The New York Central operated a number of major express trains from New York City, which ran at high speeds mostly in the lowlands and enjoyed increasing popularity. These were primarily the “20th Century Limited” to Chicago and the “Empire State Express” to Detroit. Since the existing Pacific locomotives had reached their limits in the mid-1920s, the task was to develop a new locomotive with a larger boiler. This should also be able to pull 16 or 18 cars instead of the previous twelve. Since there were hardly any inclines on the affected routes, three coupled axles were sufficient.
J-1b No. 5231 in September 1947 in Chicago
collection Taylor Rush
With the “Superpower” locomotives with the wheel arrangement 2-8-4 (Berkshire), it had already been confirmed that a significantly larger firebox could be installed with a second trailing axle, which enabled a significantly higher boiler output. So the Pacific was expanded with the second trailing axle and thus the first steam locomotive in North America with the wheel arrangement 4-6-4 was created. Although the Milwaukee Road had already developed a comparable locomotive shortly before and wanted to name the wheel arrangement as “Baltic”, the designs were actually implemented later. Thus, the New York Central was able to designate the new wheel arrangement and named it “Hudson”, after the river they were supposed to travel along.
J-3a No. 5442 around 1950
Dennis Dupier / collection Taylor Rush
For starting, all Hudsons from the first series received a booster on the second axle of the rear bogie. Despite this, they were said to have performed relatively poorly at low speeds, but developed well over 4,000 hp at high speeds. Officially, they were designed for a top speed of 110 mph. However, according to unofficial information, they are said to have reached speeds of at least 123 mph when driving in delays. The standard performance for the J-1 was 1,270 short tons at an average speed of 55 mph.
Works photo of the J-1a
Railway and Locomotive Engineering, February 1928
There were 205 examples of the J-1 in five series, which were designated as J-1a to J-1e. A total of 60 examples of these went to other Big Four affiliates. This were 30 for the Michigan Central and 30 for the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis. From 1928 the J-2 was built in parallel, which went directly back to an order from Boston & Albany and was built 20 times just for them. It had slightly smaller coupling wheels and a Coffin type feedwater heater.
In 1934, the last J-1e built received an Art Deco streamlined fairing designed by Carl F. Kantola. The aim was to emulate the diesel-powered streamlined trains that were just emerging at the time. Ten of 50 examples of the J-3a built from 1937 received factory streamlined fairing designed by Henry Dreyfuss. The J-3a otherwise differed from the J-1 by having a smaller superheater and a boiler pressure of 275 psi. However, this was later reduced to 265 psi.
The J-3a in particular was characterized by the fact that it was extremely low-maintenance and could cover long distances non-stop. The interval between two major repairs was between 185,000 and 200,000 miles, which corresponded to around two years of service. Additionally, it used seven-axle tenders with a laden weight of more than 400.000 pounds, which could cover long distances before having to refill water and coal. The last Hudsons served until 1957, when New York Central's conversion to diesel traction was complete. Thus they lived even longer than the even more powerful Niagaras built after them. Unfortunately, they met the same fate as many other US steam locomotives, so that despite their historical significance, they were all scrapped.