During World War I, Uncle Sam nationalized the railroads when they proved unequal to the task of moving massive amounts of men and material for the war effort. The agency that ran the trains was the United States Railroad Administration, or USRA, and one of its chief accomplishments was the creation of 12 steam engine designs that lasted for decades. According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, USRA locomotives were “the first successful standardization of American motive power” – and the only standard designs until the diesel era.
The most popular of the USRA designs was the 2-8-2 Mikado, which was heavy main line steam power in the World War I era. The very first USRA engine built was Baltimore & Ohio #4500, a light Mikado that is preserved today in the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum in Baltimore, MD. At the direction of Baldwin Locomotive Works Senior VP Samuel Vauclain, #4500 was constructed in a record 20 days so Baldwin would have the honor of delivering the first USRA locomotive on July 4, 1918.
The USRA designs were modern but conservative. They incorporated the best practices of their day, but broke little new ground. After the war, the basic designs were used by railroads across the nation, and about one-quarter of the Mikados built in the United States were either of USRA designs or descendants of those designs. While Mikados were generally relegated to lesser duties as heavier power arrived in succeeding decades, many USRA Mikes outlasted later, more modern steam engines because they were relatively simple and durable.
Constructed with dozens of added-on detail parts, the USRA Mikado returns to the Premier line in new road names and numbers for the first time since 2016. While other manufacturers have offered fine models of this classic engine, we believe none matches the detail level, sound quality, slow speed performance, and synchronized puffing smoke of this MTH Premier model.