|One of the most significant locomotives on display at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg is Pennsylvania Railroad EP20 class passenger diesel No. 5901. Constructed by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors in 1945 as their model E7, this locomotive and her sister no. 5900, now defunct, have the distinction of being the first pair of passenger diesels delivered to the PRR.
Starting at the front end, one immediately notices the distinctive rounded "bulldog" nose and cab section that was a classic EMD trademark for more than four decades. Introduced in 1939 on the EMD FT freight diesel, the "bulldog" nose was adapted to the E7 unit in 1945 when EMD resumed production of passenger diesels following World War II. This replaced the more slanted nose found on all prewar EMD passenger units, none of which had been purchased by the PRR.
Immediately behind the cab is the engine room which contains two EMD model 567A 1000 horsepower, 12-cylinder diesel engines with an operational range of between 275 and 800 rpm. Located just forward of and just behind the center carbody door, each engine powers several important auxiliary components, the most prominent of which is an EMD model D4D main generator mechanically coupled directly to each engine. Each of the main generators provides 600 volts DC electrical power needed to operate two traction motors riding on each set of trucks. Each of the two main generators also drives an auxiliary generator which provides 74 volts of power for such items as the headlight, the cab gauges, and the main controller located in the cab. Each auxiliary generator, in turn, is coupled mechanically to a traction motor blower that provides cooling ventilation for the truck-mounted traction motors. In addition to powering the two generators, each engine drives (through a system of belts) four 26-inch-diameter radiator cooling fans located directly above each engine. The fans operate at the same speed as the engine in order to provide maximum cooling at the highest engine speeds. Adjacent to each auxiliary generator along the outer carbody wall is an electrical cabinet that contains numerous relays, switches, and other electrical gear needed to operate the locomotive.
At the extreme rear of the unit is an oil-fired steam generator that provided heat for the passenger cars in cold weather. In most E7's, including all PRR units, this was originally a Vapor Corporation model 4530 generator capable of providing 3000 pounds of steam per hour.
The underfloor components of each unit include a pair of three-axle truck assemblies especially designed for high-speed passenger service. Riding on the two end axles of each truck is an EMD model D7 electric traction motor, four in all. As in most electric locomotives, these motors convert electrical energy into mechanical force through a series of gears on both the motor and the axle. The center axle on each six-wheel truck is merely an idler used primarily to distribute the weight, thus providing a smoother ride at speeds above 65 mph. Between each of the two trucks is a 1200-gallon water tank for the steam generator and an identical 1200-gallon fuel tank.
E7 and No. 5901 History
The E7 locomotives (designated class EP20 by the PRR) were produced by GM's Electro-Motive plant at La Grange, Illinois. The first unit, Baltimore and Ohio No. 64, was delivered in February 1945. Production of the E7 ended with the delivery of Southern Railway No. 2922 in April 1949. In all, 428 "A" units and 82 non-cab "B" units were constructed, making the E7 the most numerous passenger diesel locomotive ever built by any company. All told, 28 railroads rostered this model.
E7 No. 5900 and her sister unit 5901, now on display at the Museum, was delivered to the PRR late in September 1945. Originally they were purchased for the "South Wind," a joint PRR/L&N/ACL Chicago-Miami passenger train. Since both the L&N and the ACL railroads used EMD diesel power, the PRR was obligated to provide compatible locomotives for the joint venture. However, a last-minute contract disagreement resulted in the PRR withdrawing from the pooled-locomotive arrangement about a week before their delivery. This left both units without a regular work assignment on a railroad that had no other road diesels then in service. At that time, 1945, the PRR was busy setting the stage for the arrival of 50 class T1 streamlined duplex steam locomotives styled by Raymond Loewy that the railroad hoped would revolutionize steam locomotion.
Upon delivery of the two E7 units, PRR management sent the "orphan" locomotives to Harrisburg until a permanent road assignment could be found. Since there were no fueling facilities for diesels between the EMD plant near Chicago and Harrisburg, 5900 and 5901 made the trip as a light engine move in order to conserve precious fuel.
Ironically the pair arrived at their temporary duty assignment on the same day that the first two production TI 's, Nos. 5500 and 5501, arrived in Harrisburg fresh from the Altoona shops. Largely ignored by local PRR management, the two E7's were relegated to the GG 1 service pit in Harrisburg, where they were treated much like just another pair of electric locomotives.
After several days of employee instruction by EMD service personnel, the PRR decided to assign the pair to one leg of the Harrisburg - Detroit "Red Arrow." However, since it would take several weeks to set up a diesel fuel facility at Mansfield, Ohio, mid-point on the 575-mile run, 5900 and 5901 were given random assignments on passenger runs between Harrisburg and Altoona. This 262-mile round trip was about as far as the pair could be trusted on a single filling of fuel.
The Impact of 5900 and 5901
Once the Mansfield fuel facility (an old tank car with a fuel pump) was in place, the two E7's set out to make Pennsylvania Railroad history. After six months, 5900 and 5901 together had traveled more than 69,000 miles without a single road failure! How did this compare to the much heralded new T1 duplex steam locomotive? During the same six month period, the best-performing T1 of the 30 then in service had gone only 2,800 miles! This, of course, came as a terrible shock to a PRR management that had invested millions of dollars in a "new generation" of steam power.
The E7, as restored at the Museum, was featured as the CD cover of Country superstar Alan Jackson’s 18th album, “Freight Train.”
Realizing belatedly what most other railroads already knew, PRR management, in an abrupt change of direction, initiated a crash program of dieselization. Between August 1947 and April 1949, the railroad purchased 46 E7 "A" units and 14 cabless "B" units from EMD. Initially, these remarkable locomotives shared premier passenger runs with a small group of other diesels purchased by PRR from Fairbanks Morse and Alco, along with a 24-unit order of huge Baldwin "Centipede" diesels, 90-foot long, 3000-horsepower roaring monsters that quickly proved even less dependable than the troubled T1 steamers.
During the 1950's, the PRR augmented its E7 ranks with a nearly identical 74-unit contingent of EMD E8 passenger units. This fleet then became the primary passenger locomotive pool for nearly all PRR runs west of Harrisburg. Nos. 5900 and 5901 remained a part of this pool until the mid-1960's, when wholesale passenger schedule reductions resulted in their reassignment to the New York & Long Branch commuter line, a joint operation of the PRR and the Central Railroad of New Jersey serving the Jersey shore.
The End of the E7's and a Wonderful Save
Some time in 1968, No. 5900 experienced a major mechanical failure and was retired to the Altoona scrap line. However, 5901 remained in service on the South Amboy - Bay Head run until 1973 when a minor rear-end collision at Bay Head cracked its rear coupler pocket.
Normally, damage of this type is quickly repaired; however, because of its age, No. 5901 (now renumbered 4201 by the Penn Central) was dispatched to Harrisburg, pending retirement. It was here that several employees who knew of its historical significance began the long process that utimately assured its preservation. Literally hiding the locomotive for nearly three years in an abandoned portion of the Harrisburg roundhouse, local Penn Central management officials conspired with a Mechanical Department employee in Philadelphia to keep 5901 off the scrap sale list. In time, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission was able to obtain the $20,000.00 scrap purchase price that made it possible for the Railroad Museum to take custody of this historic locomotive in May of 1976.
Since that time, every one of the 5901's sister units - 509 in all - have been scrapped. Among many last survivors of their kind at the Museum, No. 5901 is assured the permanent place of honor she richly deserves among the locomotives that made railroad history in Pennsylvania.