• Serial curiosity

  • Discussion of General Electric locomotive technology. Current official information can be found here: www.getransportation.com.
Discussion of General Electric locomotive technology. Current official information can be found here: www.getransportation.com.

Moderators: MEC407, AMTK84

  by Allen Hazen
Now that GE has two locomotive assembly plants, one in Pennsylvania and one in Texas…
Do locomotives from the two plants get serial numbers in the same series?
Historical precedents that I know of:
---Some lighter locomotives (industrials?) in the old days were built in Schenectady rather than Erie: I think they got GE numbers in the main GE series.
---Fairbanks-Morse "Erie-built" units (with GE electrical equipment and built by GE at the Erie plant under contract) had GE serial numbers.
---Those U23C units built by GE do Brasil had GE do Brasil numbers (in a six-digit range) but not GE five-digit serials in the series with Erie-built units.
  by NorthWest
A quick check of BNSF ES44C4s built at GE Erie and GE Texas shows that they all have serial numbers in the same series.
  by Allen Hazen
Thank you! … Serial numbers are seriously trivial, but… From a sentimental point of view, they are like monuments and historic relics. GE's serial series goes back to the very beginnings of non-steam motive power on American railroads(*), and so "feels" like a link to the past.
(*)O.k., o.k., I know there were some experiments in the 19th C, even before the establishment of GE (and its predecessor companies), but … the beginnings of anything that looks like a continuous evolution.
  by mtuandrew
Allen Hazen wrote:Northwest--
Thank you! … Serial numbers are seriously trivial, but… From a sentimental point of view, they are like monuments and historic relics. GE's serial series goes back to the very beginnings of non-steam motive power on American railroads(*), and so "feels" like a link to the past.
(*)O.k., o.k., I know there were some experiments in the 19th C, even before the establishment of GE (and its predecessor companies), but … the beginnings of anything that looks like a continuous evolution.
That makes me wonder whether GE used that same serial number series for Dan Patch 100. http://www.mtmuseum.org/roster.php?page=dpl100" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; Apparently it's SN #3763.
  by Allen Hazen
Yes, I think the Dan Patch line's unit (a gas-electric, one of the first internal combustion powered locomotives on the U.S. railroad system, still in existence (though repowered with a diesel engine)) is numbered in the same sequence. John S. Kirkland died before he could write the GE volume of his series "The Locomotive Builders," but he wrote an earlier volume, "Dawn of the Diesel Era," describing diesel locomotive and diesel engine developments up to the middle of the 1930s: GE was, of course, a central player in this development, and he describes a number of early GE units with numbers in the four digits.

Just what all the numbers were assigned to (the series was up to something like 14,000 by the end of the 1930s -- some ranges were skipped during WW II so German intelligence wouldn't be able to figure out American production totals, so current production has numbers several thousand higher than, strictly speaking, it deserves) I'm not sure: the total number of straight electric locomotives built for Class 1 railroads is far too small to account for them all. I assume lots of small electric locomotives for interurbans and industrials had numbers in the series, including small mining locomotives. I don't know whether power sets built for trolley cars would have been included.
  by Allen Hazen
Sorry, goofed on the title (and the author's middle initial!):
John F. Kirkland, "Dawn of the Diesel Age: the history of the diesel locomotive in America," Interurban Press, 1983 ("Special 80" in an Interurban Press series). ISBN 0-916374-52-1.

A few random early GE serial numbers from this book:

Dan Patch Electric Lines (= Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester and Dubuque Electric Traction Company) !00, built 1913: serial 3763.

East Erie Commercial 1006 (a single-engined -- Dan Patch 100 had two -- GE test unit of about the same time): serial 3765.

General Electric 4 (a test unit, operated on the E.E.C., with an experimental GE diesel engine, built 1917): serial 3795.

Jay Street Connecting Railroad (waterfront switching line in Brooklyn, NY) 4 (centercab switcher, with the -- disastrously bad-- GE diesel engine: returned to GE after short service, later re-engined and used as GE test unit, built late 1918): serial 6206.

GE-IR 8835 (300 hp switcher: prototype and demonstrator for the Alco-GE-Ingersoll-Rand series, built 1923): serial 8835.

Commonwealth Edison Company of Chicago ??? (a "hybrid," with a gasoline engine and big storage batteries, demonstrated on the Chicago and Northwestern before selling to an industrial, built 1926): serial 10035.

Bush Terminal (another Brooklyn waterfront switching line) 1-7 (these were the original hood units, 300 hp switchers with the same machinery as the A-GE-IR boxcars: some of these were still in existence in the 1970s, and it is one of the tragedies of railway preservation that none were saved; built 1931): serials 11483-11489.

Delaware Lackawanna & Western 425,426 (the original prototypes of the EMD 600 hp Winton-engined switcher, built by GE for EMD -- Fairbanks-Morse wasn't the first company to get GE to build its locomotives for it! -- in 1935): serials 11653,11654.

EMC 511,512; B&O 50 (the 1800 hp box-cab predecessors of EMD's E-series passenger units, built by GE in 1935): serials 11651,11652 and 11675.

New Haven 906-910 (larger, 600 hp, hood units with eight-cylinder Ingersoll-Rand engines, built late 1936): serials 11771-11775.

Not many "data points" (and the Kirkland book only gives about as many other GE serial numbers), but enough to indicate that GE locomotive serial numbers from the beginning to today are in a single series! (This Kirkland book also has a lot about early diesel engine developments -- stationary generating plants came before locomotives -- and about early Baldwin and Westinghouse diesel locomotives. … His "The Diesel Builders" series has volumes on Fairbanks-Morse and Lima-Hamilton (one volume), Alco and Baldwin. Supposedly he was working on a GE volume at his death, and there are rumours that his notes, etc, have gone to someone who may eventually publish: we live in hope.)
  by mtuandrew
Mr. Hazen: I suppose the early GE gas-electric passenger units would have been in the same series, but that still doesn't seem to account for all of the 3,762 serial numbers prior to Dan Patch (MStPRDETCo) 100. Looks like there were only a hundred or so early doodlebugs, according to a past thread on the subject (which may or may not be accurate.) Only thing I can figure is that GE was including other engine-generator sets in its serial number series prior to getting heavily involved in railroad locomotive building in the 1910s.

PS: Dan Patch #100's history is really interesting, from its original construction as the alternative to steam power through Minneapolis' rich suburbs, to its conversion to straight trolley-pole electric, to its dieselization with the current Waukesha engine, to it ending up with the Great Northern (of all places!) before being donated to the Minnesota Transportation Museum. It still runs - occasionally - but you'd want to wear earplugs, what with how close the operator would stand to that engine.
  by Allen Hazen
I think you are right about there having been only on the order of 100 GE gas-electric cars. (There was an article on them in "Trains" back in the ?? 1970s ?? that I think included a roster -- I'll see if I can find it in my "archive".) As for what else went into the number series… Non-rail engine-generator sets rate a possibility (though given gasoline engine technology at the time, I don't know how many of these GE would have built in the early days -- note that they ended up building their own gasoline engines for at least the later of they gas-electric cars). Since electric locomotives are definitely in the same number series as diesels, and since a reasonable number were built for interurbans and industrials in addition to the small number acquired for Class 1 electrifications, my guess is that they account for a reasonable fraction of the series. I don't think GE built whole trolley cars or interurbans, but they certainly supplied power equipment for them: I don't know if some might have been included in the "locomotive" number series.
  by Allen Hazen
Tomy very great annoyance, I can't find the old "Trains" article on GE's gas electric cars and early internal combustion locomotives -- as I recall, it was a multi-part article, spread over two or three issues, and I would have THOUGHT I would have kept those issues at the time of the disruptive house-move a few years ago…

GE built a very large number of small industrial locomotives before withdrawing from that market in the ?? 1990s ?? In the course of rummaging through the "archive" I came across pictures (in one of the pictorial compendia edited by Kerr of DPA-LTA press) of diesel and electric units of 20 and 25 tons, numbered in the main GE locomotive serial number sequence.

BUT… The question of just what was and was not given numbers in that sequence, particularly in the early days, is bugging me now! Anyone who has relevant information: you can contribute to my peace of mind ...
  by Allen Hazen
For the record… The numbers skipped for security reasons during WW II were 13200-14999, 15300-15599, 15900-17699, 18200-27499, and 28000-28199. (*) That's a total of 15,400, so GE may not quite have caught up with Balwin and Alco in total number of locomotives built… but they're closing in!

(*) "Extra 2200 South," issue 51 (1975), page 19 (in the first part of a two-part series on GE's 44-tonners).
  by Pneudyne
The attached General Electric advertisement from the trade journal “Diesel Railway Traction” (DRT) might provide some broad background information.

It ran in the 1962 October and 1962 December issues at least. It may well have been in others, but I do not have a full set of DRT for 1962.

At that time, GE claimed to have supplied 20 000 locomotives since 1892. These were of various types and sizes, from 5 hp and 1½ tons upwards.

Possibly the GE locomotive serial number sequence dates back to 1892, given that GE is claiming this as its “start” date.

DRT 196212 p.20 GE Ad.png
  by Allen Hazen
Thank you! 1892 is the date of origin of General Electric as a corporation under that name: it was formed by the merger of the "Edison General Electric" and "Thomson-Houston" companies. The predecessor companies were already into electric railroading: Edison General Electric had, in 1889, absorbed the "Sprague Electric Railway" company. But the early business was in tramways ("trolley cars," for the Americans), and it may be that a small (4 wheel) industrial switcher which was built in 1892 or 1893 was their first <i>locomotive</i>.

I'm fairly confident that the number series goes back to, or at least close to, that point. I spent some time rummaging in my files today, and the lowest GE locomotive serial number I found (in an old issue of "Extra 2200 South") was 2695, for a 50 ton electric steeple-cab built in July of 1908. Since the Dan Patch Lines gasoline electric of 1913 was only 3763, this suggests the series started well back in the 1890s.

As for the ad, by October 1962 GE had reached the mid 34,000's in its series. (34560, a U25B for the Pennsylvania Railroad, was built in that month(*).) Given the 15,000 skipped numbers, for GE to claim 20,000 locomotives built at that point involved a bit of rounding upward, but wasn't really misleading advertising.

It would be interesting to know how many of these locomotives were in which size class. I suspect a large majority were industrial and mining locomotives of under 50 tons. Before the mid-20th Century, in-plant (often narrow gauge) railways were used, I think, for many purposes which would now be served by rubber-tired equipment, and the market for small locomotives was much larger than it is now.

Do you have any guesses about the identity of the locomotive depicted in the illustration? I think the Manilla Railway, in the Philippines, had some small U-series units that they used in passenger service.

(*) Example picked from the roster in Greg McDonnell's book "The U-Boats," which lists all domestic U-series locomotives.
  by Pneudyne
The locomotive shown in the “20 000” advertisement might have been based upon the RFFSA (Brasil) U5B or U8B, a large combined order for which was filled around 1961. Some of these at least had rubber suspension trucks that looked like those in the advertisement. And the livery stripes and chevrons look similar, although not the same. That said, the Manila Railroad U6B is definitely a possibility, as these seem to have had similar trucks.

DRT 196108 p.05.jpg
DRT 196109 p.413.jpg
DRT 196109 p.47.jpg
  by Pneudyne
Allen Hazen wrote:It would be interesting to know how many of these locomotives were in which size class. I suspect a large majority were industrial and mining locomotives of under 50 tons.
I am inclined to agree.

By way of a rough count, in mid-1962 export Universals probably numbered in the 600 to 700 range. Pre-Universal exports, 50 tons and up, but excluding heavy industrial switchers and 70-ton variants totalled somewhat over 300. Add to that however many U25Bs had been built, around 250 70-tonner variants, the GTELs, and also the total of electric locomotives above 50 tons, and I suspect that the total might fall short of 3000.

I wonder if GE counted the locomotives built as part of the Alco-GE partnership?

  by Allen Hazen
The "heavy" count would also include main-line electric locomotives, both for U.S. Class 1 railroads and for export, but these would, I think, total in the hundreds and not thousands. Smaller electric locomotives-- centre- or steeple-cab in the 50 to 90 ton range, built for industries and for street- or interurban railways-- would again, I think, be in the hundreds. So it looks as if the really small units may have been the OVERWHELMING majority.

My guess is that Alco units built under the Alco-GE consortium (1940-1953) have not been counted, as I don't think any of them got GE serial numbers. I'm not sure how many of these units there were: the references I have give production totals for locomotive models, but a number of models (e.g. S-3,S-4,FA-2,RS-3...) that were introduced under the consortium continued in product after the partnership split in 1953. Rough guess would be maybe toward 3,000 switchers and 539-engined road switchers, and something over 2,000 244-engined units. (If they had been included, the claim of 20,000 locomotives in 1962 would have been seriously rounded DOWN! From a "truth in advertising" perspective, however, GE's contribution to Alco's locomotives would have reinforced GE's claim to be an experienced locomotive designer and builder!)

As to the artwork… The striping does look more like the RFFSA's, and the truck -- with the prominent round opening in the side frame beside the swing bolster -- certainly matches. The Manila Railway -- going by the top picture in the add featuring their locomotives -- used 6-axle units with a non-standard cab on their passenger trains (and GE probably wouldn't have wanted to use a picture of a locomotive with a NONSTANDARD cab in an ad trying to sell their standard U-series). On the other hand… the tree in the foreground, below the rear end of the locomotive and the first car, is very reminiscent of the artwork in the ad showing Manilla Railway units!

(Thanks, very much, for sharing these old DRT ads! North American railway enthusiasts tend to know very little about railways in the rest of the world or about the locomotives built by American builders for export, and DRT is not readily available in North America. I'd guess I'm not the only frequenter of the GE forum who thinks seeing these is a treat!)