100 Years: The Diesel Locomotive

Jim McClellan speaks about “Motive Power and Economics” at the Bush Library. McClellan also was at the Milwaukee conference. Photo by Michael Schmidt

Center and Trains Present Second Diesel Conference

The Center for Railroad Photography & Art, in cooperation with Kalmbach Publishing Co., presented “One Hundred Years: The Diesel Locomotive in American Railroading” on Saturday, September 30, at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. The conference coincided with publication of Locomotive, a special edition from Trains magazine.

The focus was similar to the first conference at the George Bush Presidential Library in April. Colorful stories, advertising art, and paint schemes—plus significant unpublished information about development and technology—made this a memorable day for historians and enthusiasts alike.

Closing Remarks by John P. Hankey

Images are our last frontier. We have identified essentially all the historic railroad equipment worthy of preservation, and the wholesale loss of railroad buildings and landscapes has at least slowed. In terms of railway heritage, what we have managed to save to this point is largely what we will have to work with from now on.

The exception is the visual culture of railroading. We have used and enjoyed railroad images without fully appreciating their value as a resource. “Train pictures” have been so ubiquitous, and so often misunderstood, that we are only now beginning to see beyond the surface. It is like finding a vast trove of new insight and information hiding in plain sight.

That was the central theme of the one-day conference presented at the Milwaukee School of Engineering by the Center for Railroad Photography and Art. “100 Years: The Diesel Locomotive in American Railroading” featured seven speakers considering different aspects of locomotive development. The topics ranged widely from history and technology to art and the future of the locomotive. The speakers brought a very high level of experience and analysis in an effort to more critically assess the Diesel locomotive’s true significance.

Each of the speakers relied on visual culture–both images themselves, and new ways of “reading” them–to explore their topics. Paintings, photographs, drawings, and illustrations were not simply add-ons or illustrations. They often were the primary evidence, and in any case each presentation used them rigorously and creatively. In different ways, each presentation offered suggestions and models for how we might better use visual culture as an additional analytical tool for serious railroad history.

Participants enjoyed high-quality presentations on a topic of great historical and contemporary importance. The Center continued its fruitful partnership with Kalmbach Publishing Co. and Trains Magazine, which co-sponsored the conference. Perhaps most important, the Center continued to push the boundaries of how we can explore railroad heritage. In a way, both the presentations and the conference itself were experiments. Over time, we can bring the full range of tools available in the field of visual culture to bear on both conventional, and new, issues in railroad heritage.

Reunited after almost 70 years, the paintings shown here represent two proposals developed for the Santa Fe Railroad by the General Motors Art and Colour section in the mid-1930s. The paintings were unveiled at “100 Years, The Diesel Locomotive in American Railroading.” When one studies the two paintings side-by-side, one can see how Leland Knickerbocher, the styling artist who created the two paintings, traced the rear portion of the warbonnet paint scheme around the sculpted carbody panels created in the original stainless steel carbody proposal. The reunion of the two paintings was a closely guarded secret known to only a few of the participants at the event. As the paintings were uncovered, the audience broke out in a resounding applause and quickly lined up for an up close and personal viewing. “It was an absolute thrill to see these two paintings together,” said one participant. As summed up by Hankey in his closing remarks, “It is a rare opportunity that we experience an event like this” as he referred to the quality of the presentations and the reunion of the two paintings. Photo by Richard Gruber

Speakers at Milwaukee were:

  • 8:40, Welcome, Dr. Hermann Viets, president, Milwaukee School of Engineering
  • 8:45, Introduction to Milwaukee, Kevin P. Keefe, vice president, Kalmbach Publishing Co.
  • 9:00, John Gruber, president of the Center, “The First Diesel and Other Stories”
  • 9:30, John P. Hankey, independent scholar, historian, and railroader, “The Perils of Pioneering: Early Diesels on the B&O Railroad”
  • 10:30, Break
  • 10:45, Jim McClellan, retired Senior Vice-President for Planning at Norfolk Southern, “Motive Power and Economics”
  • 11:45, lunch
  • 1:00, Greg Palumbo, an employee of Electro-Motive Diesels, “Colorful EMD Advertising and Styling” (see Rock Island example from Railroad Heritage No. 6 and his talk)
  • 1:45, J. Parker Lamb, writer and photographer for 50 years, “American Railroad Dieselization, 1925-50”
  • 2:30, Break
  • 2:45, Greg McDonnell, editor of Locomotive, “The Essence of Evolution: Building General Electric Locomotives Today.”
  • 3:30, Mike Iden, General Director Car and Locomotive Engineering for Union Pacific, “Diesel Locomotives: The Next 25 Years.” Iden also worked for the Southern Railway, Electro-Motive Division, and Chicago & North Western. He has a bachelor of science degree from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, and a master of management degree from Northwestern University. Iden takes a brief look at diesel locomotive technology for the next quarter century, and discusses “what changes may we see?
  • 4:15, Closing remarks, John P. Hankey
  • 4:30, Reception

  • An illustration from the Marconigram, December 1904, showing the first diesel locomotive also appeared in the New York Post and San Francisco Chronicle.