Christopher Brimley updated September 27, 2011

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  • Pennsy' EMD F3 (and F5!) - A Quiet Move to Dieselization

    by Greg Martin

    Pennsy initially bought F3s just in A-B-B-A lashups. These Phase 2-late units are shown as-delivered without nose lift rings or ladder grabs and with the unit number in the Keystone. Chicago, IL; August 1947.
    Model Railroading - October 2001 - Page 42

    Historically the Pennsylvania Railroads backbone of freight revenue was derived from the coal industry, and to make the transition from steam to diesel was a decision that was slow in coming. While the quiet revolution was taking place on other rail roads during the early '40s, the Pennsy men were still trying to refine the steam locomotive in their shops in Altoona, PA. The diesel locomotive on the Pennsy during the early '40s was restricted to token diesel switchers quietly tucked away in yards far from the coalfields. But the decision to dieselize the mainline was made, and in 1946 the purchase orders had been written...the quiet revolution had begun.

    While a flood of orders rushed in to EMD after the war, the Pennsy's order would not be delivered onto the property until July of 1947. But before they arrived Pennsy's motive-power department had already enacted a new classification system for the arrival of the new locomotives. The Pennsy moved seemingly slow with the initial pur- chase of only two A-B-B-A unit sets, but Pennsy men knew that the die had been cast. Once on the property the new EMD F3 Phase 2-early sets were classified EF-4 (EMD Freight 4-Unit set) and were numbered 9500A-9503A for the cab units and 9500B-9503B for the booster units. They were placed in service at the Pennsy's Enola, PA, system-wide freight-pool classification yard located there. Then in September of 1947 the Pennsy received a third set of EF-4s in number series 9504A/B-9505A/B to join the freight pool in Enola to haul through freights from Enola, PA, to Chicago, IL, with the other two sets. This 6,000-hp configuration was thought to be the combination for moving freight across the system by the Pennsy's motive power men; it was the edict!

    Before the initial order of F3s had arrived the Pennsy motive power department had already placed orders for more EMD F3s for the through-freight service pool, but they would not arrive until nearly a year later in Aril and May of 1948. A block of numbers was set aside for the newcomers, and they were numbered in series 9506A/B-9517A/B. These units would arrive on the property as EMD F3 Phase 2-late, with 36" low fans replacing the 34" high-shrouded fans, but w ith the distinctive wire screening often called chicken-wire between the two side portholes, the most recognized feature of the F3 Phase 2.

    However, before the second batch of F3s arrived on the property a new secret weapon would appear in January of 1948 with the explicit purpose of attacking the "monster" of the system - Horseshoe Curve. This special set of "giant killers," unit numbers 9518A/B and 9519A, were assigned a new class - class EF-3 (EMD Freight 3 unit set) - and placed in helper service. The new set immediately went into service on the monster with its 4,500-hp and new 65:12 low-speed gearing and soon showed their worth. They were delivered in the F3 Phase 2-late configuration.

    F5 9551 displays a slightly different style of coupler opening. Enola, PA; October 20, 1957.
    Model Railroading - October 2001 - Page 43

    The revolution had begun, and it was growing. During 1948 two significant changes would take place. First, the Pennsy would now begin buying units not only for through-freight pool service but also for specific assignments, namely helper service. Second, there was a rethinking of horsepower requirements to move freight over the system. The new train of thought was that 6,000-hp was not always needed to move a train across the system so the horsepower of the unit set was adjusted to match the trains tonnage rating. This made 3,000- and 4 ,500-hp lashups a more common sight. This also changed the Pennsy's purchasing patterns with regards to the F3s. The next order (#E-896), delivered in May and July of 1948, included four A-B-B-A sets in series 9520A/B-9527A/B, a three-unit set 9540A/ B and 9541A, and a single unit 9528A. This earmarked the change with the three-unit set and single "extra" unit being delivered. These units were delivered as F3 Phase 3 units with the wire screening now set only above the body panels and the open air vents covered with horizontal louvers pressed into the corresponding panel. This new way of thinking would introduce the A-A, A-B and A-B-A sets of freight units.

    The following order (#E-921) would consist of A units only delivered in num bers 9529A-9539A, 9556A-9561A, 9563A-9567A, 9677A-9678A. These units would b e delivered in September of 1948 and would represent the first F3 Phase 4s to see service on the Pennsy. The distinctive feature being the addition of the newly introduced Farr-style horizontal stainless-steel grilles applied to the upper section of the carbody below the roof along the air induction system.

    F3 Phase 4 or F5? - The Same...Only Different

    At this point in history the story of the EMD F3 becomes sharply divided, as all of the units from the next order (#E-1004) except for 9542A-9545A, 9542B and 9544B, were delivered as what the EMD marketing department would label the F5. Externally these units appeared identical to the EMD F3 Phase 4, but they were different internally. The first Pennsy F5s were part of an order that was diverted away from a B&O order and numbered in series 9546A-9555A for the cab units and 9546B-9554B (even units only) for the booster units as well as a single unit 9679A. Delivery occurred between October 1948 and January 1949. Two final orders were delivered beginning in late January or early February of 1949. These units, also F5s, were numbered in series 9680A-9689A and 9519B, 9528B, 9541B, 9543B and 9545B. These final three orders were delivered with 65:12 low-speed gearing and assigned to helper service.

    The Pennsy would change the locomotive classification of its diesels in 1951 and those units in mainline through-freight service would be become class EF-15 and the helper units would be classed EH-15. The E denoted EMD, with F for Freight service or H for Helper service, and 15 for the horsepower x100. Later during 1952 the Pennsy acquired four used F3 B-units from the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad and numbered these final acquisitions 9530B-9536B; these units were EMD F3 Phase 2s.

    Understanding the PRRs fleet of diesel locomotive is rewarding, and the EMD Funits are of particular interest for me. The research at times seems endless. I wish to thank the expertise of David R Sweetland and Paul Withers for their in-depth coverage of the PRR EMD F-units in Davids first two volumes of Pennsylvania Color Pictorial and Paul Withers just-released book on the PRR covered wagons, Pennsylvania Rail-road Diesel Locomotive Pictorial Vol. 6: EMD and Alco Freight Cab Units.

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