The Milwaukee Road’s Class EP-3 electric locomotives, commonly
remembered as Quills, have been mostly forgotten to history. As with
the EP-2s, the Milwaukee took delivery of the EP-3s beginning in 1919
for passenger service along the railroad’s Rocky Mountain Division.
While these motors provided phenomenal tractive effort and horsepower,
they were poorly designed by Baldwin and Westinghouse and were a
constant battle by the Milwaukee to keep in service (broken axles and
cracked wheels were just some of the experienced problems). Due to the
Quills’ poor reliability and constant maintenance attention they were
quickly scrapped in the 1950s following the arrival of the new "Little
Joes" from General Electric in the early part of that decade.
Milwaukee Road Quills #E12 and #E14 pull train #15, the westbound "Olympian," through rural Soudan, Montana on September 21, 1939. Note the overall excellent condition of the property during these years.
Milwaukee’s EP-3 electric locomotives, of which the railroad wound up
with 10 of the units, derived their name “Quills” from the type of
drives they employed, which reduced the weight sitting directly above
the axles. Overall the EP-3 featured a 2-C-1+1-C-2 wheel arrangement and was rated at over 3,300 hp with six 566 hp traction motors
mounted over each driving axle (the locomotives were also nearly
identical to the successful New York, New Haven & Hartford motors of
similar design). Externally the Quills were similar to the
GE/Alco-built boxcabs as they featured a simple boxy carbody design.
The Quills were the only electric locomotives the Milwaukee Road ever purchased from Baldwin/Westinghouse and while the design worked
well on the relatively flat lines of the New Haven, mountainous
operation proved to be a different story. The railroad was looking for a
fleet of passenger motors to supplement its fleet of EP-1 boxcabs
already operating on the Rocky Mountain Division between Harlowton,
Montana and Avery, Idaho. Interestingly, the railroad had wished to
stick with General Electric/Alco for its next purchase of motors after
it had finished electrifying its Coast Division prior to 1920. However,
with the USRA still partially in control the government ordered the
railroad to break up its request of 15 new units between GE/Alco and
Baldwin/Westinghouse whereas the former built the five EP-2s and the
latter the ten EP-3s.
Milwaukee Quill #E14 has the eastbound "Olympian" rolling through Clinton, Montana on the late afternoon of September 23, 1939.
Numbered E10 through E18 the ten EP-3 Quills were well liked by the
crews that operated them as they provided fabulous pulling power and
starting tractive effort (for one thing they were not prone to slippage
like the EP-1 boxcabs). However, aside from these features the EP-3s
were a flawed design. Built too lightly and rigidly for the stresses of
heavy and circuitous operation in mountainous territory the Quills were
constantly breaking or cracking frames, axles, or wheels (not to
mention being derailment prone). An attempt to help alleviate the
problem by Baldwin/Westinghouse by splitting the locomotives in two
providing an articulated setup likewise proved futile. This was only
attempted on one locomotive per the Milwaukee’s belief that the idea
would likely fail.
The first Quill the railroad put into service, #E10, is seen here easing out of the beautiful station at Butte, Montana with the westbound "Olympian" on April 8, 1940.
It is quite interesting to note that the Milwaukee Road's electric department was highly skilled in such rail operations,
much more so than most often know or realize. Not only did they doubt
Baldwin/Westinghouse's idea of splitting the EP-3s but they also are
recognized for countless other achievements to the system such as
regularly maintaining the equipment, infrastructure, and locomotives and
improving all three when opportunities or ideas arose. For instance,
when the system was shutdown in 1971-1974 it was actually in much better
shape and could handle much heavier capacities than when it was first
built in the early 20th century. To read more about the Milwaukee's electrified operations please click here.
A closeup, side-profile of #E14 at the yard in Three Forks, Montana on April 14, 1941. Note the snowplows attached to the front pilot; always a handy tool to shove light to moderate snowfall away from the tracks in the northern Rockies.
In regular service, the Quills were rated for speeds of 65 mph with a
continuous 3,396 horsepower rating. Interestingly, it is said that they were easily capable of
handling much heavier loads than the officially listed horsepower rating and could reach speeds in excess of 80
mph. This often proved the case with the company's other motors as most were capable of performing far above their listed designations. No fewer than five attempts were made at relieving the
locomotive's of their problems by adding weight to the frames and
rebuilding the trucks.
Milwaukee Road Quill #E16 has train #16, the eastbound "Olympian," at rural Alberton, Montana on November 5, 1939.
However, in the end nothing could solve all of the issues the model contained. It was one of the only times that Baldwin, and particularly Westinghouse, failed with one of their production model electric locomotives as the two-team tandem was revered for their ability at the time to construct highly efficient and reliable motors. In the end the Milwaukee Road gave up on the locomotives and opted not to overhaul the Quills in the late 1940s as it did the rest of its motors. Beginning in 1952, as the reliable and efficient GE Little Joes entered service the EP-3s were slowly retired until all ten were scrapped and off of the roster by 1957. As such, no examples of the Milwaukee Road's poorest performing electric locomotive survive today.