Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

One cannot but admire the pace of progress during the Diesel Era:

UP City of San Francisco ad

Three years after the introduction of lightweight diesel-powered streamline units, much more powerful locomotives were ready to haul full-weight trains. These locomotives, designed and built by EMC (Electro-Motive Corporation of La Grange, IL), were a serious competition to steam power. To tell their story, I used a number of quality sources: A History of Union Pacific Dieselization, 1934-1982 by Don Strack, Industrial Artifacts Review, Streamliner Memories, American-Rails.com, and rgusrail.com.

EMC E1 body 1936The subject of the above photo has been described as "the most famous face in all of dieseldom." It is the steel body of the first streamlined passenger unit built by GMs' Electro-Motive Corporation in its new plant in La Grange, Illinois. This cab unit and a matching booster were built for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and began operating on April 25, 1937.

Electro-Motive continued to refine its design for a stand-alone passenger locomotive, based on what it had learned with the five 1,800-horsepower B-B (two two-axle trucks, with all axles powered) boxcab units it built for Santa Fe and B&O, and the two demonstrators, all completed between the delivery of M-10001 in May 1935 and the delivery of M-10002 in May 1936. One of the lessons was that the two-axle trucks did not operate well at high speeds, especially when entering curved trackage. Another major lesson was that these high-speed locomotives needed to be streamlined, similar to the M-10003 to M-10006 power sets delivered to UP in May to July 1936.

1937 LaGrange B&O switchers and EA 51Baltimore & Ohio #51 at GMs' new Electro-Motive Corporation plant in La Grange, Illinois. In the foreground, no fewer than eight 600 h.p. SC switchers are in the process of being assembled.

EMC's answer to these two problems was the model EA locomotive, introduced in May 1937, with six cab units and six booster units being supplied to B&O, and the E1 locomotive introduced in June 1937. (The model designation "E" stemmed from the original powering at Eighteen-hundred horsepower.) Eight E1As and three E1Bs were delivered to Santa Fe.

Convenient, Comfortablevia paul.malon @ Flickr

These two designs were streamlined, and both were equipped with EMC's new three-axle, A1A passenger truck (two powered outboard axles, with the center one unpowered). The truck was designed by Martin Blomberg, who, as an employee of Pullman in 1934, had participated in the patent for the streamlined design of UP's M-10000. By 1937, Blomberg had moved to Electro-Motive. He was also involved during early 1938 in solving the B-B truck tracking problem on Santa Fe's two earlier boxcab units, 1A and 1B, by adding an unpowered axle ahead of the two powered axles. Also in 1938, he designed the leaf-spring, swing hanger-equipped, arch-sideframe two-axle truck that was first applied to EMC's FT freight locomotive.

AT&SF SuperChief factory photo 1936AT&SF non-streamlined 1A-1B units in 1936 (above) and after 1938 rebuild (below)

AT&SF EMC 1 rebuilt

In October 1937, following the construction of the first EAs for B&O and the first E1s for Santa Fe, EMC furnished Union Pacific with two A-B-B sets of E2 locomotives for its newly expanded, 14-car City of San Francisco (below) and City of Los Angeles trains. As with the EAs, built only for B&O, and the E1s, built only for Santa Fe, these E2 locomotives were built only for Union Pacific.

UP City of San FranciscoAlthough they were mechanically similar to the EAs and the E1s (with twin 900-horsepower diesel engines and A1A trucks), the E2s featured a much different exterior design. The EAs and E1s shared recessed headlights and smooth sloped noses, but the E2s boasted bulbous noses with prominent headlight casings, and much automobile-like chrome trim work. All of the engines in EMC's "Streamliner" series contained a pair of 900 h.p. Winton 201A V-12 diesel engines and GE or Westinghouse generators and traction motors. Working in tandem, the cab and booster units provided 3600 h.p.

B&O EMC EA-ABThe EA/EB was specifically designed to haul fast passenger trains for the Baltimore & Ohio railroad (see the picture above). Six were built by GM's Electro-Motive Corporation between 1937 and 1938 (#51-#56).

B&O Capitol Limited 1940s#51 was the first to be delivered in 1937, and the EA/EBs hauled the first dieselised passenger trains on the East Coast, initially B&O's flagship Capitol Limited between New York and Chicago via Baltimore and Washington DC but, eventually, they hauled all the major B&O passenger trains, including the Royal Blue and National Limited.


The Royal Blue grey and gold livery was designed by Otto Kuhler, whose other locomotive designs include Milwaukee Road's four A Class 4-4-2 and six F7 Class 4-6-4 Hiawatha locomotives, two Lehigh Valley K-5B Class 4-6-2 John Wilkes locomotives, and Southern's Ps-4 Class #1380 built for the Tennessean. These two-unit locomotives consisted of a lead, cab-equipped EA "A unit" and a cabless booster EB "B unit". Along with the E1 built by EMC for the AT&SF and the E2 built for the UP, C&NW and SP, they were the first in a long line of passenger diesels of a similar design that came to be known as EMD E-units. These early E-units incorporated the mechanics of EMC's 1,800 hp passenger boxcab diesel locomotive from 1935, but were packaged in a streamlined carbody and shovel nose that became a trademark of the later models.


BO EA/EB #51 has a combined length of 69' 1" and is 15' tall. The A unit weighs 300,000 lbs, the B unit 290,000 lbs. They could reach a top speed of 116 mph and regularly topped 90 mph in passenger service. #51 retired in 1953 when the remaining five locomotives were returned to EMD for upgrading.


What led the Santa Fe to becoming an industrial icon was the introduction of the Chief passenger train in late 1926, and then the Super Chief ten years later. In the late 1930s its legendary Warbonnet paint scheme was born, applied to the new streamlined Super Chief led by streamlined passenger diesels, and it was an instant hit.

Streamform War Bonnet

via paul.malon @ Flickr

The Super Chief was the Santa Fe's first diesel locomotive. It was adopted by the railroad to solve the problem of supplying water to steam engines in the desert regions of New Mexico and Arizona. Hauling water to these areas cost 40 cents per 100 gallons. And whereas steam engines might have to take on water every 100 miles, the new diesels being produced by General Motors' Electro-Motive Corporation could run for 1200 miles between stops.

AT&SF The Original Super ChiefUnlike the M-10000 and the Zephyr, the Super Chief was not an articulated train, so it could change its consist (the group of cars behind the locomotive) to suit the needs of the railroad. The photo above shows a consist of seven conventional Pullman cars being hauled somewhere west of Albuquerque.

The Super Chief

via paul.malon @ Flickr


The two blunt-nosed engines shown here were built by the St. Louis Car Company with EMC diesel engines adding up to 3600 h.p. Officially known as Nos.1 and 1A when delivered to the railroad for testing in August 1935, they were quickly dubbed as "Amos 'n' Andy," after the popular radio show in the 1930s.

AT&SF E1Part of the train’s phenomenal success was its appeal and character. In designing the new Super Chief  the Santa Fe wanted not only a contemporary passenger train but also one that reflected the railroad’s long-held relationship with Native American’s of the Southwest. To style the new Super Chief  the train had an entire staff of designers, which quickly set to work bringing the soon-to-be legend to life.

AT&SF Super Chief lounge

Industrial designer Sterling McDonald created the train’s classic interior Indian designs and themes. Whenever possible McDonald used authentic Native American (many of which depicted the Navajo) colors (such as turquoise and copper), patterns, and even authentic murals and paintings in the train. He used a combination of rare and exotic woods like ebony, teak, satinwood, bubinga, maccassar, and ribbon primavera for trim through the train giving the Super Chief an added touch of one-of-a-kind elegance.

AT&SF SuperChief E1

The El Capitan (which is derived from the Spanish influences of the Southwest regions during the 1700s), inaugurated in February 1938, was born primarily to help supplement the incredibly popular and luxurious Super Chief as a low-cost, economy-friendly version of Santa Fe's flagship train.

Slick & Elegant

via paul.malon @ Flickr

The El Cap came fully equipped with streamlined equipment from the Budd Company. All stainless steel the cars included were coaches with reclining seats, lunch-counter diner, and a coach observation car (a five-car consist in total).

Fred Harvey Mealsvia paul.malon @ Flickr

The Santa Fe listed the El Capitan as Trains #21 (westbound) and #22 (eastbound) on its official timetable. Departing Chicago's Dearborn Station at 5:45 pm the train could make the westward jaunt to Los Angeles in under 40 hours, arriving at Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal 7:15 am, a day and a half later. Quite fast, the train carried an average train speed better than 56 mph even with 22 to 23 stops along the way.

Gay El Cap

via paul.malon @ Flickr

Additionally, the railroad offered connecting services to Denver via La Junta, Colorado and Phoenix via Ash Fork, Arizona.

Streamliner Crossing Great Salt Lake Cut Off, Utah - Postcard_img568

Via Wampa-One @ Flickr

The City of San Francisco A-B-B set of EMC E2s, initially numbered as SF-1, SF-2, and SF-3, were owned jointly by Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, and Chicago & North Western. The comparable City of Los Angeles set, numbered as LA-1, LA-2, and LA-3, was owned jointly by UP and C&NW.

Union Pacific City of Los Angeles adThese two new E2 5,400-horsepower locomotives would soon prove that diesel locomotive technology could now compete with steam locomotives on the railroad's fastest and heaviest passenger trains.

City of Los Angeles Luggage LabelA baggage label featuring "new" and "old" Cities of Los Angeles

CNW Madison St. Station

An E2 with two 10003-1006 locomotives (via Senor Roboto @ Flickr)

This shared ownership reflected the shared operation of these two trains over each road's route: for the City of Los Angeles, from Chicago to Omaha, Neb., via C&NW, and from Omaha to Los Angeles, via UP; and for the City of San Francisco, from Chicago to Omaha, via C&NW; from Omaha to Ogden, Utah, via UP; then from Ogden to Oakland, Calif. (San Francisco), via SP. Shared ownership was seen as the best way to control equipment usage and the costs of operation and maintenance of equipment dedicated to the Streamliner trains.

UP EMC E2 locomotives 1938

The outward evidence of joint ownership was reflected in the separate emblems attached to these E2 locomotives, and to the earlier City of Denver units.

Union Pacific City of Los Angeles

The EMC E2 A units remained in their respective assignments from their construction in 1937 until the joint ownership agreements were terminated in 1948. The former SF-1 (renumbered to 901A, then 983J) was sold to SP and became that road's number 6011A. The former LA-1 (renumbered to 921A, then 984J) was sold to C&NW and became its number 5003A. The four E2 B units remained in their respective assignments until they were retired and traded to EMD on new E8s in 1953.

Union Pacific California booklet c. 1950_img244b

Via Wampa-One @ Flickr

It's quite surprising (and rarely mentioned) that in terms of revenue, the advanced trains weren't the most profitable ones. A 1938 Coverdale & Colpits Report on Streamline, Light-Weight, High-Speed Passenger Trains contains a substantial amount of data showing that the older Denver Zephyr (Burlington Road) carried well over twice as many passenger miles and earned nearly twice the operating profits as the City of Denver (UP-CNW). The steam-powered Hiawatha (Milwaukee Road) did slightly better than the diesel-electric Twin Zephyrs. And talking about the equals, the Santa Fe Super Chief/El Capitan carried far more passenger miles and earned more profits than the Union Pacific’s Cities of Los Angeles. (Source) We cannot blame the technology - it's the management, first of all.

El Capitan & The Scoutvia paul.malon @ Flickr

And finally, to the sociopolitical aspect of streamlining. Maury Klein wrote in the American Heritage of Invention and Technology magazine (Winter 1991):

Once the streamliner made its debut, however, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen awoke to the danger and demanded that firemen be included with the crews even though they had no clear function. The first roads to confront this issue were the streamliner pioneers, the Union Pacific and the Burlington. Both reluctantly caved in to the demand for two main reasons: It affected so few trains at the time, and they feared that having only one man in the cab of such fast trains might make the public uneasy. When the carriers agreed in March 1937 to put a fireman on every diesel, the requirement covered only nine trains besides switchers. This agreement marked the beginning of a disastrous cycle: The more the unions pressed for higher wages and shorter hours, the more productivity dropped, driving the carriers to seek new ways of cutting the work force through technological innovation. The unions countered by demanding new rules or preserving old ones that blunted the impact of the new technology. In effect they tried to protect job security at the expense of the efficiency so urgently needed if the industry was to survive. The result was a pattern of labor relations shaped by negativism and myopia.

You're Right Pops! via paul.malon @ Flickr

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Comment by lord_k on September 17, 2012 at 2:05am

Sun Valley? Well, well, well... Take Union Pacific streamliner to Union Pacific resort.

Comment by Pablo J. Alvarez on September 16, 2012 at 6:43pm

Time to remember this :


It seems to have great breadth, lol

Comment by Pilsner Panther on September 16, 2012 at 1:25pm

Yes, it still is. I had no complaints about it, Lord K., except that the old "Vista-dome" cars that I remembered from my childhood are long-gone. So, now you can't look forward or backward along the tracks any more, only out the side windows. Too bad, but, "that's progress!" ...In reverse.

Comment by lord_k on September 16, 2012 at 11:04am

It should be a great journey, anyway.

Comment by Pilsner Panther on September 16, 2012 at 10:27am

I took the entire 3,000-mile cross continental trip last year, N.Y.C. to Chicago, then a second train that follows the old northern route across the plains states to Salt Lake City, and then up into the Rockies and the Sierras before coming back to sea level in California. The Amtrak service was better than I expected, but of course the trains look nothing like these beauties any more. Considering how much (that is, how little) the U.S. Government cares about rail passenger service, it's amazing that you can still make the trip without having to get off the train and fly or take a bus part of the way.

Actually, at the Western end, you get dumped off in the East Bay in the suburb of Emeryville, and you have to take a bus for the last ten miles or so if you're going to S.F. Which was kind of a letdown, because the tracks still do extend into the city, but they're now used only for local commuter trains.

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