EMC and EMD FTs (especially AT&SF)

(Return to Rio Grande Diesel Locomotives Index Page)

(Return to Locomotive Notes Index Page)

Posted by Wally Abbey to ATSF List, March 5, 2001

Please, let me straighten out the misunderstandings about EMC's FTs, particularly Santa Fe's. Fifty or sixty years of revisionist history have really messed up the facts. The problem started when Dr. Sylvan Wood got it wrong in his Santa Fe roster for R&LHS in the late 1940s, and what we've seen since is that error perpetuated and embellished. Not to brag, but I've done extensive research into this question, from original EMC and EMD records, and if I can ever find time to get it finished I'll have a book out on Santa Fe's FTs that will set the record straight. Those 80 locomotives really got freight dieselization started nationwide.

EMC conceived a freight diesel at the same time it conceived a passenger diesel. But it couldn't proceed with the freight diesel until (1) it had begun to take care of the market for "streamliner" passenger locomotives and (2) it had developed a more powerful prime mover, the 16-cylinder 567 engine. (It also needed its own assembly plant, which it built at La Grange.) What has become known as EMC 103 was the prototype, and highly experimental, first freight locomotive built. It was introduced in 1939, as I recall without checking.

If the freight locomotive was known by any particular designation back then the designation was "Model F." At least, that's what EMC's Engineering Department called it. The Sales Department, later, seems to have introduced the terminology "FT." But regardless of what it was called, the freight locomotive was a different breed than the passenger locomotive. It was much more a lengthened and more powerful passenger locomotive, geared down, than it was two shortened units fastened together. A single locomotive containing two 16-cylinder engines rather than two 12-cylinder engines would have been too long and too heavy for one frame. So the freight locomotive was built in two carbodies. It had only one set of batteries, and the physical connection between the two "sections" was a drawbar and not a pair of AAR type E couplers. Absent the front section, the rear section wasn't going anywhere except in tow. It had no hostler controls or anything else of the sort. And it had a standard coupler at only one end. A four-section FT was two two-section "building blocks" coupled back to back. The FT was conceived as a two-section locomotive, not as a four-section locomotive.

Santa Fe tested the 103 for a month very shortly after it went on the road. One of the recommendations of its Test Department was that the locomotive be built as four entirely separate and self-sustaining sections. That's the way the Santa Fe ordered its 100 and all of the other 80 freight locomotives it bought--as four independent, coupler-equipped units. This caused EMC some pain, in that it hadn't anticipated such a modification in the original design. There was no room at the rear of the lead section and at the front of the trailing section for a standard draft gear, drawbar and coupler! It solved the problem with a special coupler the shank of which curled around the top of the traction motor. There was no draft gear. Santa Fe's FTs ran this way until the end. Santa Fe's special design did give it more flexibility with its FTs than other roads had (although some other roads also ordered the Santa Fe modification, and many FTs on other roads were later rebuilt with couplers at both ends). Santa Fe's 100s could be coupled up in any total number of units, one through six in actual practice. (There were reasons related to the dynamic brake why locomotives of more than four units were a little impractical.) Standard Model Fs could be coupled up only in twos and fours.

But the Santa Fe paid a price for its innovation. The scene now shifts to the labor front. But the story here isn't as it's usually been told, either.

As soon as railroads began creating passenger--not freight, but passenger--locomotives of more than one unit for its new streamliners, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers began demanding what amounted to a full crew for each unit. This hassle started around 1937, well before the first FT was introduced. It became known as the First Diesel Case, and it went on until about 1943, as I recall. (I'll have the complete story in the book.) Freight diesels were hardly mentioned in the First Diesel Case.

Where the four-section freight diesel became a problem was an altogether different issue. EMC and some of the railroads saw this problem coming. But those (including Dr. Wood) who assumed that the problem was with the engine crews were looking at the wrong end of the train. In Western territory (roughly, the railroads west of the Mississippi), a contract rule had existed since about 1903 in the agreements with the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen and the Order of Railway Conductors that prohibited doubleheading if the tonnage of the train was greater than the rating of the more powerful of the two locomotives. Well, what was a four-section FT but two identical, equally rated, two-section locomotives coupled back to back? A train with a four-section FT, under the rule, could only weigh the rating of half the locomotive!

Most, but not all, railroads in the West got around the doubleheader rule by having EMD deliver their FTs with a drawbar between the B sections rather than with couplers at that location. EMD offered this drawbar as a no-cost option. It fit right into the draft-gear pockets just as a coupler would. Four-section FTs so equipped suddenly were one locomotive, not two. But the Santa Fe, having had EMD engineer the drawbars between the A and B sections out of existence, was stuck. All its FTs (most of which didn't arrive until late in World War II) were totally independent units with couplers at both ends. The special drawbar wouldn't work between the A and B sections.

Now you know why, as quickly as it could, the Santa Fe swapped out the trailing cab units of the first of its freight diesels for a third booster unit. With only one cab unit, a four-unit FT could only be considered one locomotive. The trailing cabs of the 100 and 101 became the sole cab units on the 102 and 103. The 104 was delivered as an A-B-B-B. So was every other member of the 100 class up to about 151. What happened to unit numbers and unit assignments after that is another story, one based on actions taken by the government during the war and the ultimate revision of labor agreements.

Couple other items: The common designation for the Rock Island's little Rocket diesels was TA. These 1,200-horsepower units rode on four-wheel trucks. I don't know what the MoP's combination half-locomotive and half-baggage car was called. I think it later got a second prime mover, but I'm not certain.

Posted by Wally Abby to ATSF List on March 8, 2001

Re; FT vs. FS, A little perspective, if you will permit me, please.

It is not true that Santa Fe's had no FTs. I've seen the 1,350-horsepower models termed FTs in EMD's famous little book that listed the active EMD locomotives of all railroads, including the Santa Fe. The model designation FT was used by Electro-Motive on locomotive specifications and in other documents as early as 1945 and perhaps earlier. From what we can make out of documentable history, EMC's (and EMD's) Engineering Department called these units Model Fs and the Sales Department called them FTs or some variation thereof. In the unit roster of the 100 class that'll be in my book, which is built from original EMD records, the designation will be Model F except for perhaps the last eight units, which these records called Model FTs (as I recall without looking it up). But to a great extent the significance of such model designations is the product of latter-day railfans more than it is the product of factory or railroad practice, at least in Electro-Motive's early days.

I don't mean to sound overly skeptical, but I'll have to have somebody show me an Electro-Motive document that defines "FT" as meaning a given unit horsepower before I'll believe that that's what it means. Hearsay doesn't prove anything.

The situation with the freight locomotives is triply complicated, at least. Early on, the Santa Fe as far as I can recall almost never used EMC or EMD model designations (or any manufacturer's, for that matter) to describe its diesel-electrics. It used its own class numbers--100 class, 2 class, 50 class, etc. (Here too how the engines were described sometimes depended on who was doing the describing. Around the Chicago diesel shop in the summer of 1944 the 2-class locomotives were commonly called "201As" by the mechanics who maintained them; the 11-class engines were called " 567s.") Then, in later years, after all the guys who had invented freight dieselization had all retired and/or died, EMD itself now and then adopted railfan-created terminology! (Don't look to the badge plates for help. On the badge plates, all units types were "0-4-4-0."

There's a similarity here with the way the Santa Fe adopted "warbonnet." I think I know where that term came from. It was originally in some written description of Leland Knickerbocker's styling of the 2 class. It was not an official term. It doesn't appear on the design patent. (Andy Sperandeo, when I was on the Trains staff in the early 1950s there was a single sheet in Trains's Santa Fe [or maybe its EMD] reference file that quoted this paragraph, unfortunately without attribution. No headline or anything; just the paragraph. Maybe it's still there. The paragraph described the "warbonnet" look of the styling and how the feathers trailed back along the bases of the units. I would guess that the description came from either Santa Fe or EMD early publicity.) But it wasn't until much later, perhaps at the time that Mike Haverty caused that styling to be reborn, that the term "warbonnet" became a proper noun. That's all speculation, but it's what the known facts point to.

Back to the freight units. That 1947 document came out of EMD's Field Service Department, which was an arm of the Sales Department if it wasn't a separate department altogether, as I recall. It has the effect of distinguishing units of the original freight model that had type E couplers at both ends from units that had a coupler at one end and a drawbar at the other. Recall, the "Model F Standard" locomotive was a cab section coupled to a trailing section by a drawbar. The term "section" is far more appropriate for these beasts than is "units," because neither of the two parts of the locomotive could be operated without the other. Neither section was wholly independent of the other. The batteries for both were in the A section. The A section couldn't be coupled to anything in regular service except a B section. The B section had no batteries and lacked a coupler at one end. As I've said, the FT was conceived not as a four-section locomotive but as a two-section locomotive. See my previous post on why many four-section FTs were drawbarred together throughout.

That's the way most FTs were built and usually numbered, as two-section jobbies. Many roads, of course, coupled two "Model Fs" back to back, and some later found that this was an overly powerful locomotive. (Thus the two-section FT coupled to a single F2 or F3 on these roads.) The Santa Fe and a few other roads, on the other hand, had EMD build them a significantly modified version of the "Model F." It had batteries in both sections, couplers at both ends of both sections, a somewhat different frame construction at the ends where the drawbar would have been, a hostler control in the B unit (now we can call these devices units instead of sections), and some other changes.

One effect of the resolution of the First Diesel Case, about which I wrote earlier, was that both the Engineers and the Firemen agreed that any number of locomotive units that were operated from one position by one man (that is, one man from each union) would constitute one locomotive. With that agreement, the labor problem created by coupling two standard FTs together was resolved. There was no more need to substitute a drawbar for the couplers between the B ends of a four-unit consist. Some railroad that had bought standard Model Fs (A sections plus B sections permanently drawbarred together) saw the opportunity to make the two sections totally independent of each other. Southern Railway I think was especially active in this rebuilding. EMD published information on what parts were needed to turn a B section into a B unit and to modify the rear end of an A section into an A unit. I have the catalog sheets but unfortunately I don't know their date. I wouldn't be surprised to find that it was close to the date of that Field Service bulletin.

Evidently, the opportunity to convert dependent FT sections into independent FT units created enough of a "new" type of locomotive that EMD undertook to redefine its 1,350-horepower models to reflect the differences essentially in how the pieces of a locomotive could be fastened together. Thus was created the designation "FS"--and if I say that "FS" stood for "free-standing" I'll start a whole new trend and shoot myself in the foot. So I'll forever deny that that's what I said.

None of this really affected the Santa Fe's 100 class, which, by the new definition, had been "FSs" all along but which had been called "FTs" from the inception of that term until EMD redefined the model designation. I agree that not many people noticed that they'd done it. By the time the designation appeared the model was out of production.

If anyone would like to pass this post along to other lists that deal with diesels, please feel free to do so. Maybe somebody out there has a copy of one or both of the two documents I dearly need: the report of Santa Fe's Test Department on the first test runs of the 100 between Argentine and San Bernardino and then between Chicago and the Coast in very early 1941; and the Field Service bulletin that the 1947 "FS" bulletin superseded.

I misspoke. EMD's Field Service News introducing the terminology "FS" was dated December 8, 1951. This bulletin superseded one dated in 1947.