The EMD FT was actually originally developed by the Electro-Motive Corporation, a few years before it became an official division of General Motors. The model, which was designed for freight service, debuted a few years after EMC developed the EA, which was intended for passenger service. The FT nearly single-handedly replaced the steam locomotive as railroads were extremely impressed with the model and convinced that diesels could be used in main line freight service after GM successfully demonstrated the design around the country in 1939. The success of the locomotive likewise convinced EMC to begin introducing an entire line of Fs and technically it is still in production today with the F59PHI (although this locomotive is, ironically, used in passenger service). Today, despite being more than 60 years of age a number of FT's continue to survive, including original GM demonstrator #103, which is on display at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis.
The idea behind what would become the FT began in the 1930s with then EMC's chief engineer Richard "Dick" Dilworth who was attempting to come up with a rugged, reliable, and powerful main line locomotive that could replace steam power. Dilworth was a self-taught mechanical and electrical engineer who knew diesel engines well, dating back to working with General Electric on its very early designs during the first decades of the 20th century. Using the company's then relatively new 12-cylinder model 567B prime mover that was capable of producing 1,350 horsepower, Dilworth experimented by using two of the engines, each housed within its own carbody. He then gave each locomotive two, four-axle trucks powered with General Motors' D7 traction motors.
The two units were semi-permanently coupled using a drawbar instead of a standard knuckle coupler officially giving the locomotive a horsepower rating of 2,700. This early setup proved incredibly successful and Dilworth slowly refined the design by adding an additional set providing for an A-B-B-A lashup that could offer an eye-popping 5,400 horsepower, which rivaled nearly any steam locomotive of the time. It was this lashup that General Motors went on to market in 1939 as the FT model. The new cab locomotive was given a beautiful streamlined carbody by the company's new styling department, then headed by the famed Leland Knickerbocker. It was the first model in the series to feature the now classic "bull dog" nose that was not only applied to all of the company's future freight cab units but also was featured on the passenger units beginning with the E7.
Officially, the EMD FT stood for Freight, Twenty-seven hundred horsepower. Part of the FT's huge sales numbers came from the extremely successful PR campaign that the original demonstrator set embarked on in May, 1939; A units #103 and #103A and B units #103(b) and #103A(b). During the following eleven months they traveled across 20 states covering some 83,764 miles convincing railroads as they went the superiority of diesels for use in main line freight service. Another reason for the EMD FT's success was its application of dynamic braking, the first locomotive to employ the feature. Just as electric motors were efficient in using the overhead catenary for regenerative braking by returning voltage back into the system, dynamic brakes worked by using the traction motors to retard the train's progress thus not only prolonging the life of both the wheels and brake shoes but also allowing the locomotive to hold back very heavy trains on steep grades.
The EMD FT, as with early E series designs, employed model the aforementioned D7 traction motors that could produce 40,000 pounds of continuous tractive effort (and 55,000 pounds starting). Its "bull dog" nose and sweeping, streamlined carbody design became the most famous diesel locomotive carbody ever developed and is still easily recognizable by nearly everyone today. While the FT looked good visually, what really impressed railroads was the model's cost savings it allowed. As such, even though purchasing the FT meant railroads would have to sacrifice horsepower (at the time, the largest single steam locomotive was nearly three times as powerful as the FT), orders for the model quickly took off.
Like with the EA/E1 model, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe was the first to jump on the bandwagon with the FT and ordered a whopping 320 A and B units just by itself (interestingly, it purchased more FTs than Alco’s entire line of PAs), and it did not take long for other railroads to follow after seeing the locomotive’s capabilities. In the end, 25 railroads, mostly Class Is from the Chicago & North Western and Milwaukee Road to the Reading and New York Central purchased the FT. The model became so successful that by time production had ended in the late fall of 1945 EMD had sold over 1,000 units!
Today, five FT units are known to be preserved: demonstrators A unit #103 at the National Museum of Transportation, St. Louis and B unit #103(b) at the Virginia Museum of Transportation; Northern Pacific A unit #5401D at the Puebla Museum in Mexico; Southern B unit #4100C also in St. Louis; and Southern B unit #4103B at the Southeastern Railway Museum. For technical data regarding the EMD FT please click here. Also, for information about EMD's F series please refer to the chart below.
Electro-Motive Division F-Series Locomotives
|Model Type||Units Built||Date Built||Horsepower|
|FT||555 A Units/541 B Units||1939-1945||1,350|
|F2||74 A Units/30 B Units||1946||1,350|
|F3||1,111 A Units/696 B Units||1945-1949||1,500|
|F7||2,366 A Units/1,483 B Units||1949-1953||1,500|
|F9||100 A Units/154 B Units||1954-1960||1,750|
|F59PHI||Still In Production||1994-Present||3,200|
For more information on the EMD F series consider Mike Schafer’s Vintage Diesel Locomotives which looks at virtually all of the classic builders and models from Alco PAs to early EMD Geeps. If you’re interested in classic EMDs, or diesels in general, this book gives an excellent general history of both. You might want to also consider the book EMD Locomotives from author Brian Solomon. Solomon's book highlights the history of EMD from its earliest beginnings in the 1920s, to its phenomenal successes in the mid-20th century, and finally its decline into second spot behind General Electric in the late 20th century and eventual sale by General Motors in 2005. The book features 176 pages of EMD history and is filled with excellent photography and illustrations. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing either (or both) of these books please visit the links below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.