Baldwin "Sharknose" Locomotives

One thing cannot be questioned about the Baldwin Sharknose design, it could not be mistaken with any other diesel model! The Baldwin Locomotive Works was primarily a steam locomotive manufacturer (a quite accomplished one at that) and while its diesel locomotive switchers were somewhat successful the locomotive builder never did well in the diesel market, always in third place behind the American Locomotive Company (Alco) and the leader of the day, General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division (EMD). It is important to note that the Sharknose design is not exclusive to one, individual model as is often the case with other diesels that have a name attached to them.

 Instead, Baldwin built several cab unit models that employed the Sharknose carbody, ranging from four to six axles. Today, the last model it constructed, the RF16, is the only domestic version that still survives.  Two examples (former New York Central units which later worked on the Monongahela Railway and Delaware & Hudson) are locked away at a Michigan short line.  The owner states they will be donated to a preservation group at some point in the future.

Delaware & Hudson RF16 #1205 is seen here at Whitehall, New York on June 15, 1977. This model is most recognized for having the "Sharknose" carbody although other variants also wore it. Arnold Morscher photo.

Although Baldwin never made the successful switch from steam locomotives to diesels, one of its more popular road unit models, at least among railfans, was the unique carbody design of the Sharknose, also regarded as simpyl "Sharks". In total, Baldwin would offer three different units with the Sharknose carbody; the DR-4-4-1500 of 1948, the DR-6-4-2000 of late 1948, and the RF16/RF615E of 1950 (this last model was a product of the Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton Corporation formed in 1950 through the merger of Baldwin and Lima-Hamilton through parent Westinghouse Electric). The creation of the new carbody was actually out of necessity. When Baldwin began cataloging cab units after World War II it used what only can be described as a knock-off Electro-Motive Division design with a low nose and large windows similar to the "Bulldog" look of E and F units. However, it was not very attractive and became known as the "Baby Face" design. As such, the company began looking for something new.

A pair of New York Central's RF16's, nicknamed "Sharks" (or "Sharknose"), are seen here in Cincinnati, Ohio on December 8, 1966.

The Baldwin Sharknose was very distinctive and could not be mistaken, much because of the fact that the model’s carbody was designed by legendary industrial engineer Raymond Loewy, who based the unit after the Pennsylvania Railroad's streamlined T-1 steam locomotive (Loewy was always well known for several designs among many different railroads, particularly during the streamliner revolution). While somewhat overall similar in carbody design to that of EMD’s E and F series, and Alco’s PA, whereby the cab was situated to one end and behind the nose, the Sharknose was very unique in its styling. The nose had much sharper angles as opposed to EMD’s and Alco’s rounded curves, and it was tapered towards the headlight, giving the unit its nickname that it would forever be known by. The Sharknose's styling behind the cab was also more sharply angled than EMDs and Alcos in that the final three to four feet of carbody nearest the roofline was also tapered, giving the Sharknose a discrete streamlining which allowed it to be used in both passenger service as well as for freight assignments.

Delaware & Hudson's two RF16s, #1205 and #1216, highball towards Sayre, Pennsylvania along the Erie Lackawanna main line during August of 1975. Jerry Custer photo.

As mentioned above, the Baldwin Sharknose model can be a bit confusing due to the several models that used the design. In 1950 the RF16 model was released, which included a new 608A SC, 1,600 horsepower engine. It was part of the company's new Standard line as it dropped the confusing letters and numbers it had previously been using to classify its diesels. Like its predecessor model the RF16 only enjoyed marginal success over the previous models, although it did become the most successful cab unit then BLH ever produced. While it has been argued as to the overall success of the RF16 in regards to its service performance one thing which cannot be argued was its dislike among the railroads who found the Baldwin Sharknose very troublesome to maintain, even with the new engine in the upgraded model. For this reason the Sharknose was only marginally successful and the design sold a little over 100 units, including B, cabless units.

Today the Baldwin Sharknose no longer survives in either regular freight service or preserved. However, two units of the RF16 model, last used on the Delaware & Hudson Railway (numbered 1205 and 1216, which were originally purchased by the New York Central) in the 1970s, reportedly still survive in upper Michigan, in storage by shortline railroad Escanaba & Lake Superior (who also are said to have no interest in allowing the locomotives to be seen). Until recently, one could sometimes catch a glimpse of these units, as they were stored outdoors but were reportedly moved indoors after the units’ builder plates were stolen by vandals. As to whether the RF16s will ever be used again and/or showcased in a museum can only be guessed, although for history’s sake it would be great to see this happen, as the Sharknose is truly a unique and historic locomotive.

Lew Custer photographed his brother Jerry hanging out the engineer's cab window of Monongahela Railway RF16 #1216 at the shops in Brownsville, Pennsylvania in June, 1974. Ben Custer collection.

Baldwin "Sharknose" Variants

Model Type Units Built Date Built Horsepower
DR-4-4-1500 (PRR Only)36 A Units/36 B Units1948-19501,500
DR-6-4-2000 (PRR Only)18 A Units/9 B Units19482,000
RF-16160 A Units/51 B Units1950-19541,600
RF-615E (Export)51 A Units1953-19541,500

Delaware & Hudson's two former NYC RF16s, #1205 and #1216, receive assistance from Lehigh Valley GP38AC #310 having entered the LV's Sayre, Pennsylvania terminal with a "pig" train during August of 1975. Jerry Custer photo.

For more information on Baldwin locomotives the book by the same name, a Brian Solomon title, provides an in-depth history of the company from its earliest days beginning in the 1930s to its final years constructing diesels during the mid-20th century.  It 160 pages in length and, as with every Solomon book, offers a rich collection of large, sharp photos to enjoy.  Another title of interest is Vintage Diesel Locomotives by noted author and historian Mike Schafer.  This one has been out for several years now and is a paperback title but highlights several classic models from the major builders of the era such as Electro-Motive, Baldwin, and the American Locomotive Company.

  1. Home
  2.  ›
  3. Diesel Locomotives
  4.  ›
  5. Sharknose

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!