Smoke Lifters on Union Pacific Steam Locomotives

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This page was last updated on April 13, 2022.

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"Wind Wings"

The smoke lifter feature on Union Pacific steam locomotives that railfans and modelers know as "elephant ears," were actually known on UP as "Wind Wings," the name used on the company's engineering drawings. Most of the 4-8-4 steam locomotives on Union Pacific were equipped with smoke lifters, and a few of the railroad's 4-6-6-4 Challenger engines, as well as one of the company's 4-8-8-4 Big Boy engines.

FEF 4-8-4 Northerns

Almost immediately after delivery in 1944, the 835-844 series (FEF-3 class) were seen as having smoke problems due to their twin exhaust stacks and lower stack exhaust velocity. In 1945, UP 840 was equipped with smoke lifters to help lift smoke for better visibility by the crews.

UP had three number series of 4-8-4s, UP 800-819 (FEF-1 class), and UP 820-834 (FEF-2 class) and UP 835-844 (FEF-3 class). The FEF-2 and FEF-3 classes were the larger locomotives and were equipped with Centipede tenders.

(View the roster listing for the three FEF 800-series locomotives)

The FEF-3 class received smoke lifters long before the FEF-1 class or FEF-2 class. The FEF-3 class needed the smoke lifters much more than the other 800s because the larger multi-nozzle double stack on the FEF-3 let out more steam exhaust, but at a lower velocity (and less back-pressure).  It is vertical velocity that puts the exhaust above the locomotive and train. With the lower stack velocity on the FEF-3 class, they would need the added lift of smoke lifters more than the other 800s. (Dick Harley, email dated March 9, 2018)

The smoke lifter design is especially effective in preventing crosswinds from blowing the exhaust into the view of crew members on the leeward (downwind) side of the locomotives. The smoke lifters lifted the smoke out of the view path, allowing crew members to see line side signals, signs and the track ahead.

At first, a short smoke lifter design similar to that used by D&H was tried, but smoke still drifted to the wrong places. The design was modified a couple times, with each change making the smoke lifter longer along the locomotive boiler. Finally the design was perfected to what we know today, and smoke lifters began to be installed on the 835-844 series in 1945.

The installation of smoke lifters on FEF-3s began in 1945, before the conversion to oil, or being painted to two-tone-gray. Research in photographs has not yet found a photo of a two-tone gray FEF-3 without smoke lifters.

Research by Dick Harley using both photos and drawings suggests that the FEF-1s and FEF-2s began receiving smoke lifters during the Spring or Summer of 1951. Also, the the majority of FEF-1s and FEF-2s did not receive smoke lifters until they were repainted from two-tone gray to black.

Photos confirm that three FEF-1 engines (UP 817, 818, 819) received smoke lifters.

UP FEF-1 806 was reported in June 1951 as receiving smoke lifters, along with two-tone gray paint scheme. (The Mixed Train, Volume 1, Number 1, June 1951)

Photos confirm that only five FEF-2 engines (821, 822, 828, 830, and 831) received smoke lifters while still painted two-tone gray. The remainder received smoke lifters after being painted to their later black scheme.

Challenger 4-6-6-4

Ten (UP 3975-3984) of the late 4-6-6-4 Challengers were assigned to passenger service in Southern California in late 1945, then the Northwest District beginning in December 1946. The new service included two-tone gray paint, and smoke lifters. The engines kept their smoke lifters in 1952 when they were renumbered as UP 3708-3717 and assigned to helper service east out of Ogden, Utah. They continued to work out of Ogden, keeping their smoke lifters, until retirement beginning in 1959.

(Read more about these 10 Challenger locomotives)

Two (UP 3943 and 3967) of the late 4-6-6-4 Challengers assigned to freight service were equipped with smoke lifters, but the slower speed of freight service did not allow the lifting action to be as effective as it was for engines assigned to passenger service. UP 3943 lost its smoke lifters at its next shopping, but UP 3967 kept its lifters until retirement in 1960.

Big Boy 4-8-8-4

Just one (UP 4019) of the 4-8-8-4 Big Boy engines had smoke lifters. Gordon McCulloh wrote: "Late in 1945, 4019 was fitted with a pair of smoke lifting Wind Wings. These were only slightly larger than those applied to oil burning 4-6-6-4s on the Los Angeles Division just a month or so previous. It is unknown if this trial had any connection to the oil firing trials with 4005 later in 1946."

By January of 1946, tests showed that improved exhaust nozzles were a better option for smoke control and the smoke lifters on UP 4019 were removed.

(Read more about UP's improved smoke stacks and exhaust nozzles)


"Union Pacific Prototype Locomotive Photos," Volume 1 through 38. Published 2003 through 2009 by Union Pacific Historical Society

Asay, Jeff. Union Pacific Northwest (Pacific Fast Mail, 1991)

Ehernberger, James L. and Francis G. Gschwind. Union Pacific Steam, Eastern District (E&G Publications, 1975)

Ehernberger, James L. and Francis G. Gschwind. Union Pacific Steam, Northwestern District (E&G Publications, 1977)

Kratville, Wm. Golden Rails (Kratville Publications, 1965)

Kratville, William. Motive Power of the Union Pacific (Barnhart Press, 1977)

Kratville, William. The Challenger Locomotives (Kratville Publications, 1980)

Kratville, William W., and Harold E. Ranks. Union Pacific Locomotives, Volume I, Barnhart Press, 1960.

Kratville, William W., and Harold E. Ranks. Union Pacific Locomotives, Volume II, Barnhart Press, 1960.

McCulloh, Gordon. A History of Union Pacific Steam, Gordon McCulloh, 2014.

Drawings and Photos

Smoke Lifters -- Digital images of several representative drawings, from the UtahRails Collection.