Friday, March 18, 2011

FT 103 "The Diesel That Did It!"

September 17, 1989. General Motors, Electro Motive Division, McCook, Illinois. My late wife Patti and I flew out from Portland Oregon to attend the General Motors open house at McCook, Illinois. The occasion was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the nationwide tour of Electro Motive Corporations FT 103, the fifty-four-hundred horsepower diesel electric freight locomotive, responsible for retiring steam locomotion once and for all.

There was a certain incongruity as to what transpired in those days. Both the American Locomotive Company (ALCo) and Baldwin had been experimenting with diesels. But their long-standing culture of steam and lack of foresight resulted in EMC, soon to become Electro Motive Division, grabbing the lead in the diesel market, never to be challenged.

Building on the highly successful "E" six-axle twin-engined passenger locomotive; Dick Dilworth's entrée into the freight market was the FT 103. Built as a four unit "A-B" + "B-A" configuration, there was a drawbar joining the "A" and "B" (booster) units, with a standard coupling joining the "B's together. The letter "F" denoting "freight," and the letter "T" meaning "twenty-seven hundred horsepower." The sleek angle of the "E shovel nose" reduced to the classic "bulldog" nose.

While General Motors gathered many oldies but goodies to display at the single day event, the show was all about FT 103. What a thrill to put my hand on her bow, and recall her extraordinary demonstration 11 month run on 20 railroads, logging 83,764 miles covering 35 states!

When the idea for a 50th celebration came up, the trick was to find surviving units of the original quartet. Affectionately referred to as "The Diesel That Did It," FT 103 had long ago tied up and found a retirement home at the National Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, Missouri. While she still contained her prime mover and generator, she was not in running condition.

The booster ("B" unit) is not part of the original quartet, but from the same vintage. Southern 4103C, (built in December 1944, sn 2675,) was located awaiting restoration at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Virginia. She was in bad shape. Her side panels had to be completely replaced, having acquired a fifth porthole along the way. Her prime mover had been replaced with a steam generator and water tanks, converting her a heater car, providing heat and electricity for passenger cars, as Southern Railroad 960601.

This photo of sister, Southern Heater Car 960602, taken by Kevin Hunt, reflects the similar rusted condition 969601 was found in!

Hundreds of volunteer man-hours and loving hands restored both units for the Open House. Fortunately, there is a video record of the restoration. The DVD, produced by Mark I video, entitled "The Diesel That Revolutionized Railroading in America" is available on the Internet. I highly recommend it. In addition to a thumbnail history of First Generation diesel power, there is a very detailed section on the repainting of the units. Working from photographs, creating computer generated stencils, they managed to fit the paint pattern to within ¼" of their original placement!

Our host, Chief of Security, was stunned at the number of rail fans and others, who crowded the grounds and overwhelmed the plant tours. He said there were dozens of cars parked in the employee parking lots overnight, filled with rail fans, anxious to be the first in the gates. Estimates of about 1,000 visitors topped off at the end of at the end of the day at 30,000!

Railroad Stuff: General Motors Demonstrator FT 103, built as a two locomotive four unit A-B+B-A combined 5,400 horsepower. Following run as General Motor's demonstration tour, became Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific (CNO&TP) as follows; EMC Road Number, Serial Number, Date Built, subsequent CNO&TP number:

EMC 103, SN 1030A, 3/39, CNO&TP 6100A

EMC 103B, SN 1030B, 3/39, CNO&TP 6100B

EMC 103A, SN 1031A, 3/39, CNO&TP 6100D

EMC 103A(B), SN 1031B, 3/39, CNO&TP 6100C

Discovering conflicting information on the disposition of "103A" and "103B" following the 1989 celebration, I picked up the phone today and verified that indeed, following the Open House, both units were returned to their respective museums where they can be found today!

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