Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Steam Turbines In Service On The GN

The below is courtesy of Don Strack.

For two one-month periods in 1939, UP operated a two-unit, 5,000-horsepower steam turbine-electric locomotive built by General Electric. It was completed in December 1938 and delivered to UP at Omaha, Nebraska on April 3, 1939.

UP’s Steam Turbine Electric locomotives.

The locomotives were returned to General Electric on June 17, 1939. Representatives from both UP and GE continued to work at improving the units’ reliability, with cold-weather tests taking place on New York Central. A February 1941 report by a UP staff engineer was positive in its contents, but by the end of 1941, it was obvious to UP that the design was not what it wanted. On December 18, 1941, UP President William Jeffers notified GE that the railroad had no further interest in the project. After UP pulled out of the project, the units were repainted dark gray and renumbered to GE 1 and 2. During 1943, they were leased to Great Northern Railway for nearly a year for wartime short-haul freight service in Washington, performing without major failure. By late 1943, they were returned to GE and retired.

In a letter to the editor in the May 1970 issue of Railroad magazine, an old General Electric locomotive man, Forman H. Craton of Erie, Pennsylvania wrote:

    On May 10, 1943, when I was working on industrial locomotive sales out of Erie, I rode the steam turbine-electric which had been delivered to the Union Pacific in 1938, between Spokane and Wenatchee on the Great Northern. Here is an excerpt from the diary I kept on that trip:

    “When we got to the station, we found the steam-electric already there and about to back in on No. 27, a six-car mail train westbound. Floyd Gowans (GE) and Mosher of Babcock & Wilcox were on her. It was very informal; I just got aboard—no pass, no ticket, no release, no nothing—but everyone assured me it was OK. They have christened the locomotive ‘The Jeep,’ and the GE men with her were known as technical sergeants.

    “We pulled out at 7:18 p.m for Wenatchee, 178 miles away. We climbed the long hill west of Spokane like it wasn’t there at all. Then we more or less drifted most of the way from there on, occasionally using the rheostatic brake, which the engineers love. The speed fooled the fireman; he consistently underestimated it by 10 to 15 mph.

    “Soon it was dark. Great Northern’s signal system gave me the jitters a few times. If the green blinked at you, it meant you were approaching a restrictive signal. We got several blinks. Sailing along a single-track crooked line at 70 to 75 mph in the dark kind of made me uneasy, as the engineer usually made no move to slacken speed. On one occasion, we got a blink and then a yellow; but he kept going plenty fast until the red eye actually appeared and it didn’t look very far away either. However, he pulled her down very nicely before we got there.

    “The trip was made alternately in full moonlight and then sharp squalls. As we approached the Columbia River, we got into some rugged country, running through deep cuts, tunnels and sharp curves until we finally swung around onto the river. During the trip, the fireman regaled me with numerous rattlesnake stories until I doubt if I would have dared put a foot on the ground anywhere except in a station. We arrived in Wenatchee on time shortly after eleven.

    “As I had ridden this loco for the first time, out here on the rather God-forsaken job, I felt a great desire to see us make something of this thing. Here was the loco that F. D. Roosevelt came out to see once—now it is out here forgotten by all but the faithful few who have lived with it for six years now, damned discouraging years at that! Maybe tonight the steam-electric won someone else to its cause.

    “Mosher, too, has lived with this job since the beginning and is just full of it. He poured out his optimism about our ability to produce an infinitely better loco if we were to make another. The skeptic almost had me sold on it. Maybe one day we shall cash in on this costly experience—who knows?”

    My feeling about this locomotive had been that, among other problems, it was so enormously complex that there was difficulty keeping everything functioning properly at the same time. It was interesting, therefore, that when I congratulated Mosher on a perfect trip that night, he told me there had been a couple of minor failures, which he had been able to correct so quickly that nobody was aware of them.


Kurt Moose said...

Wow, awesome story for sure! I remember a pic of this loco in Wood's book about the GN, but it said it was returned due to a generator failure, it burned up or something.

Cool to hear that it actually ran for a bit, but no pictures ever surfaced from then? Be nice to see one!

SDP45 said...

I posted one in my book!


Kurt Moose said...

I'll go back and look at it now!!