The Diesel-electric Explosion and the end of Steam

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The Diesel Electric Explosion and the Beginning of the End for Steam
During the three decades from 1930 through 1960 we witnessed a sea change in the way passengers and freight trains would be powered in America. I call this the "diesel electric explosion".
The Early Diesel Years 1905-1930
Before the advent of internal combustion power and electrical transmission on rail cars and passenger trains the steam locomotives were in their glory years. When needed, they could also provide some very fast running. Our best knowledge of the highest speed attained by a steam hauled train was the "Pennsylvania Special" on the Pennsy Chicago-Fort Wayne-Crestline race track, back in June 14, 1905, where it was timed over a three mile stretch at 127.2 miles per hour.
Pennsylvania E6s Atlantic
Pennsylvania E6s Atlantic 4-4-2
The motive power on this run was an E7sa 4-4-2 Atlantic steam locomotive similar to the one shown here.
Internal combustion-electric motive power on American railroads was not a new thing when the diesel-electric explosion took place. Gas-mechanical powered rail cars were produced as early as 1905 by McKeen. In fact in 1905 the International Power Co., using an Alco box cab car body, built an experimental diesel-electric rail car for the Southern Pacific, with 2 Corliss diesels and GE electrics. GE built gas-electric cars from 1906, in 1914 a gas-electric plant switcher and from 1917 through the early thirties, box cab diesel-electrics. Box cabs, doodlebugs and early switcher diesel-electrics were beginning to arrive. Westinghouse, Alco/GE/IR, EME and Baldwin were all participating. The products were primarily used on branch line service to replace unprofitable steam mail, express and local passenger runs, or used in yard or local switching roles, with a few exceptions.
In 1925 the Canadian National built a rail car, using a Beardmore 185 hp diesel engine, with GE and Westinghouse electrics and ran it all the way across Canada from Montreal to Vancouver without major delays. It was a locally popular event, but did not stir the diesel-electric juices much.
1925 - Class 1 Locomotive Count - 1 Diesel, 63,612 Steam
In 1929 the Canadian Locomotive Company built a two unit diesel-electric locomotive with twin 1330 hp Beardmore engines and Westinghouse electrics. It was placed on the front of the CN's International Limited, and was the first large diesel-electric passenger locomotive. There was not a lot of fanfare and the diesel-electric pot still needed some stirring.
One of the rail car manufacturers was the Electro-Motive Engineering Company started by H.L. Hamilton back in 1922. In 1923 EME built 2 gas-electric powered passenger rail cars, one for the Northern Pacific and one for the Chicago Great Western. By 1925 the company had expanded, changed its name to Elecro-Motive Company and produced 27 rail cars. By 1930 EMC had engineered and marketed 700 rail cars assembled by various manufacturers, including many by the St. Louis Car Company.
But EMC was thinking beyond the box and was planning how to really regenerate the locomotive business by wholesale replacement of steam locomotives with diesel-electric power.
1930 - Class 1 Locomotive count - 74 diesel 55,875 steam
The Early 1930's
Back in the early 30's railroads were content to run fine steam trains with heavyweight steel cars, nice Pullman open end observation cars, diners, sleepers, lounges, and reclining seat coaches on l eisurely schedules. The railroads were starting to air-condition their name trains. Auto road and airplane competition in long distance travel was only beginning to make an impact. Ford tri-motor, and other early airplanes carried a few people, and roads were, by current standards, very narrow and slow. A couple of examples, of train times, will illustrate the modest pace: The crack Chicago-New York trains, the Twentieth Century (NYC) and the Broadway Limited (Penn) were on 20 hour schedules. To get to Denver from Chicago, on the CNW/UP or the Q would cost you 27:35 of travel time.
After the stock market collapse of 1929 and the depression that followed, the railroads began to see a larger decrease in passenger and freight traffic and revenues. They began to look harder at ways to reverse this trend. Into this brew came companies like EMC, as well as pioneers like Charles T. Ripley of the Santa Fe. In 1931 and 1932 EMC's engineer Dick Dillworth and Ripley were working with Pullman Standard to build an experimental articulated railcar using a Winton engine. Although it was not too successful it did inspire Dillworth and EMC and the Santa Fe with the idea that internal combustion electric power units were possible for pulling trains, at that time, passenger trains.
1930 - Class 1 Locomotive count - 74 diesel 55,875 steam
The First Two Train Sets-The Fire is Lit
About 1930 General Motors, looking for a diesel engine, bought the Winton Engine Company, and then, looking ahead, bought, Winton's best customer, EMC. Winton produced internal combustion engines including light weight to horsepower engines which were small enough and light enough to fit in a lightweight car body. EMC, seeing the opportunity that GM and Winton offered, participated in the engineering, marketing and construction of streamlined power train sets, in conjunction with the Burlington Railroad and Budd Car Company, and with the UP Railroad and Pullman Standard Car Company.
1934 - The Union Pacific had contracted with Pullman Standard to build a lightweight streamlined train set with a GM/Winton engine and GE generator, traction motors and controls. GM/EMC supervise the installation of the engine, a Winton 191A spark ignition distillate engine of 600 hp.
In Feb 1934 this three car articulated train set was introduced and then barnstormed the US for 13,000 miles before being placed into service as the City of Salina. It was the first internal combustion lightweight streamlined train set in the US, and shared, with it's Zephyr contemporaries in sparking the diesel-electric revolution.
1934 - In April the Burlington introduced the Pioneer Zephyr, a shovel nosed streamlined coach train with lightweight stainless steel Budd built cars and a GM-Winton 201A 600hp diesel engine for power to General Electric DC generator and traction motors on the locomotive front swivel truck. Again, EMC was a major participant. In May, this 3 car diesel-electric powered coach train set a speed record from Chicago to Denver, making the run in 13:05 for an average speed of 79 mph. The Zephyr was the first true diesel-electric lightweight streamlined train set in the U.S.
Union Pacific M10000
Pioneer Zephyr
A Century of Progress
Steam locomotive power had been around for just about a century when, in 1933, the Chicago lakefront was host to the Worlds Fair, Its motto was "A Century of Progress". It was so popular that it extended into 1934.
One of the primary attractions, at the fair, was the Railroad exhibit, which chronicled the century of progress in railroads and the steam locomotive. .
After its dash from Denver to Chicago the Pioneer Zephyr went on display at the Railroad exhibit and was an immediate success. Following its stay at the fair, the Zephyr went on a nationwide tour. In November the "Pioneer Zephyr" went into revenue service from Omaha to Kansas City.
Now the race to dieselize passenger service was heating up.
The Early Articulates
The earliest lightweight high speed streamlined passenger trains were actually inseparable articulated train sets with each successive car, including the power car, sharing a common truck. The key railroads were the Union Pacific, Burlington, Illinois Central, Boston and Maine/Maine Central, and the New Haven.
1934 - The UP "City of Salina", M10000, and the Burlington "Pioneer Zephyr", were demonstrated in February and April of 1934, respectively.
1934 - In October 1934 the UP inaugurated the M10001 a 6 car articulated turret nosed Pullman Standard built train, with a 900hp Winton diesel engine and GE electrics on the second City train, the "City of Denver". Chicago to Demver time was now 16:00 hours.
1935 - In Feb. 1935 a clone of the Zephyr, the "Flying Yankee" was delivered to the Boston and Maine/Maine Central.
1935 - In April of 1935 the Burlington took delivery of two more Zephyr train sets to be placed in service on the Chicago-Minneapolis run in 1936.
1935 - In June the UP placed M10002 turret nose P/S built into service as the "City of Portland". It reduced the Chicago-Portland run time from 58 to 40 hours.
1935 - In June the New Haven placed in service the "Comet" a three car double ended articulated streamlined train in operation between Boston and Providence. The train was built by Goodyear-Zeppelin Corp. of Akron, Ohio. Two 60hp Westinghouse diesel engines were placed one on each end. This design was never repeated.
1935 - Class 1 Locomotive count - 113 diesel 45,614 steam
1936 - Illinois Central "Green Diamond" on fast (4:55 hour) Chicago- St. Louis run is the last Turret nosed articulate. Chicago-St. Louis time cut to 4:55 hours.
1936 - Burlington introduces 4th shovel nose Budd built Zephyr, the "Denver Zephyr", cutting the time from Chicago to Denver to 16:00 hours.
1936 - In May, June and July the UP introduces 4 more P/S built articulated train sets: two for "City of Denver" and one each for "City of Los Angeles" and "City of San Francisco"
1937 - "Mark Twain" Zephyr on "Q".
1937 - Burlington receives more Zephyr train sets.
The Rush to Diesel-Electric Locomotives
While some railroads thought the idea of diesel-electric passenger or freight locomotives replacing steam was premature, and hung on to steam power for 20 or more years longer, the inevitable was on the way.
It was also apparent to many, including GM and EMC that separate locomotives would provide greater flexibility and performance.
1935 - The Alton, knowing the IC had ordered a lightweight diesel-electric articulated train for it's Chicago-St. Louis run, obtained an 8 car train set and 4-4-4 steam locomotive from it's parent B&O and named it the "Abraham Lincoln" (Chicago to St. Louis).
1935 - EMC builds several Blunt Nosed diesel-electric locomotives, 511 & 512, for the heavy weight Santa Fe "Super Chief" all-Pullman train, and for the B&O for service on the East coast corridor. The units were built at GE"s Erie plant.
1935 - EMC switchers built at GE Erie plant.
1935 - GM builds 200,000ft2 diesel-electric locomotive manufacturing plant at McCook (La Grange) Illinois, near Chicago, and EMC becomes GM/Electro-Motive Division (EMD).
1936 - In May the Santa Fe "Super Chief" begins Chicago to Los Angeles runs with the EMC GE built box cab diesels.
1936 - EMD new plant builds 1st unit, a switcher.
1936 - The Alton, to compete with IC, obtains a Box cab diesel-electric from it's parent, the B&O, for Abraham Lincoln, replacing its steam power.
1936 - The Alton gets second 8 car train set and new 4-6-2 steam locomotive, from B&O, for new "Ann Rutledge" streamliner (Chicago to St. Louis).
1937 - The Alton gets more box cab diesel-electrics from B&O for Ann Rutledge and mail train.
1937 - EMD builds 6-TA Winton powered light passenger locomotives for Rock Island.
1937-1938 - EMD builds 6-EA & 6-EB 1200hp Winton powered units for B&O's "Capitol Limited"
1937-1938 - EMD builds 8-E1A & 3-E1B 1800hp Winton powered units for Santa Fe "Super Chief" and the new all-coach train "El Capitan". An E1A is also placed in service on a Budd built streamliner the "San Diegan" running from Los Angeles to San Diego with two round trips daily.
1937 - EMD builds E2 2-ABB 1800hp Winton powered 3 unit sets on CNW/UP/SP "Cities of LA and SF"
1938 - EMD introduces its new 567 engine and electrical equipment (patterned after GE).
1938-39 - EMD E4s 2000hp 567x2 engines for SAL "Silver" trains. 14A & 5B. "Silver Meteor" and "Silver Star" with lightweight Budd built cars replace "Orange Blossom Special", the famous heavyweight luxury steam train on New York-Florida runs.
1939-40 - EMD run of E3's 567x2 2000hp 17A & 2B units. ACL, KCS, and CNW are buyers.
1939 - CNW now has EMD E3 units on the "400" run Chicago to Minneapolis, to compete with "Q".
1939 - EMD introduced the FT bulldog nosed cab and booster units for freight service. A four unit ABBA consist is an instant hit as it barnstorms the country.
1939-45 - 1086 FT units produced. The beginning of the end of steam freight.
1939-42 - EMD E6 production run 117 units 2000hp. L&N, Rock Island and IC are among buyers.
1939 - In December Alco introduces its DL109 2000hp passenger locomotive.
1939-45 - 78 Alco DL109s produced. Most of them go to the New Haven.
1940 - Illinois Central "City of Miami", run in conjunction with Central of Georgia, Atlantic Coast Line and Florida East Coast runs all the way with E6 EMD powered IC units.
1940 - Chicago-Denver now 16 hours on Q and CNW/UP with diesel power.
1940-41 - EMD E5's, stainless steel car bodies, 2000hp 567x2, for Burlington 11A's & 5B's to upgrade Zephyr fleet.
1940 - Class 1 Locomotive count - 797 diesel 40,041 steam
1941 - Alco DL109's are on Afternoon Hiawatha (Milw).
1942 - IC Panama Limited is last new streamlined train before end of WW2.
1945-49 - EMD E7 passenger locomotive run 428A 82B 2000hp.
1949-53 - EMD E8 passenger locomotive run 421A 39S 2250hp.
Freight loco

Alco DL109
Alco DL109
Passenger loco.

Passenger Loco
Streamlined Steam running against the Tide
1936 - The North Western (C&NW) counters the Q with "400" chicago-Minneapolis behind class E2 Pacifics.
1936 - The Milwaukee Road streamlines class A Atlantics begin "Hiawatha" Chicago-Minneapolis runs to compete with Q and C&NW.
1938 - Hiawatha's now behind F7 Hudson steam.
1938 - Pennsylvania streamlines K4s's for the Broadway Limited.
1938 - EMD E units invade "400" territory on the CNW.
1939-49 - Pennsy builds and operates S1 6-4-4-6 duplex streamlined steam, on lines west, in attempt to replace K4ss with bigger steam. Retired in 1949.
1940 - Pennsylvania "Broadway Limited" and New York Central "20th Century Limited" both streamlined steam and on 16 hour schedules Chicago to New York.

4-4-2 Atlantic
Milwaukee Class A 4-4-2 Atlantic
with Hiawatha, Red Wing Minn.
Aug 4, 1937

1940 - Florida trains originating on C&EI and Pennsylvania, and utilizing L&N, NC&StL, and AB&C, all operate with streamlined pacific (4-6-2) head end power.
1941 - Big Four (NYC) "James Whitcomb Riley" behind a streamlined Niagara steam.
1941 - Alco DL109 diesels show up on the "Afternoon Hiawatha" (Milwaukee Road).
1942 - Pennsy builds 2 T1 4-4-4-4 duplex streamlined steam locomotives, an upgrade from the S1 duplex.
1944-50 - Pennsy builds, tests and operates a streamlined steam turbine, the S2 6-8-6 locomotive. It was abandoned with diesels of 1950 taking over.
1945-46 - Pennsy builds 25 and Baldwin builds, for Pennsy, 23 T1's streamlined steam locomotives. They were all retired after the passenger fleet went diesel in the early 50's.
1945 - Class 1 locomotive count 3816 diesel 38,853 steam
1948 - Alco abandons steam.
1949 - Baldwin abandons steam.
1949 - Last commercial steam built; 10 Berkshires by Lima for NKP.
1950 - Class 1 Locomotive count 14,047 diesel 25.640 steam
1951 - N&W builds last steam locomotive at Roanoke.
1951 - Last Lima (Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton) locomotive produced; a center cab diesel for Lehigh Valley.
1954 - N&W "John Henry" steam turbine-electric a failure,
The End is Near - When did they dieselize?
1951 - Lehigh Valley first eastern road dieselized.
1951 - Texas and Pacific first SW road dieselized.
1953 - Southern Railway is dieselized.
1955 - Traffic surge brings back a few steam locomotives on Santa Fe, C&O, Milwaukee and Soo Line.
1955 - N&W receives a few diesels but sticks with steam.
1955 - Class 1 Locomotive count - 24.786 diesel, 5,982 steam
1958 - B&O and NP dieselized.
1958 - Last revenue steam run on NKP.
1959 - NKP and UP dieselized.
1960 - CN, CP, DM&IR, GTW, IC and N&W all dieselized.
1960 - Class 1 Locomotive count 28,278 diesel 261 steam
What took over 100 years to build, the dynasty of the steam locomotive in America, took a mere 26 years to bring down. This was the "Diesel-electric Explosion".

Our Sources
Private Collection of Richard R. Parks(rp)
Wikipedia the free Encyclopedia [web](wik)
Official Guide- April 1940
Diesel Victory-Kalmbach Publishing Co.-2008(dvk)
Encyclopedia of North American Railroads-Aaron E. Klein (aek)
The Encyclopedia of Trains and Locomotives -C.J.Riley(cr)
The Trains We Rode-Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg(bc)
Americas Colorful Railroads-Don Ball Jr.(dbj)
Pennsy Steam A to T - Paul Carleton (pc)
Diesels West-David P.Morgan-Kalmbach-1963(dpm) Classic Trains-Kalmbach Publishing Co.Fall-07
Classic Trains-Kalmbach Publishing Co.Summer-06
Classic Trains-Kalmbach Publishing Co.Summer-08
Classic Trains-Kalmbach Publishing Co.Fall-04
Trains-Kalmbach Publishing Co. August-04
To contact our contributors please make a request by Email to: Richard Parks


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Copyright Richard Parks, April 24, 2009