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Greased Lightning: 1924

Greased Lightning: 1924

        Our second look at this locomotive, whose cylindrical design echoes the shape of its steam-boiler brethren even though it's entirely electric.

June 1924. Washington, D.C. "Largest and most powerful electric locomotive in the world being exhibited by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway and the General Electric Co." Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Comments and corrections

By "dual electric feeds" I assume that agedooster is referring to the pantographs. This loco has two, one is raised and the other locked down. Neither pan has their contact shoes fitted.

This photo was not taken on a side trip on the loco's delivery run. The Bipolars had been in service since January 1920. By the time of this photo numerous modifications had been made to the locos in the light of operational experience. A number are visible in this and the other photo.

While nominally bidirectional, the locos were mainly run from the A end, as that cab had a kilowatt hour meter, which the fireman had to regularly take readings from. They were usually turned at Tacoma and Othello to keep the A end leading.

If they ran with the B end leading the fireman would have to walk through the centre cab to take a reading, and this meant worming his way past the train heating boiler and its water and fuel oil tanks, which occupied most of the centre cab. You can just see part of that equipment through the open window. The "exhaust stack" visible on the B end hood is a hot air vent.

As delivered the Bipolars had the air compressor, intake filter and cooling coil pipes mounted inside the hood, along with the control switchgear and regenerative braking resistances. In operation the temperature inside the hoods was so great that the compressors would fail and the electrical insulation would be damaged. So the vents were added, and the intake filter and cooling coil pipes were moved onto the outside of the hood.

Eletricity vs Steam

I find the photographs of the EP2 Locomotives very interesting, while C. M. & St. P. chose electricity for their mountain routes the Southern Pacific chose oil fired Cab Forward steam. The snow sheds and tunnels of the Sierra Nevada which lead to the Cab Forwards might well have been solved with double headed EP2's. Should the reader be interested Wikipedia has two entries, one for the EP2 and another for the bipolar electric motor.

It would appear that the cab is dual control as the drawing in the Wikipedia page shows dual electric feeds although the photos has only one.

The earliest photo shows stairs and signs labeled ENTER indicating internal access tours.

Power Contests

General Electric and the St. Paul Road, as the Milwaukee was then known, made every effort to maximize the publicity value of these centipede-like locomotives. Before delivery to the West Coast, where they would work for most of their careers, side trips such as the one shown here, and stops along the way, allowed the public to see, touch, and feel the future.

Once delivered to the Coast Division of their railroad, several events were set up to pit these mighty electrics against their biggest steam locomotives. The "white coal" locomotives won, hands down.

They Were Bi-Directional and Bi-Polar

These magnificent locomotives were called Bi-Polars, not because they were depressed but due to the design off their traction motors. They spent their lives pulling passenger trains on the western section of the Mwaukee Road's electrification. Modernized over time they lasted through the 1950's. One is preserved in the National Museum of Transport near St. Louis.

Practical Reasons for Shape

While the shape of this locomotive certainly echoes the shape of a steam engine's boiler, there were practical reasons for this shape. Many electric locomotives were "box cabs" where the locomotive was basically shaped like a rectilinear shoe box. The engineer or driver operated the loco from a little box-shaped cab at the leading end of the loco, meaning that the visibility was excellent but that the driver was right there at the business and was the first to die in the event of an accident. This locomotive's centrally located cab would have been preferred by engineers from a safety standpoint, but the sides of the loco had to be rounded in order for the engineer to see past them when the train was in motion. The driver's view would have been virtually identical to what a steam loco driver was be used to seeing, so they were comfortable with that. My guess is that these locos could run in either direction without being turned on a turntable or wye, and the engineer only had to walk a few feet to the other cab in order to reverse direction.

Small Steam Boiler

The Milwaukee Road Bipolars contained a small steam boiler for heating the passenger cars. The exhaust stack is visible on the top of the locomotive.

What's missing from this photo?

Where are the overhead electric wires that the pantograph uses to make the electrical connection. How did the train get there?

[The same way it got to Washington -- attached to another locomotive. - Dave]

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