Guts and Hustle Muscle in Montana

It's been a few years now, but there was a time not so long ago when solid sets of 20 cylinder diesel locomotives could be found pouring their guts out doing what they always did best.  Even further back than that, these beasts could be found on railroads across the entire U.S.  When these pictures were taken the year was 2005 and there were but a few remaining daily users.  The SD-45 (and its close relative, the F45) was quite a machine, and Montana Rail Link used them as they were always intended, even in their fifth decade of service.  

"Hustle Muscle" was the nickname applied to first SD-45, owned by the Great Northern.  Other nicknames have included flare-45 because of the unique flared radiators at the rear of the unit.  These flared radiators were necessary to provide the extra cooling capacity for the large 20-cylinder diesel that EMD installed under the long hood.  The 20 cylinder diesel made only a brief appearance in the EMD lineup and sales of the 45 series locomotive lasted from 1965 to 1975.  The SD-45 itself bowed in 1971.

In 2005, the Montana Rail Link began replacing many of these old 45s with new locomotives from EMD.  But in the summer of 2005, sets of 45s still roamed freely along the former NP tracks in Montana and Idaho.  I set out to photograph some of these big units at work, and found them to be as impressive in 2005 as they must have been in 1965.  Standing trackside on Bozeman pass, the 20 cylinder diesel engines gave a deep, chest pounding feel as they pushed loaded coal trains to the summit at 10 mph.  This was pure mountain railroading, from the era of the muscle car.

Today's MRL still attacks the grades laid down by the NP as it made its way across the Rockies to the West Coast - but the solid sets of SD45 helpers are gone.  In their place a new "flare" has filled in, but like many things, the new version doesn't seem to have that same old-time panache.  

The new 4300Hp locomotive uses the extra capacity of flared radiators to keep temperatures in the 16-cylinder diesel lower for reduced pollutant formation.  That, of course, was never a consideration in 1965.  Fuel efficiency was another point where the 20 cylinder 45s lagged.  Indeed, their production ceased with the coming of the 1970s fuel crisis.  What's interesting on both counts, however, is that both the original 20 cylinder SD-45 and its replacement, the 16-cylinder SD70AcE lack the brute power of the 5000 Hp Little Joe.  Now that was Hustle Muscle.


LinesWest said…
Thanks to all who have checked in - some even by post card - in the past month. I appreciate the feedback as always. Best to you.

SDP45 said…
Come on out to Coulee City, WA sometime and ride one of two former MRL SD45s operated by the Eastern Washington Gateway.. I'd never have gotten the opportunity to ride one had I not helped the railroad out.

Few railroads are born under the shadow of violence and conflict as befell Montana Rail Link.

I remember back in November 1987, when a trio of BN power mysteriously separated from the train they were leading and ended up at the bottom of a canyon.

The train had stopped for a scheduled crew change. The new crew had not manned the head end. Somehow, the power pack decoupled from the train and released their parking brakes. The throttle of the lead unit advanced to full power. With the dead-man features disabled, the power pack careened across Bozeman Pass, rushing through crossings, traveling 14 miles at speeds approaching 80 miles per hour, before finally leaving the rails, ending up at the bottom of a canyon.

Luckily, a transient found in the wreckage of the third unit survived serious injuries. Initially a suspect, he was subsequently exonerated by the FBI as not having the technical knowledge required to set the chain of events into motion.

Montana Rail Link. A name that often is associated with Burlington Northern’s attempt at union busting. Plucked from the middle of BN transcontinental crossing, the 900-mile so called Southern Line between Sand Point Idaho and Huntley Montana was sold to a Montana businessman who had formed “Montana Rail Link. The operation was set up to be non-union.

Thanks, Leland. Darn near forgot about that chapter in American Railroading!
oamundsen said…
Leland and Robert, thanks for this great look into a very interesting part of railroading we in the east never saw. The New Haven electric boxes and later some true electic monsters gotten from, I think the Norfolk Western, were my ideas of Hustle Muscle. Thanks again.
LinesWest said…
Thanks for that Robert - I had also forgotten some of the details of MRL's formation. One of the things that still strikes me is BN(SF)'s continued ownership of Homestake Pass into Butte. If MRL had been allowed to operate that pass, they would have an outlet for all of the Montana Grain to the UP and no longer be a captive railroad with BNSF on either end.
Courtney said…
I drove past the Milwaukee bridge at Rosaila, WA this weekend and thought of you! The Milwaukee wins the prize for beautiful and functional infrastructure.
Unknown said…
Must have been some feeling, being near those big engines. I imagine you can feel it in the ground as well as your chest. Amazing. Thanks Leland for sharing a final view of these legendary machines.
Jack said…
I have only ever dipped my big toe into Montana, but I can tell you brother, you have decided a portion of my next sojourn to the U.S.
Beautiful country, beautiful pics.

Much Appreciated.
LinesWest said…
Thanks for the comments Folks. Kurt - you're right, the ground shook and the noise was unbelievable. All at less than 10 mph - absolutely amazing.

Scarbagjack - yes, I highly recommend a visit to Montana, one of my favorite places. Sometimes kind of lonely out there, but beautiful.

Popular posts from this blog

Christmas Eve on Ancient Paths

Eternity in the Heart of Man

Don't let it end like this