FM "H15-44" Locomotives

The FM H15-44 was the builder's first, true road-switcher. This locomotive simply followed Fairbanks Morse "Hood" line as it did not really distinguish between switchers and road-switchers.  This was slightly odd considering that all other major builders clearly differentiated between their various designs. The one notable exterior difference between the two was the location of the cab; switchers always had theirs set to one end of the carbody while road-switchers' were off-set allowing for a short, high front nose (used to house auxiliary equipment).  Unfortunately, road-switchers proved FM's Achilles heel, as was the case with American Locomotive and Baldwin.  The three builders never found a true competitor to Electro-Motive's GP line.

While the H15-44 did not sell well (its Canadian Locomotive Company arm would take no orders for the locomotive), future designs had somewhat better success.   Alas, given the few number of H15-44s ultimately built none were preserved for posterity.  It is one of the few FM models that does not survive.

Fairbanks-Morse H15-44 demonstrator #1502 at Rutherford, New Jersey in 1948.

The FM H15-44 began production in August of 1947 utilizing the builder's ubiquitous two cycle 38D8 1/8 opposed piston prime mover, which could produce 1,500 horsepower. This diesel engine became the company's standard design it employed in nearly all of its locomotive. The H15-44 was quite similar to Electro-Motive's GP7 released a few years later; it was about the same length at 54 feet and offered the exact same horsepower.  Additionally, tractive effort was quite similar although there were some differences; while the GP7 offered more starting effort (65,000 pounds compared to 60,000 pounds) the H15-44 employed more continuous effort (52,500 pounds compared to 40,000).

Because Fairbanks Morse was not heavily involved with the railroad industry prior to releasing its diesel line the company had little knowledge on styling and overall design.  To compensate for this lack of aesthetic ability FM hired famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy to mold the H15-44 into a pleasing carbody that offered crews good visibility and versatility. Loewy's recommendations were subtle, and while some were more cosmetic in nature than utilitarian in general they were effective in giving the locomotive a nice look with clean lines and a flush roof. In truth, the H15-44 (and all of FM's switchers and road switchers) carried an appearance similar to Baldwin's designs. FM's model classification system also followed Baldwin's to some extent although they were not quite as complex. For instance, in the case of the FM H15-44 the “H” stood for Hood unit, “15” was for 1,500 horsepower, and each 4 meant four axles and four traction motors.

A Fairbanks-Morse advertisement from 1949 listing all of the builder's models up through that time.

In the end, though, FM sold only 35 units when the last was outshoppped in June of 1949. The railroads that went on to purchase the locomotive included the Akron, Canton & Youngstown (1), Central of Georgia (5), Jersey Central (13), Monon (2), Denver & Rio Grande Western (3), Kansas City Southern (2), Rock Island (2), and Union Pacific (five). Additionally, there were two demonstrators built both of which were numbered 1500; one in 1948 and the other in 1950. Interestingly, despite the issues the Fairbanks Morse suffered with its opposed-piston prime mover and railroads' frustration with it the succeeding H16-44 design proved to be one of the company's best selling models.  

Fairbanks Morse H15-44 Production Roster

Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
Akron, Canton & Youngstown20011949
Central Of Georgia101-10551949
Central Railroad Of New Jersey (CNJ)1501-1513131949
Denver & Rio Grande Western150-15231948
Fairbanks Morse (Demo)1500 (1st/2nd)21948-1950
Kansas City Southern40-4121949
Monon Railroad36-3721947
Rock Island400-40121948
Union PacificDS1325-DS132951948

Jersey Central H15-44 #1503 is seen here at the road's Jersey City Terminal in Jersey City, New Jersey on November 8, 1969. Roger Puta photo.

While the H15-44 was only marginally successful from a sales standpoint it is not necessarily because Fairbanks Morse's models in general were unreliable, as was usually the case with Alco (early on anyway) and particularly Baldwin. Reliability with FM's diesel locomotives has often been questioned but I believe the issue was mostly due to the fact that FM's opposed-piston prime mover was difficult to maintain and far different from the standard designs being offered by the other builders. For instance, in regards to the Train Master, it has been noted by John Kirkland in his book The Diesel Builders Volume 1 that the locomotives performed admirably for more than 20 years on the Southern Pacific due to a maintenance team that understood the model, despite taking a daily beating in freight service.  

  1. Home
  2.  ›
  3. Diesel Locomotives
  4.  ›
  5. H15-44

Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

Wes Barris's is simply the best web resource in the study of steam locomotives. 

The amount of information found there is quite staggering; historical backgrounds of wheel arrangements, types used by virtually every railroad, preserved and operational examples, and even those used in other countries (North America and beyond). 

It is difficult to truly articulate just how much material can be found at this website.  It is a must visit!

Researching Rights-Of-Way

A popular pastime for many is studying and/or exploring abandoned rights-of-way. 

Today, there are tens of thousands of miles scattered throughout the country.  Many were pulled up in the 1970's and 1980's although others were removed long before that. 

If you are researching active or abandoned corridors you might want to check out the United States Geological Survey's (USGS) Historical Topographic Map Explorer

It is an excellent resource with thousands of historic maps on file throughout the country.  Just type in a town or city and click on the timeline of maps at the bottom of the page!