Thursday, December 10, 2009

Details

It's all in the details.

The Milwaukee Road's Little Joe is an amazing collection of enormous castings. The shear amount of metal that encompasses the running gear and supports the carbody is something to behold. The design and manufacture dates back to a time when American foundry work was second to none, the country manufacturing base healthy, and the infrastructure of the country alive and growing. General Electric clearly built these locomotives to last in a harsh environment that saw frequent extremes in weather, loading, and speeds. In their lives as front line Western power, they encountered all of these.

In the details of an old machine like this Joe, much is learned about old processes and standards, previous ways of thinking, previous ways of problem solving and, just as important, the problems that were solved. The details are a history lesson in themselves. In amongst all of the details of Milwaukee's only existing Little Joe is a detail that harkens back to the days of a Cold War and a growing Soviet Empire.

The detail in question is located on the "b" end of the Joe, the end where the cab was removed and windows plated over. There, an obvious outcropping exists from the massive casting that supports the rear half of the locomotive and drivetrain. It can be seen in the above photo, supporting a nicely painted grab iron. It's original purpose, however, would seem to be related to the locomotive's original destination. While the Americanized railroads never had much use for bumpers between equipment, the European and related lines used them extensively. The Soviets had specified bumpers for their fleet of GE electric locomotives and indeed, the mounting platform was in place -- and still is.

Montana became the home for Milwaukee's Little Joe, but it was never the original destination. The European elements of these fantastic locomotives still show through in a few of the details and are a good reminder of the importance of details.

7 comments:

Kaley Hoffman said...

I really enjoy your blog and writing style.
For the "details" posting, I believe that many types of equipment were built stronger back then. I'm only in my mid 30's, but it seems that the object today is to build it as cheaply as possible, with little regard for long term durability.

Oil-Electric said...

Excellent historical observation! When it became apparent these units were not going to Russia, the grab iron was added. But I wonder how many rail fans have even noticed that protrusion?

Anonymous said...

An intriguing reminder of their original destination is entirely hidden but emphatic. If one were to unscrew the control plates that describe the various functions in the cab, there are control descriptions on the hidden side -- in Russian!

GE had simply turned the plates over and re-engraved the instructions in English.

best regards, Michael Sol

Anonymous said...

Correct, Michael-my friend Darrel DeWald at Alberton has one of the control labels on display in his museum. Same one that's in Richard Steinheimer's book. Fascinating stuff - especially Stein's passage - "Can't you see two of those motors racing through the Siberian Landscape during one of the Dr. Zhivago winters? They'd have been everything a Comrade Yardmaster would have hoped for."

Fred Hyde
Monona, WI

LinesWest said...

Thanks for the comments folks. I'd have to agree that the older stuff seems better built. There's a massiveness and toughness that you don't find as much in more modern machinery.

And thanks for the reminder of those control labels Michael, I had forgotten about those. A lot of neat stories buried in these old machines.

-Leland

SDP45 said...

You can post more detail shots. I've not seen one of these in person, so any more would be appreciated.

Dan

LinesWest said...

Hey Dan, I'll get a couple more detail shots up in the near future. There are a couple of interesting ones.

-Leland