Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Milwaukee Road GE Motors - The "World's Mightiest!"

Milwaukee Road E32B, South Tacoma, May 29, 1960. The "World's Mightiest!" used to describe the magnificant overbuilt General Electric electric locomotives. Embraced by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific to operate in the mountains of Washington, Idaho and Montana, these growling monsters survived more than 50 years service.

In the 1950’s Laurence Wylie, Milwaukee’s Chief Electrical Engineer determined that with a modest set of upgrades, the aging EF-1 warriors could be configured to compete with Electro Motive Division. Upgrading EF-1 to Class EF-5 was completed at the Tacoma Shops between 1951 and 1961. Reclassified units were released as A-C-D-B (controls in A and B) except E22 and E32, which were numbered D-A-C-B.

(You may recall that a CMStP&P Vice President J.P. Kiley, had appointed Laurence Wylie in 1948 to oversea the dismantling of the electric trains. What followed was a classic corporate battle between Wylie and Kiley over the cost effectiveness of the electrics over the diesels!)

After putting a pencil to it, Wylie gained the upper hand - winning a battle. Under Wylie’s direction, a series of upgrades was performed on a group of General Electric Box Cabs, which included:

- Wrapping the traction motor armatures with high strength steel wire, to keep them from flying apart through centrifugal force.
- Installation of a new breed of fast reaction circuit breakers to prevent costly damage from flash over.
- Upgrading of traction motor shunts to permit an improvement in top speed.

Wrapping the job up with a fresh coat of orange and maroon paint; class EF-5.

The results were measurable. Top speed for the GE’s was increased to 45 miles per hour. Tests revealed that on a 1.7% grade, a four locomotive set, weighting in at more than a million pounds, could out perform six F-7’s or five GP-9’s. Horsepower was estimated at 6,680 continuous, and an impressive 8,200 short time rating, providing the muscle to move out on a grade.

But even as short-term battles were engaged and won, the war was slowly being lost. In the mid to late 60’s, monies were not made available to keep the electric trains running, and an insidious disease slowly spread throughout the fleet. Units were scavenged to keep healthier brothers and sisters alive, and by 1972, the last electric train operated over the Coast Division.

I am privileged to have witnessed (and ridden) these magnificent machines in their glory years, a few of which ran in continuous service for 58 years!

Railroad Stuff: Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific E32B. Built as EF-1, 10100A, January 18, 1916. Renumbered 10230A in June 1919. Renumbered 10509B in February 1936, and E32B in March 1939. Rebuilt as EF-5.

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