During World War II the New York Central, like most North American railroads, faced the need for additional main line motive power to handle increased traffic. The tried-and-true Mohawk 4-8-2 design was improved in the L-4 class introduced in 1942 from Lima, which by 1944 numbered 50 locomotives. To augment the Hudsons in passenger service, the railroad's motive power engineering department came up with the design for the famous Niagara 4-8-4. Because of wartime restrictions on new passenger power the first Niagara came from American Locomotive Company with 75-inch drivers in order to qualify, in the minds of the War Production Board, as a dual-service locomotive. With additional long-haul power still needed the Central turned to the 4-6-6-4 simple articulated, a type pioneered by the Union Pacific in 1936 and employed successfully in the East by the Delaware & Hudson, the Western Maryland and the Clinchfield.
Designed contemporaneously with the S-1 4-8-4, the NYC's 4-6-6-4 was likewise erected by Alco and shared many of the Niagara's features including the compact profile required by the railroad's loading gauge. But the 15 locomotives of class NF-1a, Nos. 8200-8214, were unmistakably intended for fast freight service. Their drivers were 70 inches in diameter, only an inch larger than those of most other 4-6-6-4s. Because turntables had to be extended to handle these engines, they saw service mainly on the former "Big Four" between Cleveland and East St. Louis, with servicing facilities modified also at Bellefontaine and Indianapolis.
As may be seen in comparing the photo with the drawing, some features of the NF-1a differed between the original design and the locomotive that rolled off the Schenectady erecting floor. Most obvious, perhaps, are the lack of "elephant ear" smoke deflectors, and the headlight mounted on the smokebox front instead of above the pilot. Most articulated locomotives had the headlight above the pilot so it could turn with the first "engine." But a smokebox-mounted headlight had also been used on the Union Pacific's 3800-series 4-6-6-4s, as well as those of the Delaware & Hudson. The deflectors were added in a subsequent shopping and, in some cases, the headlight was repositioned.
Other railroads that used the 4-6-6-4 type called them "Challengers," as the Union Pacific had dubbed them. The New York Central, however, had a penchant for naming its modern steam designs after rivers within the territory it served — Hudson, Mohawk, Niagara. With the names of likely rivers already taken for locomotives of other railroads (Allegheny, Kanawha) or not suitable because of association with other lines (Ohio, Wabash), the Central settled on the name "Cuyahoga" for its 4-6-6-4s, honoring the stream that flows into Lake Erie at Cleveland. Placed in service in 1945, the Cuyahogas performed outstandingly until the spread of diesel power overtook their home territory in the mid-1960s.
A New York Central "Fantasy Steam" Feature
Drawing by David R. Stephenson, from New York Central System Historical Society
Central Headlight, 3rd Quarter 2002. Used by permission.