, particularly younger people, interested and involved in trains, steam, and steam preservation. What better way to do this then by offering a free-to-viewer series on social media detailing the construction of a locomotive. I hope you all find this process, and the overall series, educational, and I hope that it motivates you to seek out a live steam club and get involved in this wonderful hobby. Thank you for visiting our project page for the 844 ALCO Northern. If you would like to donate to help support this project, you can do so securely through PayPal via the link below. We thank you for your support!
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Delivered between 1937 & 1944, Union Pacific operated 45 Northern Class locomotives which were built in three classes. These locomotives were initially tasked with hauling passenger trains such as the Portland Rose, the Pacific Limited, the Challenger, and the Overland Limited. However, as the railroad dieselized, these iron brutes were reassigned to freight service on the UP.
As mentioned above, the FEF Northerns were built in three classes. The twenty FEF-1’s, numbered 800-819, were built by ALCO in 1937. The FEF-1’s were soon supplemented by fifteen FEF-2 class Northerns, numbered 820-834, which ALCO built in 1939. These locomotives had several improvements which included: larger cylinders, taller driving wheels, smoke deflectors, and a better tractive effort. This class also received a fourteen wheeled centipede tender which was an upgrade over the twelve wheeled tenders which were used on the FEF-1 engines.
Finally, ten FEF-3 class Northerns, numbered 835-844, were delivered in 1944. These were the last steam locomotives built for the Union Pacific Railroad. Of the 45 locomotives in the 800 series, only four managed to escape the cutting torch. #814, an FEF-1, is preserved in Council Bluffs, Iowa at the Rock Island Railroad Museum. #833, an FEF-2, is on static display at the Utah State Railroad Museum in Ogden, Utah. #838, an FEF-3, is stored at the Union Pacific Steam Shop in Cheyenne, Wyoming and is being used for parts for the only locomotive in the 800 series which was never retired, the FEF-3 #844.
#844 was the last steam locomotive ever built for the Union Pacific Railroad. When the railroad dieselized its passenger services, #844 was reassigned to freight service between 1957 and 1959 in Nebraska. Dodging the scrapers torch in 1960, the #844 was preserved for excursion and public relation service; an assignment which is ongoing to this day. The locomotive has become the Union Pacific’s Living Legend.
Your support and contributions will help us bring you our "Building 844" video series and teach the next generation about steam locomotive preservation & construction.
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