The Cold War Railroad

While the diesel population soared and steam plummeted in the postwar years through 1960, the number of electric locomotives remained relatively constant at about 2 percent of a slightly shrinking total. The count included the "Little Joes," a small fleet of locomotives named for Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, that ran on the Milwaukee Road and the Chicago, South Shore & South Bend line.

In March of 1946, the Russian government had ordered 20 5,500-horsepower electric locomotives from General Electric. These powerful locomotives, bidirectional and double-ended, were handsomely sleek with streamlined carbodies. Prior to delivery, however, the Cold War froze deeper, and in 1948 an embargo was placed on strategic shipments-including these locomotives. By then, 14 had been completed in Russia's five-foot gauge; the half-dozen still in progress were rolled out in U. S. standard gauge. Then GE set about finding a buyer.


They found three. The Paulista Railroad in Brazil took five. CSS&SB, a Chicago-area interurban, took three. In 1950, the Milwaukee Road took the remaining dozen (nine of them converted from broad gauge) for use on its Rocky Mountain electrification through Montana and Idaho.

The Cold War thus was a boon for the Milwaukee Road, delaying for 25 years the demise of its electrified services. The "Joes," modified in 1958 so they could be run in multiples with diesels, proved stalwart, though even they could not prevent the inevitable, and in 1974 the Milwaukee's wires came down. CSS&SB's "Joes" lasted a few years longer, and Brazil's soldiered on into the '90s.

Read more about the history of railroads with these articles: