4-8-0, Twelve-Wheeler Type

Frederick Methvan Whyte came up with a way for engineers to classify different trains based on their wheel configuration. The Whyte classification system counts the sets of pilot wheels, driving wheels, and trailing wheels. 

The 4-8-0 Twelve-Wheeler Type has four pilot wheels, sometimes called leading wheels, eight driving wheels, and no trailing wheels. This locomotive type is sometimes depicted as:

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Strasburg #475 is the only known 4-8-0 still operating today.
Strasburg #475 is the only known 4-8-0 still operating. (Photo: Drew Jacksich by CC via 2.0)

History of the 4-8-0

While many locomotives received their nicknames from the railroads they first operated on, the Twelve-wheeler has a much simpler explanation, it had 12 wheels. The design can be traced back to a tender locomotive built in 1855 by American inventor Ross Winans for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad; though the first ‘true’ Twelve-Wheeler was designed for the Central Pacific Railroad by Andrew Jackson Stevens in 1882. This locomotive, CP #229, was nicknamed ‘Mastodon’ which has led to many referring to a 4-8-0 as a Mastodon.

Early twelve-wheelers caught the eye of the public, and artists like Richard Ward, who created a painting of CP #229.
CP #229 was the subject of this painting by Richard Ward

While the 4-8-0 design evolved from the popular Consolidation type (2-8-0), the design did not catch on in the United States compared to the rest of the world. In the height of the steam engine era, these train models chugged along the tracks of countries like New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Spain, Mexico, the Soviet Union, Canada and more. 

By the middle of the 1930s, Twelve-wheelers were rarely seen on US railways.

Builder card for Norfolk & Western #1138, a twelve-wheeler steam locomotive.
Builder card for N&W 1138.

Where to See Twelve-Wheeler Locomotives

There is only one known Twelve-Wheeler still operating in the United States, Strasburg #475. Other Twelve-wheelers can be seen up close at the Virginia Museum of Transportation and the Kern County Museum in Bakersfield, California. 

And for our Austrailian friends, there is a 4-8-0 on display the National Railway Museum in Port Adelaide. 

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