Before the Cord is Snapped


The date was Friday, November 7, 1919 and at the GE plant in Erie, PA a new electric locomotive was undergoing demonstration in front of railroad reps assembled by GE [1].  The viewers included representatives from multiple US Railroads, two Canadian lines and a variety of others.  The locomotive in question was one of the first Milwaukee Bi-Polar types, 10251.  

The EP-2 Bi-Polars were monsters, with a total weight of 530,000 lbs and up to 86% of that weight atop the drivers.  That compared very favorably to steam locomotives of the time.  A Mohawk of the same vintage achieved only 68% of total weight on drivers.  10251 effectively bested one of these famous 4-8-2s plus another 4-6-2 coupled together that day. 

Most of their lives were spent on the electrified Coast Division of the Milwaukee Road, running the line between Othello and Tacoma across the State of Washington.  In their charge were the passenger trains that ran across the Cascades, utilizing electrical power to advance against the grades and weather associated with that section of Lines West.  They finished their years running the Rocky Mountain Division pulling the last electrified passenger trains there.  West of Butte, on the way to Deer Lodge we see the old mainline above near Finlin.  Though they never achieved the fame or success of the Joes or Boxcabs here, it is interesting to think of them painted in their Union Pacific colors hauling the Olympian Hiawatha across this scene.

Reportedly their final rebuilding made few on the Rocky Mountain Division happy and 1958 was their last year of operation.  10251, which had become E2, was donated to the National Transportation Museum at St. Louis where it remains today.  The photos below are from 2015, just shy of 100 years after the demonstrations and dignitaries of Erie, PA.  

Note the magnificent quad.

There is a caution in these tales from times past - that the cord can be quickly snapped.  From pulling the varnish, to a quiet existence on a rusty museum spur, 10251 sits in the company of other forgotten machines.  Few of these could match her style, size and power, however.  Her orange paint is fading in the summer sun, the few people around her are museum visitors from a different generation and it highlights the breathtaking brevity of descent:  from the highs of progress and achievement to the quiet that has come over Lines West, a thousand miles west of here.  As the writer of Ecclesiastes opines, "Remember Him before the silver cord is snapped [2]."

1). “C.M.&St.P. Electric Locomotives Tested at Erie,” Railway Electric Engineer, pp. 449–453, Dec 1919.,%20Railway_Electrical_Engineer-1.pdf

2) "Ecclesiastes 12:6," Holy Bible, Berean Study Bible, BSB, Copyright 2016, 2020 by Bible Hub.


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