The EMD FT

The revolutionary FT was 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 released the EA intended for passenger service. The FT proved a marketing sensation convincing railroads that diesels could be used in standard road service following successful demonstrations by GM during 1939 when an A-B-B-A set toured the country. The success of the locomotive also proved to EMC that introduce a formal line of diesels and the FT paved the way for steam's demise.  Today, despite being more than 60 years of age a number of FT's survive, including original GM demonstrator #103, which is on display at the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis.

Part of General Motors' original FT demonstrator trainset #103 was featured at Electro-Motive's La Grange, Illinois plant during an open house ceremony in September of 1989.

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, the tried and proven motive power that had been in service since the birth of the industry. Dilworth was a self-taught mechanical and electrical engineer who knew diesel engines well dating back to his days at General Electric when the company was designing its own early diesels.  Using the General Motors' then relatively new 12-cylinder model 567B prime mover capable of producing 1,350 horsepower Dilworth experimented by using two of the engines with each housed in its own carbody.  Next, he then gave each locomotive two, four-axle trucks powered with GM's model D7 traction motors.

Santa Fe FT A-B-B-A set #164 are seen here in Los Angeles during the late 1940s. The AT&SF loved this model purchasing 320 A and B units between 1940 and 1945.

The two units were semi-permanently coupled using a drawbar instead of a standard knuckle coupler, which officially gave the set a rating of 2,700 horespower. 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.  Such power rivaled nearly any steam locomotive of the time albeit via four units instead of one. It was this A-B-B-A set that General Motors went to market in 1939 as the FT. The new cab locomotive was given a beautiful streamlined carbody by the company's new styling department, then headed by now legendary Leland Knickerbocker.  The FT was the first to sport the now classic "bull dog" nose that was applied to all future models, including the passenger designs (starting with the E7).

Officially, the FT stood for Freight, Twenty-seven hundred horsepower. Part of the model's huge sales numbers came from the extremely successful PR campaign of the original demonstrator, which embarked on a cross-country tour in May of 1939 featuring 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 of diesels' superiority for use in main line freight service. Another reason for the 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.  This feature not only prolonged the life of both the wheels and brake shoes but also allowed the locomotive to hold back very heavy trains on steep grade for an increased level of safety (and it is still used in modern day diesel).

An A-B-B-A set of Burlington Fs (the lead FTA and FTB as well as an F3B and F3A trailing) hustle a freight of boxcars under the signal bridge at Eola, Illinois during August of 1956.

The EMD FT used GM's 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 became the most famous such design ever developed and remains easily recognizable by both railfans and the general public.   While the FT looked good visually what really impressed railroads was the model's cost savings.  While companies realized they would have to sacrifice horsepower with the new diesel (at the time, the largest single steam locomotive was nearly three times as powerful as the FT) this was a trade-off they were willing to make and orders quickly took off.  As it had done with the E1 passenger model the Sana Fe was the first to jump on board ordering a whopping 320 A and B units by itself (interestingly, it purchased more FTs than Alco’s entire line of PAs).  It wasn't long until other railroads followed.

Electro-Motive FTA Production Roster

Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
Atlantic Coast Line300-323241943-1944
Baltimore & Ohio1a-5a, 1d-5d, 7a-11a, 7d-11d (Odds)121942-1943
Boston & Maine4200A-4223A241943-1944
Burlington100A-115A, 100D-115D321944
Chicago & North Western5400A-5401A, 5400D-5401D41945
Denver & Rio Grande Western540A-551A, 540D-551D241942-1943
Electro-Motive (Demo)1030-103121939
Erie Railroad700A-705A, 700D-705D121944
Great Northern252A, 256A-258A, 300A-305A, 300C-305C, 400A-428A (Evens), 400D-428D (Evens), 5600A, 5700A, 5701A, 5900A, 5900B511941-1945
Lackawanna601A-604A, 601C-604C, 651A-654A121945
Lehigh Valley500-50341945
Milwaukee Road35A-47A, 35D-47D261941-1945
Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway445A, 445C, 545A, 545C41945
Missouri Pacific501-512121943-1945
New York, Ontario & Western601, 801-80891945
New York Central1600-160341944
Northern Pacific6000A-6010A, 6000D-6010D221944-1945
Reading250A-259A101945
Rock Island70-73, 70A-73A, 88-99201944-1945
Santa Fe100L-179L, 100C-179C1601940-1945
Seaboard Air Line4000-4021221942-1944
Southern (Including Subsidiaries)4100A-4108A, 4100D-4108D, 4105B, 4105C, 4120-4127, 6100A-6102A, 6100D- 6102D, 6800A-6803A381939-1945
St. Louis Southwestern Railway (Cotton Belt/SP)900A, 905A, 910A, 915A, 920A, 900D, 905D, 910D, 915D, 920D101944-1945
Western Pacific901-912, 901C-912C241941-1944

FTB Production Roster

Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
Atlantic Coast Line300B-323B241943-1944
Baltimore & Ohio1b-5b, 1c-5c, 7b-11b, 7c-11c (Odds)121942-1943
Boston & Maine4200B-4223B241943-1944
Burlington100B-115B, 100C-115C321944
Chicago & North Western5400B-5401B, 5400C-5401C41945
Denver & Rio Grande Western540B-551B, 540C-551C241942-1943
Electro-Motive (Demo)1030B-1031B21939
Erie Railroad700B-705B, 700C-705C121944
Great Northern252B-258B, 301B-305B, 400B-428B (Evens), 400C-428C (Evens), 5600B, 5700B, 5701B, 5900C461941-1945
Lackawanna601B-604B, 651B-654B81945
Lehigh Valley500B-503B41945
Milwaukee Road35B-47B, 35C-47C261941-1945
Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway445B, 545B21945
Missouri Pacific501B-512B121943-1945
New York, Ontario & Western601B, 801B-808B91945
New YorK Central2400-240341944
Northern Pacific6003B-6010B, 6003C-6010C161944-1945
Reading250B-259B101945
Rock Island70B-73B, 88B-99B161944-1945
Santa Fe100A-179A, 100B-179B1601940-1945
Seaboard Air Line4100-4121221942-1944
Southern Railway (Including Subsidiaries)4100B-4104B, 4100C-4104C, 4106B-4108B, 4106C-4108C, 4116-4119, 6100B-6102B, 6100C-6102C, 6800B-6803B301939-1945
St. Louis Southwestern Railway (Cotton Belt/SP)900B, 905B, 910B, 915B, 920B, 900C, 905C, 910C, 915C, 920C101944-1945
Western Pacific901A-912A, 901B-912B241941-1944



Great Northern FTA #257A and FTB #257B are showing their age as they roll through Minneapolis during June of 1964.

In the end nearly two dozen railroads, all 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!  The locomotive led to the later classic F3 and F7, both of which sold even better.  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.

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