The Berk Project: How It All Began

For those who are involved with, or follow the 1/8th scale live steam hobby, there are many who firmly believe the finest designed operating model to be the Berkshire! To date, there are quite a number of these locomotives out there successfully running, as well as being constructed. For this, we have one man to thank for his dedication, and incredible efforts, and that is Jim Kreider.

was just eight years old and living in Erie, Pennsylvania, when one day he and his father, who worked for the Nickel Plate Railroad, went to a spot out of town where both the Nickel Plate and New York Central main lines paralleled each other running east and west. Soon after they got there, Jim could hear the distant roar and see the smoke of an approaching NYC train. It was then that all hell broke loose and enveloped the young boy and his dad in an experience very few can now remember - chat wonderful NYC Niagara at speed on the "Water Level Route," making its dash to Chicago with a string of mail cars.

the excitement was only beginning for Jim. He and his dad turned toward the Nickel Plate tracks. No rapid staccato bark this time - just a distant swoosh, not like a train at all. Moments later the locomotive burst into view, and one of NKP's now­ famous Berkshires hurried by at 60-70 mph with a long train of reefers carrying produce to eastern markets.

an impression that experience had on this young man. Jim Kreider didn't know it then, but the engine he just saw blast by was now in his future in more ways than one. Years later he would fire a Berk many times as part of the crew in excursion service. One of his biggest thrills came in the mid 1980s when he was firing NKP No. 765 in a deadhead move of about 18 passenger cars between Bellevue, Ohio, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. An old NKP engineer was at the throttle, and before long Jim noticed the rods were nothing but a blur. He looked across the cab, and the throttle lever was by the hogger's ear, with the speed indicator showing 76 mph!

it's in the past 20 years when his knowledge and experiences with the NKP CljSS700 2-8-4 inspired Jim to go in a new direction. You see, he's the man behind a live steam model unlike almost all others - a museum-quality 1-1/2" scale miniature meant to be run hard, not preserved in a glass case somewhere. It's a piece-by-piece reproduction of the prototype, which started as an engine for himself and two decades later has grown to be a locomotive for others - one that will withstand close scrutiny, pull heavy trains and pass the real test of time.

The Kreider Model

model is a Nickel Plate S-2, S-3 class 2-8-4 built in 1944 and 1949 respectively by Lima Locomotive Works. The 1949 engines were the last steam locomotives built by the Lima, Ohio, company.

Jim's intent in designing
this engine was to use castings and parts that were directly modeled from the prototype. He did not want to use parts that were "close enough." Fortunately, many of the prototype drawings for the locomotive survived so he had a good basis from which to draw. When he served on the 765 crew, he could be found on occasion measuring parts on the big one for his molds. For a model with this much detail, you need much more than prototype photos and generic components that satisfy many modelers.

However, he thought designing and casting a one-piece locomotive frame bed was somewhat impractical so he cast the side frames with the frame bed detail on the outside and then designed the frame-cradle joint to be bolted from the inside so it would look like a one-piece casting from the outside. The cylinder block is a one-piece casting with the rear cylinder heads cast as a part of it, as was the prototype. The cradle casting has the injector and stoker engine mounts cast on it per the prototype. The tender frame is a one-piece casting, and there are four different drivers, so four different driver patterns were made.

There are many
lost-wax parts, including all the Baker valve gear parts. The majority of the castings are made from ductile iron and bronze, with the exception of the one-piece tender frame, which is aluminum. Jim made a lot of the patterns himself but was fortunate to enlist the help of a retired patternmaker to help when life's responsibilities would get in the way. Doug Alkire and Bruce Ward helped with the drawings, and the expertise of Truson Buegel and Ed Yungling came into play with the majority of the lost-wax molds. Dave Moore, who has made castings available for his Pennsy K-4, provided Jim with parts for the Worthington feed water system, the Alco power reverse, and the butterfly fire door, all to drawings provided by Jim Kreider. Today, he is now a consultant for the Live Steam Alliance, which sells drawings and parts for this locomotive.

Enter The Live Steam Alliance

Meanwhile, just outside of Cleveland, Marcel Uhrich was but a teenager who got started in the live steam hobby quite young. He built his first steam locomotive, a 2-8-0 Consolidation, during this time with the able assistance of Dick Mackey, as well as a host of others who were involved with the Lake Shore Live Steamers. From there he has acquired a number of other live steam locomotives, along with having acquired the Tom Bee line of trucks, couplers, and live steam parts. He has an extensive background in mechanical engineering, along with a resume that includes a number of high profile engineering positions.

In addition, Frank Foti is another passionate live steamer who has now partnered with Marcel to form the Live Steam Alliance. He has a number of live steamers as well, and it was his latest acquisition – a Jim Kreider designed Berk – which created the impetus of this new venture. Frank and Jim began a friendly dialog about the Berkshire project. Jim had been wondering what was the future for his project, while Frank’s main desire is to carry Jim’s legacy forward! Out of this, the idea germinated to pass the project along to Marcel and Frank.

The Live Steam Alliance was created as a means for ongoing live steam projects and ventures to come together, in a synergistic way, and to promote growth in our hobby!

Jim Kreider Looks Back

"I grew up in the 'fifties along the Nickel Plate's 1.4 miles of 9th Street running in Erie, Pennsylvania. I had a paper route along a good portion of 18th and 19th Streets, and my dad was an NKP crossing watchman who worked all five of the elevated crossing towers (there were three on the stretch of 19th on which the Nickel Plate main line ran), where very often I was assigned the task of taking him dinner when he worked the second trick. Often Dad would let me operate the crossing flashers under his careful supervision.

times, I would be collecting for my paper route at houses along 19th Street Either way, what a thrill it was to see - regularly - a massive 700 Berkshire coming right down narrow 19th at its official speed of 15 mph contrasting with their mile-a-minute pace at other locations.

"Sometimes a wary motorist would find the train a little bit wider than anticipated, with the car being no match for that big pilot beam on the locomotive. One was usually very alert while driving and facing an oncoming NKP freight. That stretch of NKP main was about 40 yards away in back of our house. NKP engineers very often let me ride the 700's cab while they were dropping off cars on either side of Erie."

Jack Bodenmann - Master of Authentic Detail

When Peter Nott, a
member of Los Angeles Live Steamers, bought the foundation and running gear for what was to become NKP 756 from builder Bart Pond of Oregon, it was already running on air. He soon ordered a professionally built copper boiler from Swindon in England, and the three-year job of finishing the model was taken over by Jack Bodenmann of Grover Beach, California. With everything Jim Kreider and other suppliers provided, Jack used his masterful touch to turn 756 into a true museum-quality miniature, but one that can be run often and hard with ease.

Jack is a perfectionist in model building and also a fine photographer of the
models he builds, like those of Nickel Plate 756 in this article that fooled some of you into thinking you were looking at the prototype.

Whatever the future of the outdoor Live Steam railroading hobby, one thing is sure - for the past 25 years or so we have seen an amazing increase in the quality and availability of parts and components for specific locomotive prototypes rather than just generic wheel arrangements or classes of motive power. Yet there are still builders and boilermakers and talented detailers who challenge the rest of us with everything they create. The team that built LALS member Peter Nott's 1-1/ 2" scale model of NKP No. 756 took some extraordinary steps to get the penultimate steam locomotive model, one that is unlike any other museum-quality model - it's a coal-burner, and it's designed to pull heavy loads with little downtime and pampering.

Building A Berk

If your dream has always been to build a 1-1/2 inch scale Berkshire live steam locomotive, you’ve come to the proverbial right place! Many in the live steam hobby have referred to this design, as possibly the finest in its class.

This project started out as a desire, by Jim Kreider, to build the most exact replica of the Nickel Plate style Berkshire. He took painstaking time to design this model based on the actual builder’s drawings that were used by Lima Locomotive Works, and the Nickel Plate Railroad. If ever there was a walking, talking encyclopedia of Berkshire locomotive knowledge, it’s Jim Kreider!

Fortunately for us, here at the Live Steam Alliance, we have acquired all of the actual Jim Kreider drawings, molds, tooling, and everything else associated with building this amazing locomotive.

The prospect of building a live steam engine can be accomplished in a number of ways. We will assume most builders to have an understanding about the undertaking in regards to a project of this nature. We are here to help, advise, and guide you as best as possible. Jim Kreider remains involved with us, as our chief consultant.

Additionally, if a builder is looking for assistance with their project, we have a list of resources, of companies that can provide machining services, boiler construction, and even some that may provide a complete build. In those instances, we will be happy to provide references, and from that point on, project responsibility is between the builder, and company they choose to work with.

As a simple example, building this locomotive requires access to a toolroom, welding, sheet metal work, and plumbing, just for starters. Those are the basic needs in order to get the locomotive and tender constructed, and functioning. In addition, there’s painting, detailing, and whatever else the builder feels is needed to complete the project to their satisfaction.

If you’re an experienced builder with the above mentioned skills, or have access to such, we will supply you with drawings and plans, castings, along with various other components for the locomotive. These are provided in phases, as it follows a progressive path of construction.

Additionally, there are many within the live steam community who are able to assist, based on their own experience with this locomotive, or as a seasoned live steam builder. The live steam fraternity is fairly close knit, and very active.


Overall Width…………………………….….……….16-9/16 inches
Bore and Stroke………………………….……….….2-3/4 x 4-1/4 inches
Driver Diameter (over tread)…………..…………….8-5/8 inches. scale 69”
Axle Bearings, Drivers….………………………..…..Radial and Thrust Needle
Driver Lateral Motion……………………………..….Front 5/64 inches
Others…………………………………………..……..3/64 inches
Minimum Track Radius……………………….……..40 feet
Valve Gear…………………………………………… Baker, Long Lap
Valves…………………………………………………Piston, 1-1/2 inch dia.
Smokebox Outside Diameter………………………11-1/8 inches
Fire Box, Inside………………………………………10-1/2 x 15-5/8 inches
Weight: Locomotive and Tender……………………1770 pounds