The Class EF-4/EP-4 "Little Joes"

The Milwaukee Road’s "Little Joes," were the last electric locomotives purchased by the railroad. How they ended up on the Milwaukee Road is a rather twist of fate. However, the electric locomotives ran near flawlessly during their service life that spanned three decades and they became the most revered motors ever operated on the Milwaukee Road. The Little Joes were used in regular service from the early 1950s until the Milwaukee Road’s western electrified operations over its famous Pacific Extension were shutdown in 1974.  Early on the 2-D+D-2 electrics pulled both passenger and freight trains although this ended in early 1961 when the railroad stopped running its transcontinental Olympian Hiawatha to Puget Sound.  Thankfully, one Little Joe was saved from the scrapper’s torch and now sits on display in Deer Lodge, Montana with other preserved equipment.

Milwaukee #E79 and mate #E70 along with a GP9 and four-unit set of boxcabs lead a westbound freight past the depot in Alberton on May 28, 1967.

The unique "Little Joe" electric locomotives were built by General Electric in 1946 to fill an order placed by the Soviet Railways to operate on a 3,300 volt, DC system. However, upon the order being completed relations had broken down between the United States and Russia (thus plunging us into the Cold War) and the locomotives had no place to go, with all 20 sitting at GE’s Erie, Pennsylvania plant awaiting purchase. The "Little Joes" derived their name from the Soviet Union’s ruler, Joseph Stalin originally being called Little Joe Stalin's locomotives and later shortened to just Little Joes.  From a technical standpoint these motors carried a 2-D+D-2 wheel arrangement, were equipped with eight GE 750 motors, and operated on a 3,000 volt DC system (perfect for the Milwaukee Road) with a continuous rating of 5,500 horsepower! While geared rather low with a maximum speed of just 68 mph they produced 75,700 pounds of tractive effort and would prove to be perfect in stiff, mountainous territory.

Needing to sell the electric locomotives, GE offered to test one on the Milwaukee Road in the late 1940s, which interestingly had to be regauged to 4 feet 8 ½ inches from the five foot specifications for Soviet Railways. Of the twenty built, the Milwaukee Road would go on to purchase 12 in 1950 with three picked up by the commuter line Chicago, South Shore & South Bend Railroad and the other five sold to Brazilian railroad, Paulista Railway.  After arrival on the CMStP&P the railroad quickly set to putting them into service. Initially two were singled out for passenger service and designated class EP-4 (they carried the Milwaukee Road’s plush Olympian Hiawatha passenger train, which operated between Seattle and Chicago) with the rest used in freight operations and designated class EF-4s (after the Milwaukee Road ended passenger service to Seattle in 1961 the two motors designated for such were reclassified to EF-4s as well).

A Milwaukee Road "Little Joe" and three diesels hustle expedited eastbound freight #262, the "XL Special," outside of Missoula, Montana as it parallels the Northern Pacific main line during July of 1973.

The "Little Joes" were purchased to replace the Milwaukee Road’s aging fleet of electrics which consisted of elderly GE boxcabs; classes EP-1, EF-1, and EP-2 (Bi-Polars). The unreliable Bi-Polars were finally scrapped in 1962 and the original EP-1s and EF-1s were retired following the purchase of the EF-4s in 1950 (however, boxcab classes EF-2, EF-3, and EF-5 remained in service along with the "Little Joes" until the end).  The EF-4s proved to be a reliable and effective motor across the Milwaukee Road’s Rocky Mountain Division where grades through the Bitterroots sometimes peaked over 2%. If you were lucky enough to see these magnificent locomotives in action they could regularly be seen assisting expedited freights with names like XL Special and Thunderhawk over St. Paul Pass and other stiff grades in Montana and the northeastern tip of Idaho (their range stretched as far west as Avery, Idaho the western terminus of the Milwaukee Road's Rocky Mountain Division).

Milwaukee Road #E73 and a quartet of GP40s have the "XL Special" grinding upgrade at rural Saltese, Montana as the train skirts the St. Regis River on May 31, 1969.

Until 1961 the "Little Joes" also assisted in carrying the regal Olympian Hiawatha passenger train from Harlowton, Montana to Avery, Idaho. The two "Little Joes" designated for this service were painted in a splendid matching livery of two-tone orange and after the Milwaukee Road ended the Olympian Hi the units were returned to the more traditional solid orange with black trim.  For the "Little Joes", not only were they the last electrics purchased by the Milwaukee Road but the locomotives also made history by heading the final runs of electrified operations in June of 1974. One of these last runs occurred on June 15th when electrics E73 and E20 lead train #264 into Deer Lodge, Montana. After the June shutdown the "Little Joes" remained in storage on the system until all were eventually scrapped, save for unit E70 which was donated to the City of Deer Lodge and today is displayed on the courthouse lawn painted in the Milwaukee's Olympian Hiawatha livery.

Milwaukee Road "Little Joe" #E20 leads hotshot westbound freight #261, the "XL Special," through Alberton, Montana during August of 1973.

It is interesting to note that just after the Milwaukee Road shutdown its electrification the oil embargo hit causing oil prices to shoot through the roof and resulted in the railroad not only spending millions on fuel but also new locomotives to replace the electrics.  In any event, today electrics no longer conquer St. Paul Pass on the Rocky Mountain Division and all is quiet over the famous Pacific Extension except for the sound of Mother Nature and the occasional hiker along a number of rail/trails. However, the sprinting Indian logo lives on with the Milwaukee Road Historical Association and Amtrak continues to operate a passenger train named after the famous Indian.

The Milwaukee Road's Class EP-4/EF-4 "Little Joes"

Road Numbers Date Built Builder Horsepower
E20, E21, E70–E791946General Electric5,530 HP 1 Hour/5,110 HP Continuous



In this scene a pair of "Little Joes" leading priority freight #264 near Bearmouth, Montana on June 17, 1963 are still wearing the Milwaukee's passenger livery during their time pulling the crack "Olympian Hiawatha," which was discontinued in May of 1961. In the foreground is the Clark Fork River.

For more reading on the Milwaukee Road and you might want to consider The Milwaukee Road from Tom Murray. Of course, being that the Milwaukee is a legend in the ranks of fallen flags, hundreds of publications (many quite good) have been written about it over the years detailing various subjects. However, this book is a superb publication and will at least give you a general overview and history of the CMStP&P (and it is filled with many, excellent, historical and colorful photographs) at which point you can decide if you are interested in further books of study on the railroad. Even if you are a historian and/or fan of the Milwaukee and have not seen this book I'm sure you will enjoy it!  And, for more reading about the Milwaukee Road boxcabs and other electrics the railroad operated consider Electric Locomotives from Brian Solomon. Not only does the book give a nice overview about the Milwaukee Road's electrified operations it also covers American electric locomotive technology in general. 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.

Share Your Thoughts

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below. Please note that while I strive to present the information as accurately as possible I am aware that there may be errors. If you have potential corrections the help is greatly appreciated.