Part of the first transcontinental railroad, the Southern Pacific's passage over the Sierra Nevadas, from Sparks, Nevada to Roseville, California, has always been a challenge for man and machine. Grades in both directions approximate 2.5%. Thirty-nine tunnels and nearly 40 miles of snow sheds protect the track from snowdrifts and avalanches - Sierra Nevada, after all, is Spanish for "snow covered." Seeking more muscle for this route, the SP took delivery of two Baldwin articulated 2-8-8-2s in 1909. Initial trails, however, revealed that heat and exhaust gases in the tunnels and snowsheds made life nearly unbearable for the engine crew. Although cab forwards had been tried before in Italy and northern California, legend has it the SP cab forwards were inspired by an engineer who turned a Baldwin articulated around and ran it tender-first, putting the smoke behind him so he could breathe while he did his job.
The first true Southern Pacific Cab Forwards were delivered in March of 1910 and proved so successful that the SP eventually bought 254 more in various classes. Because the firebox and tender were at opposite ends of the locomotive, the cab forwards burned oil, piped under pressure from the tender to the firebox. The cab in front gave the engineer the best forward visibility of any steam locomotive. Engine 4294, the inspiration for our RailKing replica, was the last new steam engine delivered to the Southern Pacific and is today a centerpiece display on the main floor of the California State Railroad Museum.
Last offered in 2007, the Cab Forward returns to the RailKing lineup in 2014 in Imperial dress and upgraded with Proto-Sound 3.0.