The 44-tonner was a workaround. In 1937, seeing that new diesels were putting the fireman’s role in jeopardy, the railroad unions negotiated the “90,000 Pound Rule” with the railroads — specifying that any engine with a weight on drivers of 90,000 pounds or more would require a two-man crew. General Electric’s 44-tonner, introduced in 1940, skirted the 90,000 pound rule and was thus the largest locomotive that could legally be operated by one person on a common carrier railroad.
But while the 44-tonner put the fireman out of work, it made the engineer’s life easier than it had been on the 0-4-0 or 0-6-0 steamer it replaced. The greenhouse-like cab in the center of the engine offered 360-degree visibility, a decided advantage in the chaos of the switch yards, industrial areas and railroad backshops where the 44-tonners usually labored. In the event of a collision, the engineer had the protection of a hood at each end of his locomotive, unlike an end-cab switcher.
Under each of those hoods throbbed a dependable 180-hp Caterpillar V-8 diesel — so dependable that many of these engines are still hauling freight or tourists today, more than seven decades after they were built. Predicting modern diesels, where the lone engineer shares his cab with a train crew that no longer has a caboose, the 44-tonner’s cab also sported a second seat for a brakeman or conductor.
Unlike most of its competitors in the small engine business, who saw their main clients as industrial plants and short lines, General Electric pursued sales with Class 1 railroads. At least 26 of them rostered 44-tonners, with the Pennsy having the largest fleet at 45 engines. The 44-tonner was also beloved by industrial roads and short lines, where it often served as mainline power on lines with prosaic names like Arcade & Attica or Dansville & Mount Morris. The engine was also popular with the U.S. military for use domestically and abroad. By the time the last of the 44-tonners was outshopped in 1956, about 386 engines were working in locales as diverse as Cuba, India and Saudi Arabia.
While our Premier model is not the first O scale 44-tonner, we believe it is the best. Die-cast metal constuction and twin vertical can motors provide extraordinary pulling power, while versatile tooling allows us to produce early Phase 1c and later Phase 3 body styles in exact 1:48 scale, with correct scale-width hoods. Proto-Sound 3.0 provides sounds recorded from a 44-tonner running today, the ability to throttle down as slow as 3 scale miles per hour, and a “lash-up” feature that allows you to operate the 44-tonner as a shop switcher moving around steam engines or diesels many times its size.
Learn how the sounds for this engine were recorded, in this article from a recent MTHRRC club newsletter. Click HERE to read the article.