Spotlight Hour: The Boston & Albany 4-6-4 “Hudson” Steam Locomotive

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4-6-4: The Early Days

Known as one of the most popular locomotives in the model train community, the 4-6-4 model steam locomotive was a powerhouse in North America where it would be commissioned in various railyards throughout North America during the mid-1920s up to the 1950s. With nearly 30 years of service with prominent railroad companies like The New York Central Railroad and ATSF, the 4-6-4 garnered a solid reputation as a freight and passenger hauler.

While North American railroads may have brought the 4-6-4 to its peak in popularity, its journey actually starts in France. The first 4-6-4 prototype was designed by French engineer Gaston du Bousquet, and would be introduced in 1911. The 4-6-4 saw immediate success in France and throughout Europe, earning “The Baltic” nickname after The Baltic Sea in the process.  

Post World War 1 was a prosperous and industrious time in North America. Population increase created a greater need in the expansion of both public transportation, and the delivery of goods. A growing number of locomotives at the time were also unable to handle the weight and strain brought on by heavy passenger cars, with much of the older models lacking sufficient power and control to maintain a fleet. By the mid-1920s, something had to be done, and various railroad companies would take to finding a solution to meet society’s demands. Paul Kiefer, Chief Engineer with the New York Central Railroad System was the one tasked with designing and developing such a locomotive. The search was quick, and in 1926 Kiefer along with his team identified the 4-6-4 as a promising candidate. Quickly improving on the 4-6-4’s previous design, Kiefer who was partnering with the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) would deliver the first units in February, 1927. The newly delivered 4-6-4 models would go on to be known as “The Hudson” a nickname coined by Paul Kiefer and Pat Crowley, with the name drawing inspiration from the Hudson River.

By the late 1920s, the Hudson would begin to make its presence felt all over North American railyards. One of the earliest orders of Hudson 4-6-4 locomotives would come from The Boston & Albany Railroad Company, a subsidiary of the New York Central Railroad System.


The Boston & Albany Hudson 4-6-4

(Hudson #600. Date and photographer are unknown.)

The Boston & Albany Railroad Company would finish with a total roster of 20 Hudson locomotives once each batch of models was delivered. The first 2 batches of the Hudson version would be delivered from Alco in 1928 and 1930, with the third and final batch coming from Lima in 1931. Each locomotive was assigned a #600 road number, with the first two ALCO batches ranging from 600-609 (J-2a – J-2b) and the third batch from Lima being numbered 610 – 619 (J-2C). The J-Class series of locomotives would see the road number change from 600-619 to 5455 – 5474 after their incorporation into the NYC roster.

With the design and release occurring during the “Super Power” era of steam locomotives, a number of upgrades and design improvements would be made to the new Hudson 4-6-4 versions. Dubbed by Lima as the “Super Power” era during the 1920s, this was a period of time that would see a variety of “super” upgrades to locomotives with the development of larger fireboxes, and integration of enlarged super heaters. A variety of locomotives would see the Super Power era play a role in their design with the Hudson 4-6-4 being amongst the few.

This batch of Hudson locomotives was a massive upgrade from the original design of the old Baltic 4-6-4 version. The first batch delivered from the Schenectady plant in New York in 1928 featured changes in the size of the locomotive’s drivers, larger fireboxes, upgrades in boiler pressure, and the addition of a booster engine. Travel time on the B&A routes was also not as grueling and long resulting in later J-Class models being paired with shorter-wheeled tenders.

Despite their impressive upgrade, the 4-6-4 was not met without criticism. For many, the use of the booster engine was unjustified with companies like the rival Pennsylvania Railroad opting to use less booster-equipped locomotives, primarily sticking with their 4-6-2 and GG-1 models. The booster engines along with the super heater were also a challenge and very costly to maintain. The criticism didn’t stop the Hudson, most of which would see the inclusion of the booster engine as an absolute necessity for peak performance.

The Hudson legacy

The last of the Hudson version locomotives would see their service come to an end in the early 1950s. The North American Hudson 4-6-4 version would see over 400 units produced over the course of its commission around North America making it one of the most popular locomotives in the country. While a number of units have been preserved today, with some even in restoration, all of the original models from the NYC roster have since been scrapped. 2 H-Class units continue to be operational today in Canada, with another H class unit undergoing restoration in California, and a preserved Santa Fe version in Kansas City. The Hudson’s popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed, and continues to be one of the most sought after locomotives on the market. Manufacturers like Lionel and MTH have both produced some breathtaking replicas. If you’re lucky, you may even find models that feature some of the original road numbers like the #618 O-Gauge replica seen above.

Adding a Hudson to your collection is always a great choice, and we’re not short of options at The Boston & Albany Hudson line-up from Lionel drips in detail with each unit showcasing some excellent true-to-original craftsmanship with some of the features mentioned above. Additionally, if you’re on the hunt for a Hudson model that doesn’t feature the B & A road name, you’ll find a great selection with a variety of different road names and numbers here.


Closing Thoughts

Ultimately, no collection is truly complete without your own Hudson locomotive. With over a century of relevance, and nearly 100 years of service in North America, the 4-6-4 is a locomotive rich in history telling a great story of the progression of the North American transportation system in the 20th century. With a great selection from a number of Historic Hudson models, you’ll be guaranteed to find the perfect fit for your layout at In the meantime, for those of you with your own Boston & Albany models at home -- take the time to research the road number on your Hudson, and see if your Hudson model has its own story to tell.


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