All About the USRA 2-8-2 Mikado Steam Locomotives

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Please Tell Me More About The USRA 2-8-2 Mikado Steam Locomotive...

Dear fellow railroader,

First a little history of the USRA 2-8-2 Mikado Steam Locomotive:

The Light Mikado was a USRA standard class of steam locomotive designed under the control of the United States Railroad Administration (USRA), the nationalized railroad system in the United States during World War I.

About 1,266 of these steam locomotives were built.  The first was completed in July 1918. In those days, these locomotives were considered well designed and modern  They were also popular and successful. And large numbers of these steam locos remained in service until they were replaced by the diesel locomotives.

OK, but what does 2-8-2 mean?

A 2-8-2 is a railroad steam locomotive that has one leading axle followed by four powered driving axles and one trailing axle (a little confusing right?  Just take a look at the side view picture below).

This type of steam locomotive was called the "Mikado" (sometimes shortened to Mike), but it was also called "MacArthur" as you'll see later on in this story... The 2-8-2 locos were very popular in North America and also used in continental Europe and elsewhere.

The 2-8-2 axle allowed the locomotive's firebox to be placed behind, instead of above, the driving wheels.  The advantage was that now the firebox could be larger.  And you know what this means -- More Power!  Larger firebox means greater rate of combustion which meant more steam generation which means MORE POWER at higher speeds (whew)!  Combine the larger firebox with larger driving wheels because the firebox wasn't in the way anymore, meant the 2-8-2 Mikado Steam Trains were capable of higher speeds with a heavy train than the earlier trains.  Its no wonder the 2-8-2 became the new workhorses of America's transportation system because of superior engineering and design!

The Mikado (which was a Japanese name) remained the class name until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Seeking a more "Americanized" name, the train was renamed the "MacArthur," after the World War II hero -- General Douglas MacArthur. After the war, this steam locomotive became the Mikado again.

I noticed that the label below the picture of the model train says "Vandy" Tender.  So what is the difference between the Standard Tender and the Vanderbilt (Vandy) Tender?

I'm so glad you asked!

First of all, as you probably know, the steam locomotives often hauled a tender, which is a special rail car that was designed to hold the locomotive's fuel (wood, coal, or oil) and water. In America, tenders are sometimes called “coal-cars.” As you can imagine, steam locomotives consumed large quantities of both fuel and water.

The standard tenders had a rectangular tank but the Vanderbilt "Vandy" tenders had a round tank (take a look at the pictures above) which had several huge advantages you'll see:

  • The round tank holds more than a rectangular tank of the same surface area.
  • A round tank (a cylinder) is structurally stronger than a rectangular tank (a box).
  • A round tank is lighter than a rectangular tank of the same capacity (partially because a rectangular tank requires a great deal of internal bracing).

So on May 31, 1901, a patent was issued to Cornelius Vanderbilt for a tender with a cylindrical water tank (Cornelius was the great grandson of the Commadore). And presto!  Now presenting... the Vandy tender!  Some railroads went for Vanderbilt tenders in a big way.

By the way, the premium model train maker, Model Power makes both types of tenders for their trains.  The "Vandy" tender is a little more expensive because it is harder to make and has more detailing.  But personally, I think the Vandy Tender is the better choice for your railroad layout because it is more fun to watch...

Closeup View of the USRA 2-8-2 Mikado Steam Locomotive


The USRA 2-8-2 Mikado Steam Locomotives were considered well designed and modern.  Also, they were popular and successful.  And the design of the Vandy Tender was superior to the Standard Tender. Unless your picture is in the latest copy of Forbe's Magazine -- Richest People in the World -- the chances of you getting a REAL USRA 2-8-2 Mikado Steam Locomotive for your backyard is pretty remote.  HOWEVER... you CAN get a replica model steam train at my eBay store! And when you get this N Scale Locomotive made by Model Power, you will be appreciative of its power, smooth running and these trains are a lot of fun to watch... chugging around your railroad layout.

And lastly... Railroading is an extremely fun and relaxing hobby that allows You to "get away" and temporarily forget the pressures and concerns that bothers you during the day. And for the others, model railroading is like a mini-vacation without having to spend big bucks traveling out of town!

So take it easy... and take the train,


Be sure to check out the links below for more information on the exciting hobby of railroading...

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