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  • “Now THAT’S Railroading!”

    2012 - 06.12

    (Pt.2 on my model train odyssey, which begun here)

    If I had to choose a favorite train engine, it’d be the Milwakee’s electric “Bipolar” locomotives, so-named due to the type of motors they employed. Designated class EP-2, only 5 examples were ever built, made in 1919 and operating until ’61. They ran in Washington State until 57 when they were transferred to the Rocky Mountain Division–but really their glory period was before a botched rebuild-job in ’53 which made their appearance more ‘bubbly’ and their operation unreliable. Personally I prefer the old look with all the exposed piping, more similar to a steam engine in appearance. These engines never ran on any other railroad besides the Milwaukee Road and wore a variety of colorful paint schemes during their lifetime.

    As posted previously, I do plan on recreating the Cascade Mountain division on the Milwaukee Road, where the Bipolars ran. Since I’m going to do a good deal of work building catenary (that’s the hip’n’with-it word for overhead electrical wires) I want to max out any/all operations that might have occurred under Milwaukee wires…

    Which leads me to another type of distinctive electric engine on the Milwaukee nicknamed the “Little Joe”. Although in my book the Joes aren’t quite as cool as the Bipolars, they are still way up there on the scale of rad-lookin railroading. These fellas were designated class EP-4 (2 units) and EF-4 (10 units), depending on whether they pulled freight or passenger service. The MILW ran them on the Rocky Mountain Division from 1950 all the way until the dismantling of the electric wires in June of ’74. Unfortunately for my historical accuracy, the Joes never once ran on the Coast division: ONE, there was an un-electrified gap separating the Rocky Mountain Division and the Coast Division, and TWO, the substations which powered the railroad had to be ‘modded’ from 3kV up to 3.3kV to max out Joestyle performance. I highlight these engines in particular since they are readily availble in inexpensive plastic, as opposed to haughtily-expensive hand-built brass. So I could definitely obtain these.

    In doing research for my forthcoming model railroad, I basically just did some google image searches for Milwaukee Road and tried to find anything that I felt looked awesome. The Joes definitely qualify. And the scenery on the Rocky Mountain Division is more or less interchangable with that of the Cascade Mountains in Washington where the Bipolars ran. I think I am going to make the IME (“it’s my empire”) decision to call my mountains either the Rockies or the Cascades, depending on who’s traversing them. That’ just more fun.

    Further motivation to make such a compromise is the fact that the Joes actually ran some very interesting freight service, the form of Train #261 westbound and Train #262 eastbound, both of which were “hotshot” freights or extra fast freight trains in other words. In 1962, these two trains were named the “XL Special” and the “Thunderhawk”, respectively–both of which are ultra badass names! Their claim to fame was speed. They covered 2200 miles in 55 hours. By contrast, their fastest competition did it in 94 hours. And only the Milwaukee had tall enough tunnels to run tri-level auto racks, hauling imported cars from Seattle to Chicago. Check out this photo of the Thunderhawk in action:

    Running those trains sounds like a lot of fun to me: they’ve got badass names, they’re really fast, their motive power is a distinctive mix of electric and diesel, and they’ll fit with the terrain I’ll be building. Only issue is the time period. If I set the railroad in early ’53 I can have both Bipolars and Joes, although I shouldn’t mix them for regional accuracy. But my favorite Bipolar paint scheme was painted over in 1948. And the Super Domes didn’t exist until late ’52. I suppose if I really wanted to be a stick in the mud, I could just hide the offending mismatches in staging but realistically, when no one else is around to be appalled at my hideous choices in modeler’s license, I just see myself running the trains I like and calling it close enough.

    Another candidate for my modeling is the Olympian Hiawatha as pulled by the “Erie-built” diesels, as pictured below. These babies had a flashy chrome nose and a mean-looking evil-eyebrow thing going on with the cabin windows, thanks to famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy. Put those suckers down as my vote for all-time favorite diesel. Only problem: they don’t exist in plastic… yet. Ball’s in your court, maufacturers. I’ll be waiting for these……


    *** pedantic technicality: Erie-builts DO exist in plastic, but only in a Life-Life Proto 1000 rendering of the engines which didn’t have the chrome nose or the flat windows. In other words, it’s a ‘so-so quality’ model lacking the two most distinguishing features of the version I like.

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    3 Responses to ““Now THAT’S Railroading!””

    1. Bob says:

      I have looked everywhere and can not find anyone who ever made the Milwaukee Bi-Polar in G-Scale. I have heard of them being called E-1 and then being renamed as E-2 ??? Do you have any idea where I can find one of these in G Scale. Thanks

    2. Nick R. says:

      Hey John,

      You know you could buy the Proto 1000 Erie built loco and detail it out to the level of the other mainstream models. Check out this product.


      You could use it to bring the nose up to snuff.

      All in all, nice progress and nice work.