2-6-6-2 Chesapeake type

There were two distinct branches of development with locomotives that feature what is known as the 2-6-6-2 “Chesapeake” type wheel arrangement. You had “loggers and luggers” who used the power produced by 2-6-6-2 wheel arrangement to haul very heavy loads at slow speeds. Then you had larger railroads that refined the design until they had an all around, flexible hauler that could also run at mainline speeds.

It began with “Old Maude”

The first “Mallet” type steam locomotive in the United States was built for the B&O. It was an 0-6-6-0 that would be nicknamed “Old Maude” after a popular cartoon mule of the time. People thought it looked a little like a mule, but it also worked like a mule. It was capable of moving a lot of tonnage at slow speeds.

The first Mallet articulated in the United States. "Old Maude" is a direct predecessor of the 2-6-6-2 wheel arrangement.
The first Mallet locomotive in the United States, “Old Maude”, future articulateds would build on this design.

The quick and simple definition of a “Mallet” locomotive is that it is articulated, meaning the rear set of drivers is rigid under the boiler while the front set of drivers is able to swing, allowing for tighter curves. Two engines can be used and steam pressure manipulated to increase power.

We have a more thorough explanation in our article on Mallet locomotives and the inventor, Swiss engineer Anatole Mallet.

The loggers and luggers

The 2-6-6-2 tuned out to be just what a lot of loggers needed, though without a tender. The locomotives didn’t travel far, just into the forest or to the sawmill, so it didn’t need to carry much fuel. They did carry water in on-board tanks. Learn more in our article about the interesting world of tank locomotives.

It turns out the 2-6-6-2, both with and without a tender, was a favorite with the logging industry. This is an example of a 2-6-6-2T, a tank locomotive. Purchased by the Clover Valley Lumber Company. Now preserved and operational at the Niles Canyon Railway in California.
Clover Valley #4 is an excellent example of the 2-6-6-4 used by lumber companies..

Interestingly more of these 2-6-6-2T tank locomotives from lumber companies have been preserved – and run today – than any standard 2-6-6-2 locomotive with a tender. Clover Valley 4 is operation at California’s Niles Canyon Railway and the Black Hills Central Railroad runs two 2-6-6-2T locomotives.

Built for the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, this is another 2-6-6-2T that has survived and is operational on the Black Hills Central Railroad today.
Built for the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company Locomotive in 1928.

Some railroads used the 2-6-6-2 as a slow speed “lugger”. The Great Northern, as seen below, would put their 2-6-6-2 locomotives at the head of a long train and send it out with a top speed of 25 to 30 miles an hour. The Great Northern would roster 72 of these locomotives.

The Great Northern was the first railroad to purchase the 2-6-6-2 configuration. It used the locomotive to haul long trains at slow speeds.
Great Northern 2-6-6-2 and train. Detail from a colorized postcard. North Dakota, near Minot, 1914.

Here’s where the 2-6-6-2 becomes a “Chesapeake”

The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway believed that more could be done with the wheel arrangement than the output of then current 2-6-6-2 locomotives. The C&O would adopt this wheel arrangement for their Class H and kept refining the design until they reached the pinnacle for this wheel arrangement, their Class H-6. Across all classes, the C&O had 275 2-6-6-2 locomotives, making these the “Chesapeake” type.

The railroad that gave the 2-6-6-2 its name, the Chesapeake & Ohio, eventually rostered 275 of these locomotives. Including #1512, shown here in the 1920 ALCo Builders Photo.
Class H-6, C&O 1512, Built by ALCo in 1920. Notice the “Vanderbilt” tender.

The Chesapeake & Ohio used these locomotives primarily in the coal fields of Virginia and West Virginia; but their speed and flexibility allowed them to be used all over the system. Many railroads also used the Chesapeake type, including the CB&Q, Chicago Great Western (see below), Milwaukee Road and Norfolk & Western – to name just a few.

Like the Great Northern, the Chicago Great Western was a prairie road and used the "Chesapeake" type steam locomotive in much the same was, hauling long trains at slow speeds. Here is CGW #652 on a turntable.
Chicago Great Northern 652 on the turntable, possibly at the East Stockton, Illinois Shop.

A design change that was not a success

The other well known railroad, besides the C&O to make notable use of this wheel arrangement was the Southern Pacific. Their Class MM-2 was ordered from Baldwin in 1911 as a Cab Forward design. These were the first Cab Forwards ordered by the SP for passenger service.

The SP had 39 long tunnels and 40 miles of snow sheds on their route over the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and had discovered that putting the cab up front was much safer for the crew. Visibility was better and it kept the crew in front of the exhaust fumes.

The only 2-6-6-2 Southern Pacific Cab Forward steam locomotives. These were not a success and within a decade all had be refitted with 4-wheel pilot trucks, making them a 4-6-6-2 configuration.
Fresh from the Baldwin Locomotive Works plant. This is a rare photo of as-built MM-2.

Like all Cab Forward designs, these steam locomotives required oil for fuel and required oil tenders like the one shown in the Baldwin builder’s photo above. What this 2-6-6-2 design didn’t have was success. The SP found that at passenger speeds the pilot trucks could derail or jump the track.

After an accident which dumped the “Overland” passenger train, the Southern Pacific retrofitted all 12 locomotives of this class as 4-6-6-2 locomotives. The Southern Pacific had other 2-6-6-2 articulated locomotives on their roster; but after their experience with the MM-2 Class, they opted to no longer utilize Cab Forwards with the 2-6-6-2 wheel arrangement.

The oddest and the most famous

There were a lot of experiments in the early and middle years of building steam locomotives. The Santa Fe Railway experimented with a flexible boiler which featured a 2-6-6-2 with a jointed boiler instead of a rigid boiler. You can see the flexible joint below. It is the darker area about half way along the boiler.

This is an odd permutation of the 2-6-6-2 Mallet articulated design. The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe experimented with six "flexible jointed" boilers. This picture of 1158, the first of the first class of this type, shows the flexible bellows type of joint about half way down the boiler.
Photo illustration from a 1911 issue of American Engineer and Railroad Journal

There is a lot more to find out about this Santa Fe experiment. You can learn all about it in our article on the Santa Fe’s Flexible Jointed Boiler Locomotives.

Last American Baldwin steam locomotive, C&O 1309

The most famous 2-6-6-2 is, without a doubt, also the last ever built – and the last domestic steam locomotive built by the venerable Baldwin Locomotive Works. In 1949 the Chesapeake & Ohio needed some muscle in their West Virginia coal fields.

They naturally turned to Baldwin and the “Chesapeake” design – after all they had already rostered over 250 of them. The initial order was for 25, but a coal strike pared the order down to 10. These would become last 10 steam locomotives ever to come out of Eddystone for domestic use. The very last of the last, was C&O 1309.

1309 was immediately put to work, although she was retired when the C&O completely dieselized. But she wasn’t done. A donation, a museum, a couple of close calls, more than $2,000,000 and 1309 is now operational on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. For that amazing story, see our article “Western Maryland Scenic #1309, The Last Baldwin”.

Success! The very last steam locomotive built by Baldwin for the domestic market, C&O 1309 - probably the best example of the Chesapeake type of locomotive - is not only preserved, but now operating for the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad in Cumberland Maryland.
Western Maryland Scenic 1309 leads the Polar Express. (Photo: Ynot3700 via CC by 4.0)

Hundreds, it easily could be a thousand, of 2-6-6-2 steam locomotives were built by various locomotive builders, and railroads, over 50 years. However not all of them could fairly be called a “Chesapeake” type. Many were tank type locomotives and operated in the deep forest, but several hundred and certainly the almost 300 owned by the C&O were called a Chesapeake.


It’s fitting that with so many variations and so many railroads, quite a few 2-6-6-2 examples have been preserved. Four of this wheel arrangement are operational today. Another five are on display and two are known to be stored, possibly awaiting display or restoration.

TypeNo.Original OwnerCurrent OwnerLocationStatus
2-6-6-2 1308C&OCP Huntington RR Historical SocietyHuntington, WVaOutdoor Display
2-6-6-2 1309C&OWestern Maryland Scenic RailroadCumberland, MDOperational
2-6-6-2T 108Weyerhaeuser Timber CompanyBlack Hills Central RailroadHill City, SDOperational
2-6-6-2T 110Weyerhaeuser Timber CompanyBlack Hills Central RailroadHill City, SDOperational
2-6-6-2 46Weyerhaeuser Timber CompanyPacific Southwest Railway MuseumCampo, CAOutdoor Display
2-6-6-2 38Weyerhaeuser Timber CompanyFred Kepner/Oregon Coast ScenicMerrill, ORStored Dismantled
2-6-6-2 6Weyerhaeuser Timber CompanyNorthwest Railway MuseumSnoqualmie, WAOutdoor Display
2-6-6-211U.S. PlywoodNorthwest Railway MuseumSnoqualmie, WAOutdoor Display
2-6-6-2T 4Clover ValleyNiles Canyon RailwaySunol, CAOperational
2-6-6-2T 8RayonierRoots of Motive PowerWillits, CAStored
2-6-6-212Southwest Forest IndustriesPioneer Historical MuseumFlagstaff, AZOutdoor Display

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