Thursday, May 21, 2009

Milwaukee Hi Jinks!

Port Townsend, today. There is something grotesque about staging a wreck of any kind for “entertainment.” The promoters of yesteryear pushed the envelope of insalubrious exhibitions, staging head-on collisions between two locomotives. These so-called “cornfield meets” had unpredictable results, with spectators ducking whizzing rivets and skewered with red hot metal.

Nevertheless, there were other non-destructive shows staged to draw crowds to special events. And the humble Milwaukee Road was not immune from such high jinks!

On March 6, 1920, a well-orchestrated ceremony was held, celebrating the opening of the Pacific Coast Division electrification. Milwaukee assembled a gaggle of brass from the head office and did publicity stunt down in Kent, Washington, designed to draw crowds and show off the new powerful bipolar electric, shortly before her inaugural passenger run.

Following the obligatory photo opportunities and speech making, Bipolar 10254 and Class N1 mallet 9520, a 2-6-6-2 were rolled out for a pushing contest. Drawbars would never have withstood the forces of a tug-o-war.

The bipolars glued twelve 370 horsepower traction motors to the rails, exerting 116,000 ft/lbs tractive effort. The N2 Class, built by ALCo to haul passenger trains over the Cascades during the switchback days before the Cascade tunnel was completed. They were rated a 70,396 ft/lbs tractive effort.

Those “in the know” knew the outcome before hand, but it was great show for the audience, with horns blaring, steam chests spewing clouds of steam, a heady smoke cloud shooting skyward from the stack. But despite the electrical humming and the steamer huffing and chuffing, the contest was one sided.

After the initial give and take between locomotives to fire up the audience, the bi-polar got serious, creeping the resisting mallet backwards until she lost traction, spinning out with the resultant staccato report from the stack.

Written with the usual flair of honest to god newspaper writers of days gone by, the Seattle Times headline declared, "Mastodon Veterans of Rails Giving way to New King, History is Made in Strength Test." The story related, "The mightiest of Steam locomotives met in contest with one of the new electric locomotives just installed by the Milwaukee Railway, and went down to defeat."

From what I have read, the bi-polar’s were hot. Used on the signature “Olympian,” road crews were admonished not to send passengers tumbling to the rear of the passenger cars when departing from the station!

1 Comments - Click here:

LinesWest said...

I've never seen a real Bi-Polar, but my goodness they are a fascinating machine. The "contest" reveals how much railways were in the public's eye so many years ago, but have fallen into the background in more recent years. When was the last time a railroad showed off its "best" to the public, or reached out in general? When was the last time the public got anything more than irritated that they had to wait for a train at a crossing somewhere in town? Different times.

Thanks for the post Robert,

Post a Comment

"Comment" is for sharing information related to this article. "Anonymous" comments are not published.