The folklore behind the Prairie name is rather interesting. When the Burlington Route purchased this style of locomotive, their plan was to run these steamers through the farms and fields of the Midwestern prairies – thus 2-6-2’s were dubbed "Prairies." While over 1,000 of these locomotives were built for several railroads, most larger railroads shied away from them due to early balancing issues – plus the fact the 2-8-0 Consolidations were more reliable and powerful for main line service. Although Prairies were initially successful in the late 1890s, whinin a few years -- generally by 1915 -- the slightly larger 2-8-2 Mikado’s began to replace Prairie locomotives.
In the world of Lionel, the Prairie name started in the prewar era with the 224 and 1666 steam locomotives, both having a 2-6-2 wheel arrangement. When Lionel began producing postwar era trains, the body or shell design of the 224 / 1666 was dubbed a Prairie. Pre-1949 models continued to use the 2-6-2 wheel arrangement, but from 1950 through 1969, all Prairies carried the 2-6-4 wheel arrangement solely because the body design remained largely unchanged from the prewar 224 / 1666.