You can tell if you’re talking to a railfan or not by their response to this statement, “There’s a centipede on my layout.” You’ll either get an “ewww” or “ooooh” – that’s the railfan. Although they never found great success on the real railroads, enthusiasts have loved these baby-faced monsters ever since their debut.
In the 1940s as railroads looked to dieselize, a serious question remained unanswered that would greatly impact the efficiencies of the new technology. How would labor unions, and subsequently the courts, accept multiple-units controlled by a single crew? Would crews agree to run four, or even eight locomotives? As a defensive measure, many early sets of road units were numbered alike and connected by drawbars. Still the push was on to build the most powerful single-units possible.
In an effort to meet this demand, Baldwin Locomotive works produced a pair of DR-12-8-3000 locomotives that began demonstration runs on the Union Pacific in December, 1945. The pair generated orders for 42 more locomotives (also always operated in pairs) on the Pennsylvania (24), Seaboard Air Line (14) and Nationales de Mexico (14). It is foretelling that the railroad which wanted the locomotives and saw them first hand decided not to buy any.
There is no question that these units were big and powerful. The combined pairs produced 6,000 horsepower from a total of 4 diesel engines. The 16 traction motors put out a record-setting 205,000 lbs of starting tractive effort. And the 91′ 6″ big bugs weighed in at over 593 tons. They were impressive in everything that mattered – except performance.
A calamity of errors plagued the units from the start. Built one-by-one like steam locomotives, no two were exactly the same. Oil lines were mounted high on the inside of the walls and often broke loose from vibrations. Once ruptured, the contents spilled down the sides and right into the electrical conduits. The articulated frames created their own problems on curves; the blower ducts which kept the traction motors from overheating were often too far out of alignment to provide any relief. Oh, and some say the brakes didn’t work all that well either.
The Pennsylvania’s units were arguably the most photographed and most famous. Delivered in 1947, they were intended for service on the railroad’s “Blue Ribbon” passenger trains, including the Broadway Limited. First based out of Enola, the locomotives were tested in short freight runs to work out the bugs. Within a year the dozen pairs were reassigned to Columbus, OH where again a mix of passenger and freight runs was tried. By 1951, the railroad decided to purchase E-8’s to replace them in passenger service. Rebuilt in 1952-1953 in the Juniata shops, the engines were downgraded to 5,000 hp and assigned mainly to helper service. Here on the east slope the traction motor duct problem became apparent. The fleet was first placed in storage in 1957 and scrapped in April of 1962.
They may have failed miserably – but they sure must have looked awesome doing it! The sight, sound and smell of a pair of these beasts must surely have been like nothing else. Soon you can add the same excitement and drama to your layout with our VISION Line models.
Like the prototype, thanks to metal frames, bodies, trucks and pilots these brutes will be heavy and should pull like crazy. And like the prototype, they’re big! Nearly 4 feet long, they’ll be restricted to O-72 curves. To match the distinctive sounds of four big prime movers chugging away at once, we’ve included two speakers in each engine. This means never-before-heard stereo sound. There is also a pair of fan-driven smoke units in each engine. Along with that, all the usual cool features you expect from our top-of-the-line models: LEGACY Control and RailSounds, Odyssey II Speed Control, working electro-couplers on the front of each engine, directional lighting, working marker lights and LOADS of detail.
Get ready to let the Centipedes crawl all over your layout! We’ll keep you posted as production progresses.