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Diesels with trolley poles

By David Lustig | May 5, 2022

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EMD diesel locomotive with trolley pole.

Diesels with trolley poles: Interurban railways usually had some form of freight traffic supplementing their passenger business, but almost none could come close to the Pacific Electric Railway, Southern California’s premier streetcar system. A subsidiary of Southern Pacific, even after the company gave up hauling passengers, freight service continued at a brisk pace up to the very end of its corporate identity when it was folded into owner Southern Pacific’s operations.

Black and white switcher locomotive with trolley pole.
Diesels with trolley poles were not just the domain of Pacific Electric. Way off in Utah, Bamberger Railroad Alco RS1 570 sits under the wire during September 1948. Best known as an interurban, the line had considerable freight traffic switched by 570 and pair of EMD switchers. The unit was re-engined with an EMD diesel and rebuilt in 1950. It eventually wound up on Union Pacific and became their 1270. It lasted until 1972 before becoming trade-in fodder. – Robert P. Townley; Lloyd Transportation Library
Black and white switcher locomotive with trolley pole.
Baldwin locomotive with trolley pole extended pulling refrigerated boxcars.

Dominguez Junction, just north of Long Beach is where Don Sims caught a cut of reefers in the 1950s rolling behind 1,000-horsepower Baldwin VO1000 1326. Note that maze of telephone poles mixed in with overhead rail wire.

Baldwin locomotive with trolley pole extended pulling refrigerated boxcars.
Baldwin locomotive with trolley poles at each end.
That’s Southern Pacific Baldwin DRS-6-6-1500 5212 decked out in PE lettering at the State Street Yard just east of downtown Los Angeles in the early 1950s. These were the largest diesel locomotives lettered for PE. They soon reverted to SP lettering. Joe Strapac collection.
Baldwin locomotive with trolley poles at each end.
Baldwin locomotive with trolley pole extended pulling freight train.

That’s Southern Pacific’s first 1,000-horsepower Baldwin switcher, now wearing Pacific Electric lettering, working a freight train through San Marino, Calif., in March 1951. The 1320 was part of the initial order of 10 Baldwins, numbered 1320-1329 that pretty much stayed in Southern California. – Craig Rasmussen; Joe Strapac collection.

Baldwin locomotive with trolley pole extended pulling freight train.
Modified gas-powered doodlebug with trolley pole.

PE had a pair of these cutdown gasoline-powered doodlebugs working as switchers. On Sept. 8, 1946, No. 1648 was between runs at the city of San Fernando in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley. A switcher assigned here was kept busy with the myriad online citrus packing houses. H. L. Kelso; Joe Strapac collection

Modified gas-powered doodlebug with trolley pole.
Side view of a modified gas-powered doodlebug with trolley pole.

Cutdown doodlebug sister No. 1649 was photographed 50 miles away in Orange, Calif. in nearby Orange County in 1950. Word is that the modified “locomotives” were not well-like by crews. Robert P. Townley; Lloyd Transportation Library.

Side view of a modified gas-powered doodlebug with trolley pole.
EMD locomotive with trolley pole extended pulling a freight train.
A wonderful West Hollywood street scene in 1956, EMD SW1 1007 is working along Santa Monica Boulevard west of downtown Los Angeles. The extended trolley pole on the locomotive’s cab is responsible for activating the grade crossing signals. Notice the cupola-less PE caboose. – Craig Rasmussen; Joe Strapac collection
EMD locomotive with trolley pole extended pulling a freight train.
EMD diesel locomotive with trolley pole.

Southern Pacific EMD SW1 1016 – A painter’s nightmare with all those orange safety stripes at West Hollywood in June 1956. Next to it is one of a baker’s dozen homemade electrics from the 1920s. You can see sister electric 1624 today at the Southern California Railway Museum – John Shaw; Joe Strapac collection.

EMD diesel locomotive with trolley pole.
EMD locomotive with trolley pole extended pulling boxcars.

Southern Pacific TR6A 4603 was one of the more modern diesels assigned to work the PE. They’re switching near Butte St. Yard just south of Los Angeles in March 1954. The EMD TR6 ‘cow’ is a standard SW8 equipped with mu controls to operate a TR6B ‘calf’ switcher set. Robert P. Townley; Lloyd Transportation Library.

EMD locomotive with trolley pole extended pulling boxcars.
EMD locomotive with trolley pole extended pulling freight train through switches.

Southern Pacific TR6A 4603 was one of the more modern diesels assigned to work the PE. They’re switching near Butte St. Yard just south of Los Angeles in March 1954. The EMD TR6 ‘cow’ is a standard SW8 equipped with mu controls to operate a TR6B ‘calf’ switcher set. Robert P. Townley; Lloyd Transportation Library.

EMD locomotive with trolley pole extended pulling freight train through switches.
General Electric center-cab locomotive with trolley pole.

PE’s GE 44 tonners were delivered in World War II in a red livery similar to its streetcars. No. 1653 was taking a break near downtown Los Angeles in the early 1950s. – Lloyd Transportation Library collection. The 1654 was at the San Bernardino, Calif., car barn April 20, 1950. R.E. Smith; Joe Strapac collection.

General Electric center-cab locomotive with trolley pole.
General Electric center-cab locomotive with trolley pole.

PE’s GE 44 tonners were delivered in World War II in a red livery similar to its streetcars. No. 1653 was taking a break near downtown Los Angeles in the early 1950s. – Lloyd Transportation Library collection. The 1654 was at the San Bernardino, Calif., car barn April 20, 1950. R.E. Smith; Joe Strapac collection.

General Electric center-cab locomotive with trolley pole.
Baldwin diesel locomotive with trolley pole extended.

Pacific Electric 1325 is actually Southern Pacific 1325 relettered for service on the interurban, a practice that was later abandoned when leased units began keeping SP on their flanks. The 1000-horsepower Baldwin VO 1000 drifts down through Azusa, Calif., to its next job. – Walter H. Vielbaum; Joe Strapac collection.

Baldwin diesel locomotive with trolley pole extended.
EMD locomotive with two trolley poles.

Portland Traction Company had this spiffy late-model EMD SW1. Tom Gray photographed it in Portland, Ore. in 1958. It still works today for the Oregon Pacific Railroad.

EMD locomotive with two trolley poles.

 

With freight traffic sometimes overwhelming its fleet of freight motors, Southern Pacific steam engines could frequently be seen on the PE, and during World War II its Los Angeles-San Bernardino line literally became SP’s secondary east-west mainline. To those who saw it, a PE freight motor — along for both additional tractive effort and the trolley poles to activate the signals and grade crossing protection — coupled with any number of steam engine wheel arrangements, was a sight not to be forgotten.

With steam waning in the 1950s, PE leased various SP diesels to move its freight trains. A few were relettered for the interurban, while most kept their Southern Pacific identity on their flanks. There was, however, one critical addition the steamers never had. Trolley poles! No, the diesels were not dual-power locomotives, but the poles were still needed to run over the line without tacking on a juice locomotive to activate the signals.

Over the years a variety of switchers and road-switchers plied the Pacific Electric, including those from Baldwin, GE, and EMD. Here’s a small variety of what those diesels with trolley poles looked like. And yes, other railroads had diesels with trolley poles, too, but nothing like the quantity operating in Southern California.

Trolley pole equipped units, whether lettered Southern Pacific or Pacific Electric, included five 380-horsepower GE 44 tonners, 660-horsepower Baldwin VO660 and 1,000-horsepower VO1000 switchers, and a handful of 1,500 and 1,600-horsepower road-switchers. A number of 660-horsepower EMD SW1s were equipped as well. PE also rostered a pair of shortened gas-electrics.

For the record, other units, without trolley poles included SP 800-horsepower SW8s, 1,000-horsepower NW2s, and a few 800-horsepower EMD TR6As, the last delivered as SW8 cow-calf sets, with the cabbed units staying in Southern California and the TR6B calves assigned to Roseville, Calif., yard service as multiple units with standard SW8s. And of course, forever the collector of unusual motive power, PE also had a 225-horsepower Plymouth three-axle end-cab switcher. This odd duck, No. 1647, was used on an isolated segment of track in San Fernando to serve citrus packing houses.

 

2 thoughts on “Diesels with trolley poles

  1. Did the trolley poles connect to any electrical circuits on the locomotive or was tripping the signals just a mechanical operation?

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