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Early Diesels Part 2


CN 7805 CLC-Whitcomb #2413 4/48 W.E.Miller

Early diesels were for the most part yard switchers, a service where the greatest savings could be realized due to the low speed stop and go nature of yard switching. High availability was another factor in favour of diesels which could operate around-the-clock with little attention. A steam locomotive needed water about every four hours and once a day it had to be taken to the shop to get coal, have its fire cleaned and be greased and inspected. A replacement locomotive would be provided for three shift jobs using a "herder" or "scout" crew consisting of only an engineer and fireman, to exchange engines. This was a sought-after high seniority job. Diesels on the other hand could go for days on a tank of fuel oil and routinely went to the shop once a week for inspection and servicing. Aside from yard switchers, some of the earliest road locomotives were small units used on branch lines in isolated situations.

Canadian National dieselized an isolated operation on Prince Edward Island. Here, smaller units were considered suitable due to the lack of heavy grades such as on the E&N. It chose 18 75-ton 650 HP units (CNR 7803-7820) built to Whitcomb Locomotive Works (Rochelle, IL) designs by Canadian Locomotive Company in Kingston. By this time Whitcomb was a division of Baldwin Locomotive Works. Ordered in February 1947, it was not until April 1948 that the first two units were delivered.

Slow delivery of the units allowed time to evaluate them in operation, unfortunately frequent road failures due to defective engines resulted in the refusal to accept some units in use, to return those it had and to cancel the remaining 11 units.

The Sterling diesel engine was an 8 cylinder 8x9 engine operating at 1200 rpm and rated at 650 horsepower. The unit itself was rated at 37,500 pounds t.e. and weighed 75 tons. It suffered from a poor design that failed in use.

The units were sold by CLC to Whitcomb in January 1949. Whitcomb then re-engined the locomotives with 550 HP Caterpillar D-397 engines. Seventeen were re-sold to the Rock Island (1000-1016) where they performed satisfactorily with some lasting until 1970. The other unit was sold to the Washington & Old Dominion 55.

Rock Island 1006 Bureau Jct. IL. February 1958 Collection of Paul Mc.Grane.

Rock Island 1005 at Fort Worth, Texas June 1964. Collection of Paul Mc.Grane.

More Rock Island photos in different colours: Northeast Railfan


Meanwhile, CNR placed an order with MLW for eighteen GE 70-tonners with Cooper-Bessemer 6 cyl. 550 HP engines. These locomotives proved reliable and long-lasting, many lasting for twenty years, with the last three being retired in 1983. Re-numbered in 1956 to 26-43. Some went to shortlines or industrial use and eventaully two, the first and the last, were preserved, 30 (below) at the Canadian Railway Museum near Montreal and 43 (as 7817) in Prince George BC.

CN 30 (ex 1530, nee 7804 2nd) GE 70-ton #30610 3/50 Charlottetown, PEI Aug.02/79 S.C.Hunter


GE 70 tonners at work on Prince Edward Island.

30-40 Montague

30 Charlottetown

41-30 Uigg


CNR 7817 (ex 43) #30623 5/50 in original paint scheme at the
Central BC Railway & Forestry Museum in Prince George.

E&N No.1 engine CP 8004 northbound crossing Arbutus Creek, 1949 Nick Morant

Canadian Pacific used its Esquimalt & Naniamo subsidiary on Vancouver Island as a test bed for dieselization due to its location separated from the main system where road failures would not interfere with other trains.
In December 1948 CPR received thirteen 1000HP Baldwin road switchers, light units for what was essentially a branch line operation of some 200 miles in total although with many miles of moderately heavy grades under 2%. These were to replace twenty steam locomotives (mostly D-10 class 4-6-0's). All freight and passenger trains were hauled by one these units, (it was not until later years that M.U. equipment was added.) These rugged locomotives remained in use on Vancouver Island until their retirement more than 25 years later in 1975. The first unit, 8000 has been preserved by the CPR.

8011 and another Baldwin road switcher with empty log cars near Ladysmith, VI September 1969.
Jack Neville

8003 8000 southbound near Mount Sicker enroute to Lake Cowichan with a long train of empty log flats.
June 1973 Robert D. Turner

What If?

In the "What if "category comes a number of things. First, the CPR had decided to "standardize" (something it rigorously followed) small road switchers for all work on the E&N, passenger, freight and yard. Five units were equipped with steam generators for passenger service. Only three were actually required but for the sake of better utilization (something essential considering the high cost of diesels) five were so equipped. It considered adding m.u. controls but in a typical CPR move this cost was cut. Multiple unit controls of a non-standard 21 pin type were finally added in the 1960's.

Even more interesting is the fact that two or three units were considered to be equipped with A-1-A six wheel, four traction motor trucks to allow a higher speed (60 mph) on the light 65 pound rail of the Victoria Subdivision between Parksville and Courtenay. Again, in the interests of standardization it was decided to live with the lower 20 mph speed restriction until heavier rail could be laid.

Another interesting "What If?" concerns the make of diesel chosen. The CPR was in a hurry to get the diesels and choose Baldwin over Alco as both Alco and EMD were backed up with orders. These were the first road units as the CPR had only bought Alco S2 1000HP yard switchers to this point. Had Alco been able to deliver the units sooner RS-1's would have been acquired instead. MLW was just beginning to build Alco design S2 switchers, so it is possible they could have built the RS-1's themselves. The CPR did later modify some MLW S4's with auxiliary fuel tanks to give longer range for road use as they had small tanks. They were over-worked (another typical CPR method) in this capacity and had to be replaced with proper road switchers of much higher horsepower.

What the RS-1's might have looked like.

Not considered was dynamic brakes. Perhaps not well understood in practical operating terms at the time such brakes would have been of great advantage on the many steep grades on the E&N. Diesels reduced the fires set by steam locomotives (even oil-fired) but fires continued never-the-less. These fires were due to brakeshoe use controlling speed down grades. When the old Baldwin's were finally retired in 1976 and replaced by GMD GP38's with DB it was suddenly "discovered" fires were greatly reduced. No doubt the cost of equiping the Baldwins with dynamic braking and their maintenance costs would have been saved many times over in brakeshoe and wheel wear and in reducing firefighting costs over a period of a quarter of a century.

Otherwise, if EMD had been able to supply the CPR's needs it is likely NW5 1000HP road switchers would have been built for the E&N service instead.

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