There was a time, now many years ago, when there was a different economic malaise, a different energy crisis, and a different set of hard choices. For the Milwaukee Road, this energy crisis of the mid-seventies produced an interesting result: the decision to maintain electrified operations across the Rocky Mountains through June of 1974. The original plan had the juice turned off in 1973 so this represented a stay of execution, but not a lasting reprise. For reasons that are not always clear, the electrification was turned off and the Milwaukee Road turned to newer diesel power for its trains across the Rockies.
Ironically, the final costs of new diesel locomotives to replace the scrapped electrics, combined with ever increasing fuel costs of the energy crisis, cost the Milwaukee dearly. Detailed studies of this decision, as well as original GE economic analysis can be found here. Particularly troubling is evidence that the Milwaukee actively misrepresented operating data to make the case for electric abandonment. Maintenance costs for locomotives were stated incorrectly, and without regard to the rising fuel costs, electric operations were 40-60% less costly then Milwaukee diesel operations (source).
But that was all a long time ago. When the power was cut and the wires came down, the electrification was gone and the fuel crisis soared. It remains a memorable and regrettable goodbye from the days of the energy crisis.
Today these SD40-2 locomotives are still found in various types of service though their numbers are falling. Recent products from GE and Electro-Motive have added computer controls, advanced fuel delivery systems, and more horsepower without damaging the all important fuel consumption characteristics. Many of these old locomotives now find themselves in slow speed yard service with reduced horsepower ratings. It is a far cry from their early days when they were "the best." Their goodbye continues after spanning the years from one energy crisis to another.
With the demise of the Panther, the U.S. no longer makes a rear wheel drive car mounted atop a full frame. Although the design was developed during the previous energy crisis, the extra mass of the frame and overall size of the car make it difficult to meet ever tightening economy standards in this present crunch. GM ceased production of its own body-on-frame passenger cars in 1996, leaving only the Fords as mainstays of police forces and cab companies everywhere. Now even those are singing their own goodbye song and the days of smooth-riding American v8 passenger cars continue to fade.
These are ends of eras in many ways. Things that were spawned in the 70s in response to the economic challenges of the times are giving away. Time and ever increasing efficiency make locomotives like the SD40-2 or vehicles like the Crown Vic dinosaurs in a land filled with new options. These products displaced famous faces when they debuted - from the quad headlight nose of the Little Joe, to the full size Caprice convertible, they replaced them. Now these reminders of that previous time and previous generation are passing as well. Their replacements carry names like Taurus or SD70ACE but it seems unlikely that these replacements will have the same staying power.
The past few decades have seen two distinct energy crises, and spawned innumerable famous goodbyes. Today we acknowledge just a couple more.
1927 Rock Island View
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