“The Southern Railway under the absolute monarchy of steam was the most pervasively beautiful carrier I have ever known,” wrote David P. Morgan, famed editor of Trains magazine. The Southern embodied the romantic vision of the South. As railway historian H. Stafford Bryant Jr. put it, “With the Southern, it was always Garden Week in Virginia, April on the Habersham Road, and the Ole Miss game at Tuscaloosa.” And the locomotive that personified Southern style was the Ps-4 Pacific.
In truth, the Ps-4 was a virtual copy of the USRA’s Heavy Pacific design, which drew heavily on the Pennsy K4s for inspiration. But two sons of Virginia, Fairfax Harrison and W. Graham Claytor Jr., made the Ps-4 a stunning corporate symbol recognized worldwide as one of the most beautiful of all American steamers.
Born of a patrician Virginia family, Fairfax Harrison was a graduate of Yale and Columbia, lawyer, historian, Latin scholar and country gentlemen who ran the Southern from the teens through most of the 1930s. On a 1925 trip to London, he was impressed by the green livery and fine lining on many British steamers, and resolved to bring that grace and beauty to his own road. Thus the next order of Ps-4’s, delivered by Alco’s Richmond Locomotive Works in 1926, arrived in Virgina green with gold lining and lettering. The new look was so successful that it was soon applied to earlier Ps-4’s and the entire passenger fleet. Because the Southern allowed crews to stay with their “own” locomotive, there was more than the usual incentive to keep the engines in sparkling condition. As David Morgan noted, “No green-and-gold Ps-4 was ever humbled by any Yankee engine she encountered in Washington or Cincinnati, and her engineers, shopmen and wipers knew it.”
Decades later, W. Graham Claytor Jr. — WWII destroyer escort captain who rescued survivors of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, Secretary of the Navy, president of the Southern from 1967-77 and later president of Amtrak — determined that the glory that was the Ps-4 would never be forgotten. While working as an outside legal counsel to the Southern in the 1950s, he convinced the railroad to pull one Ps-4 from the scrap line and donate it to the Smithsonian, where it resides today in green-and-gold glory, a reminder to future generations of the mechanical beauty that was the steam era. Claytor later described his youthful experience with the Ps-4: “Our Washington Division line is mostly straight, but is undulating throughout its length with the line rising and falling about every 3 or 4 miles like a long ocean swell. In the old days when I used to ride passenger trains to college behind Ps-4 locomotives, the standard operating procedure was to go 80-mph-plus downhill, hit the bottom at maximum speed, and crest the next hill as fast as possible, but seldom over 35 mph.”
New for 2021, we offer our Premier Ps-4 for the first time with the 8-wheel tender that trailed two-thirds of the 64 Ps-4 engines, in contrast to the more well-known 12-wheel tender. No. 1372 left Alco’s Schenectady works in 1924 and was later lettered for the Southern’s all-Pullman, extra-fare Crescent Limited service from Washington to Atlanta. No. 6476, sporting an Elesco feedwater heater between bell and stack, belonged to Southern subsidiary Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific, route of The Queen and Crescent Limited between the Cincinnati (the Queen City), and New Orleans (the Crescent City).