While heading back to Colorado from Glacier National Park a few years ago, we stumbled through Harlowton and were quite surprised to see this locomotive parked literally at the curbside. Of course we stopped for a closer look…
After reading the large plaque, it appears that this is the last of the original 84 built by General Electric in 1915 and was run on the Milwaukee Road line between Harlowton, MT and Avery, ID. This particular engine, along with another (the E34C), was still in use the day that electrification was turned off on the line, June 15, 1974. After that, the E57B was donated to Harlowton where it now sits in a small park at the side of the main road with a bench for your viewing pleasure.
GE still makes electric locomotives — diesel-electric. Is that like a really big Prius?
More like a big Volt.
It’s taking things a bit off topic but the latest thing in diesel electric locos is the genset switcher. These use several small diesel generator units in place of the usual single large unit and engines are switched on depending on load, from a single unit for light engine moves to 3 or 4 for mid size moves and a full complement for a heavy load.
So it’s like a Volt with a V8/6/4 😀
Nope, no batteries. A diesel locomotive just has an electric transmission. The diesel engine drives a generator which drives a motor. Why? Mainly for the electric motor’s massive torque at zero rpm. Just imagine slipping a clutch to start a 100-car freight train moving. Plus dynamic braking, and lots more benefits with today’s electronic controls. But no energy is stored, which is the main characteristic of a hybrid.
There are a few hybrid locomotives emerging. It’s good for a switcher, which does lots of starting and stopping. Railpower’s built over 100 Green Goats so far, mainly for Union Pacific.
True, no batteries, but the engine to electric motor connection is more like a Volt than a Prius.
They use Hybrid Switchers on Terminal Island (the port between Long Beach and San Pedro). I’ll try to get a picture of one the next time I run over to the Junk Yard in Wilmington.
General Electric did come out with a Diesel Electric with hybrid technology in their popular Evolution Series freight locomotive, back in 2010, I believe. It was a traditional diesel electric locomotive with a storage bank of batteries that stored electricity with the engine went into dynamic breaking. This enabled up to 2000 additional horsepower driven to the traction motors when required.
A check on GE Transportation Systems website shows the hybrid is not in their current locomotive catalog. The new technology now is Duel Fuel Systems, a “Flex Fuel” set up that allows use of diesel fuel or natural gas, which appears to be the alternative energy flavor of the moment.
Much more interesting discussion than my offhand remark expected. Thanks for the great info, guys!
As an aside, my Uncle David retired as an Engineer for SantaFe (late 40s through the 60’s). People would ask his occupation. He’d say, “Engineer”. They’d ask, “what kind” (i.e. electirical, mechanical). He’d smile and say, “Woo Woo”. They’d stare and just walk away 😛
No batteries other than a big battery for starting the diesel motor.
The Prius has a conventional hydraulic-mechanical transmission and an electric traction motor.
Diesel-electric locomotives have only an electric transmission. The diesel motor crankshaft turns a big generator which supplies electricity to the traction motors which are mounted on the trucks and drive the axles through huge gears.
1915 to 1974 is a very impressive working record. I wonder if it started pink or was red that faded to pink.
Faded. Their colors were more dark red / orange combo.
Google Image Search Link
From what I understand there are volunteers in town that repaint it every five years or so. I believe I caught it towards the end of the cycle.
Yeah, the Milwaukee used a kind of autumn oak leaf orange.
Trains moving down grade pumping their dynamic braking power into the catenary rather than wasting it as heat – helping other trains climb grades….elegant.
Short-sighted move taking down the electrified mainline. But the folks that did it made money in the short term selling the copper – and that was all they were interested in: short term.
The Virginian used a similar system, but dropped electric operation in the 60s. What’s even odder is that the Virginian went diesel a few years after buying a fleet of advanced ignitron controlled locomotives from GE. Fortunately these locos went to the New Haven line and served until 1981.
The Virginian got brought out by the N&W and they ended electric operations soon afterwards.
It is elegant, cheaper too. Electric railroads will return to North America sooner or later.
As I understand it electric is only efficient on heavily used routes due to the much higher cost of infrastructure. I don’t know actual costs though.
Electric infrastructure costs up front but with a little maintenance it lasts a very long time. The Milwaukee Road started electrification in 1916, finished in 1927, but by 1925 the savings over steam had already saved them half what it cost to put in. (Link)
Electrification made a lot sense over steam in that part of the country. Most of Montana is very arid and fresh water was not always plentiful. Living a few blocks from the formerly electrified line, I wish they would have kept it that way. It’s common to see trains come through with up to 7 locomotives for the push over the continental divide, and those things can get stinky when there is a temperature inversion.
The Milwaukee Road (Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific) really had no choice but to ditch electrification. It was the last railroad to be built across the northern USA…that was when “and Pacific” was added to its name…and the other lines, Great Northern and Northern Pacific had the best routes through the more populated areas. The Milwaukee’s timing was bad; the Pacific Extension was completed in 1909, the business boom to the Pacific Northwest ended in 1910; the Milwaukee installed electrification at great expense in 1912, and the Panama Canal opened in 1914, the decreased traffic hurting the Milwaukee the most of the three railroads because it had the worst route. It is doubtful whether the Milwaukee Road’s Pacific Extension actually made a profit over all the decades it operated. By the 1970s the electrification was worn out, its equipment obsolete, and much capital would have to be spent to bring it up to reliable operation, much less contemporary engineering standards. It was shut down in 1974.
Back then there was no Obama to spread around free Federal largesse for “green” projects…much less to PRIVATE enterprises such as railroads. HORRORS!
It wasn’t that long after the electric operation ended that the Milwaukee Road went bankrupt and the Pacific Extension was torn up.
This was one of the original locomotives for the electrification. By the end of World War II they were worn out and Milwaukee Road would have quit electric operation sooner, but for a dozen even bigger electrics built by General Electric for the Soviet Union. But the ruthless dictator Joseph Stalin continued his bloody rampages in the USSR and Eastern Europe, and the sale was halted by a trade embargo. The Milwaukee bought them, and had their wheels regauged to the American standard. They were called “Little Joes,” for Joe Stalin.
When dynamic braking sends current back into the catenary wire it is called “regenerative” braking. If there is no other electric locomotive using the power it is wasted in giant electric resistance grids – electric heaters – on racks at the substations. Many of these substation buildings are still along the Milwaukee. The resistance grid racks are alongside. All of the electrical equipment was removed and scrapped or used somewhere else.
The 3,000 volts DC was very inefficient by later standards. Electricity costs and maintenance of the specialized equipment increased until diesel-electric locomotives were cheaper to operate. Much of the electric equipment was very worn besides being obsolete and was due to be replaced.
That the Milwaukee Road had two electrified sections separated by 216 miles didn’t help a bit.
Amazing how much more advanced the electrified railroad was in 1915 compared to IC road vehicles. Hard to imagine any truck made in 1915 still at work in 1974.
When did America stop using steam railways?
I think the stragglers were gone by the 50s, but there are undoubtedly some Railway enthusiasts who can tell us exactly, along with the line and the specific locomotive. A quick look tells me that the last long haul ran from Fort Wayne, IN to Chicago in 1958, and the Grand Trunk pulled its last steam unit out of local service in 1960. I had not realized that it was that late.
We still had steam til 68.My brother’s a steam railway enthusiast and more into it than me.I started looking at old railway photos when studying local history.Thanks JP
Steam was gone from the major US roads in 1960. Norfolk & Western is generally accepted as the last to run. Some lines, such as the Union Pacific, stored some steam in operable condition into the early-1960s, in case of traffic spikes, but the last of those was in 1959. Union Pacific also never struck its 4-8-4 number 844 from the active roster, meaning it’s the only steam locomotive that’s been in continuous service to today.
Short lines used steam longer. There’s a list of late steam runs at the link below, including one short line that used steam into the 1980s, as well as runs where tourist engines were pressed into use for freight – most impressive is UP 3985, a 4-6-6-4 Challenger and the largest operating steam locomotive in the world, pulling a double stack container train:
Locally, the Indiana Transportation Museum is restoring a Baldwin Light Mikado (2-8-2) built in 1918 and known as Nickel Plate 587. It went out of service for the Nickel Plate Road in 1955. After a restoration in the late 80s, it went back into limited excursion service but failed a Federal boiler inspection a number of years ago and has been undergoing an extensive refit of boiler tubes and such. Slow going with volunteers and donations, but they keep working on it. Quite a bit smaller than the one you reference, there is more about it here. https://itm.org/nkp587.php.
That’s not an easy question to answer as US railroads were independent of each other and had their own dieselization schedule.
However, the first US railroad to completely dieselize was the Southern Railway which ran from its headquarters in Washington, DC as far west as New Orleans. The last Southern steam locomotive ended its run in Chattanooga, TN on June 17, 1953.
I married into a Southern family. My wife’s father spent his working career at the Southern, and her uncle was the Asst CMO. It was his job to convert the Southern from steam to diesel-electric. Many of the steam engines that were cut up for scrap had been purchased new during WWII, but the writing was on the wall. Diesels required so much less maintenance that the conversion had a major ripple effect on the system, from having locomotive maintenance sheds every 100 miles, to eventually only having regional shops. I could be wrong, but I think that Chattanooga is the only remaining locomotive shop of what was once the Southern (its now the Norfolk Southern Railway).
One of the bennies that my wife’s family got from her uncle was a brass bell from one of the steam locomotives. Traditionally, her family would ring it to usher in the New Year. The bell is now in the entryway of our house and we have continued that New Year’s tradition. The bell is about 32″ tall and weighs about 400 lbs.
Thanks Kevin,while not as keen as my brother there is something about steam and early diesel and electric trains that’s fascinating.
Ringing in the New Year is a very fine tradition. But our bell is about 100 times smaller than yours. That must sound magnificent.
Steam railroading is wonderful, I love it, but like you said it’s extremely labor-intensive. Dangerous too, at least the way they used to do it. In 19th century America labor (and life itself) was cheap.
The labor RR mortality rate in the late 1800s was truly appalling. But hey, they were Irish so it really didn’t matter. Can you imagine, as a brakeman, having to run along the roofs of cars to manually set the brakes, and then reverse the process to release them? Bad enough in good weather, but on an icy dark night?
Before the Commentariate gets their knickers in a knot, study a bit of history. In 1848-51, when New Orleans was in the midst of a malaria epidemic, who do you think drained the swamps that were the breeding grounds for mosquitoes? You couldn’t use blacks because they were real property, i.e., expensive, and not to be endangered. But there was another ship arriving daily from England or Ireland full of illiterate famine Micks who were more than happy to do the dirty work. They died like flies, but there were always more from where they came from. The railroads weren’t much different and there were a ton of Irish that worked there too. Not a judgement, just a reflection on a different time and place.
Kevin, before the railroads, were the canals. Here in NJ, where I live, the Delaware and Raritan canal was dug by hand by Irish workers, from Lock 1 at Bordentown, New Jersey up to the Raritan RIver. In many portions of the canal, the stone work they laid to buttress the canal banks are still in place. Across the Delaware, the Pennsylvania/Delaware Canal and Lehigh Canal brought coal from the North East PA coal fields down to Philadelphia by mule drawn barges. The Delaware and Hudson Canal is another canal dug out by hand by Irish laborers. It was a hard life in the new world, very hard.
This country owes a great debt to those hardworking folks, many buried in unmarked graves along the canals, as they fell ill from their labors and died.
WWII gave steam a short reprieve, as the EMD FT demos went out in ’39, and the railroads discovered how cheap their maintenance costs were compared to steam locos. The costs to keep a steam loco going are huge. The water corrodes stuff, coal is dirty and the ashes have to be taken care of. If it’s an oil burner, it has it’s own issues with maintenance, and diesels were much cheaper to run, even if you factor in that some RRs had sources for almost free fuel (coal). the RRs weren’t doing well both before and after the war, partially due to their own bad management, but mostly due to insane over regulation going back to Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency. It took the collapse in the 70’s to finally get the railroads a break. Since then they’ve done very well.
The DM&IR, a coal hauling railroad with some of its own mines, last operated a 2-8-8-4 on July 5, 1960. – trainorders.com
Edgemoor & Manetta 0-4-0T ran on a textile company-owned common carrier shortline in the Carolinas until 1972. The E&M loco is commonly acknowledged to be the very last US steamer in regular common carrier freight service.
The FRA boiler inspector that came to inspect the boiler of 2-8-0 #17 in July, 1985 told me the Crab Orchard & Egyptian Railroad WAS the LAST freight railroad to use steam power according to his employer.
The COER last ran steam power on its freight trains September 8, 1986 when the drypipe collapsed while pulling a coal train.
N&W used to mark its last regular revenue steam operation as in early April of 1960. – railroad.net
On occasion the Union Pacific RR runs its 4-8-4 #844 and 4-8-8-4 #4014 in revenue freight service.
The Milwaukee Road was a fascinating railroad. They were the last major transcontinental line from the Chicago hub to the west coast. In so being the last, they had the steepest grades to contend with. Because of that, they are no longer with us, while Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe continue to ride the rails through the Continental Divide as laid out by their original owners. It must have been quite a sight to see this line in action.
Today, some of the old Milwaukee Road is preserved through the creation of one of the world;s most scenic rails to trails project: The Hiawatha Trail. Here’s a link to this bike trail that rides the roadbed, bridges and tunnels that this great Milwaukee Road electric locomotive used to battle, day in and day out: http://www.ridethehiawatha.com/
Without having to cover the atrocities visited on the Irish and other newcomers to the country in the 19th century, including the building of canals and the railroad infrastructure, suffice it to say that life was no bowl of cherries. My Irish (Martins) came to Lowell, MA by 1840 and partook in the birth of the American industrial revolution. But they were literate and skilled tradesmen, quite unlike those that came during the famine. Nonetheless one of my great-grandfathers (Sullivan) was killed in a quarry accident. No insurance, no nothin. His daughter, my grandmother, began work in Lowell’s textile mills when she was eight. Never learned how to read real good. But that’s just the way it was.
My Irish relations, Gallaghers mostly, worked for the Burlington and it’s ancestor roads until my great grandfather’s kids decided that they wanted to keep their fingers, arms, and legs, etc. And they wanted to drink. A lot. Ironically, great grandpa died at a ripe old 87, while both his sons were gone, from drinking, smoking, eating way too much, and breathing paint fumes (one was a painter) by 45 and 50, the one that went at 45 died a horrible death from mouth cancer. I think he was lucky in a way, his wife was one of the most vile people I’ve ever met. She made it to 92. My grandmother didn’t drink, her brother’s drunken antics (They were very mean drunks) turned her off to that, but she smoked 2+ packs a day, and ate a lot of bad stuff, so she was gone at 61. My mom made it to 87.
I thought this looked familiar. I passed by this very locomotive last year on the drive to Lewistown, MT. Beautiful machine surrounded by beautiful countryside.
In case anyone’s still misled by the headline, pure electric locomotives are alive and well, used on every modern high speed rail line and on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (which is somewhat modern and fast). Only electric power is used at NYC’s rail stations, which hide the trains under street level.
Maybe the headline should be revised. How about, “How about that, a Pink Locomotive!”
Yeah, I’m aware of that, but it refers to “The Last Electric Locomotive” of this line and company and the last of this version of locomotive built by GE in 1915. I didn’t make the headline up, I took it from the large sign affixed at the site.
This I like. The St. Louis National Museum of Transport has one of the other types shown below. A massive, bi-directional machine in three sections!
I’ve seen both the locomotive pictured above as well as the one in Harlowtown in person – I have that exact same picture of the sign there as well!
There are still a couple of the brick transformer buildings standing along the old rail grade (can’t remember exactly where now, but google is your friend).