Little Joe (electric locomotive)

The Little Joe is a type of railroad electric locomotive built by General Electric for export to the Soviet Union (USSR) in the 1950s [1]. The locomotives had twelve axles, eight of them powered, in a 2-D+D-2 arrangement. They were originally designed to operate on Soviet Railways (SZhD) 3,300-volt DC overhead line system.

Little Joe
Little Joe locomotive at IRM.jpg
A "Little Joe", preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum.
Type and origin
Power typeElectric
BuilderGeneral Electric
Serial number29913–29932
Model2-D+D-2 406/546 8-GE 750-3300V
Total produced20
 • Whyte4-8-8-4
 • AAR2-D+D-2
 • UIC(2′D)+(D2′)
Length88 ft 10 in (27.08 m)
Width10 ft 7 in (3.23 m)
Height14 ft 5 in (4.39 m)
Adhesive weight406,000 lb (184,000 kg; 184 t)
Loco weight545,600 lb (247,500 kg; 247.5 t)
Electric system/s3,000–3,300 V DC
1,500 V DC (South Shore)
Current pickup(s)Two pantographs
Traction motorsGE750 (8)
Loco brakeAir, 8-EL
Performance figures
Maximum speed68 mph (109 km/h)
Power outputOne hour: 5,530 hp (4.12 MW)
Continuous: 5,110 hp (3.81 MW)
Tractive effort75,700 lbf (337 kN)
OperatorsMilwaukee Road (12)
South Shore (3)
Companhia Paulista de Estradas de Ferro (5)
NumbersE20, E21, E70–E79 (Milwaukee)
801–803 (South Shore)
6451-6455 (Companhia Paulista)
NicknamesLittle Joe (Milwaukee)
800s (South Shore)
Russa (Paulista)
DispositionFive preserved, remainder scrapped.


After the Second World War, the Soviet Railways continued their electrification programme, this time targeting the Kropachyovo-Zlatoust-Chelyabinsk line of the South Ural Railroad. As local factories were recovering from the war efforts, the Soviet government (then led by Joseph Stalin), ordered 20 of these locomotives. Known by their factory classification of GE 2-D+D-2 406/546 8-GE 750-3300V, in the Soviet Union, they would have received the classification of the A-series locomotive (from American locomotive, in Russian Американский электровоз). At the time, this was the strongest electric locomotive, producing a power of 4320 kW, being comparable to the UP Big Boy.

The locomotives were built by GE at Erie, PA, with the supervision of Soviet specialists. The Ministry of Railways of the USSR was so confident about receiving these locomotives, that they were also allocated running numbers, initially 1591-1610 and later 2301-2320. The first test run of the locomotive (unit A1598) took place on 7 September 1948 on a test track of the NYCRR.

GE built 20 locomotives of this type, but the company was prohibited from delivering them as relations between the United States and Soviet Union deteriorated into what became known as the Cold War. Fourteen were built to the track gauge of 5 ft (1,524 mm) and the final six were built to 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge.

The locomotives were never delivered because the US State Department banned sales of strategic goods to the Soviet Union whilst production was underway. This included the electric locomotives, which were considered strategical to the Soviet Railways. Before the ban, the tensions between the USA and USSR caused the Soviet railway engineers to be recalled back to their country. GE completed their locomotives, but they were left with no owner. 2 units received damages during trials. Although minimal, unit 29924 collided with unit 29923, causing significant damage to the leading axle.

The Soviet Union was then forced to design their own locomotive, the N8 (later VL8), which only ran in 1953. This led to the development of the VL10 (3kV DC) and VL80 (25 kV AC) locomotives.

Milwaukee RoadEdit

A Little Joe on the Milwaukee Road in Montana in 1970

The Milwaukee Road had offered to buy all twenty of these locomotives, plus their spare parts, for $1 million. That was little more than scrap value, but GE accepted. However, the Milwaukee's Board of Directors would not release the money.[2] Nonetheless, unit 29927 was tested on 24 December 1948 on the Milwaukee Road, but it revealed some issues during trials.

Demand during the Korean War boosted the Milwaukee's need for locomotives on their electrified mainline; the railroad was also beset by a coal strike that required sending most diesels back East (Milwaukee Lines East steam engines still burned coal, unlike the oil-burning Lines West steamers). So the Board of Directors returned to GE, only to discover that eight locomotives and all the spare parts had been sold. Three had gone to the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad (the South Shore Line), and five to the Companhia Paulista de Estradas de Ferro of Brazil.

Still, the Milwaukee Road bought the remaining 12 locomotives for $1 million.[2] The railroad designated its new locomotives as "class EF-4", denoting them as the line's fourth model of electric freight engine. Two units were modified before delivery for passenger service; these were designated "class EP-4".[3] The Milwaukee's operating employees referred to the EF-4/EP-4 units as Little Joe Stalin's locomotives, which was eventually shortened to simply Little Joe.


As originally tested, the Milwaukee was not impressed with these locomotives, finding them prone to wheelslip. The World War I-vintage General Electric motor-generator substations had difficulty supplying more than two EF-4s under heavy load, which meant that their true ability could not be demonstrated. Additionally, the controls were initially labelled in Russian. After being modified with increased weight, raising the maximum height of the pantographs and being provided with adequate power, the EF-4s were excellent performers and very reliable. Some substations were later modified to supply up to 3,400 volts to take advantage of the high power of these locomotives.


The E20 and E21 locomotives became EP-4 engines to be used for passenger service. They were modified before delivery to remove driving controls and windows at one end to permit moving new, improved main circuit breakers into a cooler environment. The Milwaukee Shops replaced the operating controls in the "B" end with a steam generator before they entered service. The loss of this cab was operationally inconsequential, as many Milwaukee electric locomotives were normally turned at the end of their runs in Avery, Deer Lodge or Harlowton, the road having preferred to maintain only one set of controls even on double-ended units. The most important and final major modification was the provision of multiple unit controls for trailing diesel-electric locomotives. This system was designed in-house. It was not uncommon to see several diesel-electric locomotives being led by, and controlled from, one or two Joes (or a set of Boxcabs) in the 1960s and 70s.

The external difference that most readily distinguished class EP-4 from EF-4 was the use of roller bearings on all axles on the E20 and E21 as delivered. The EF-4s were delivered with roller bearings on the forward (unpowered) trucks only, though they would have individual roller bearing axles substituted piecemeal in the shop whenever original plain bearing axles on the motorized sets burned out or were wreck-damaged.

Like almost any locomotive class, the Little Joes were occasionally involved in wrecks. One such, in 1966, resulted in the E78 being rebuilt (back east in the Milwaukee Shops) to a slightly different appearance from the other 11 units, due to the use of a pair of stainless steel side ventilation grilles intended for use on EMD F-units.


Milwaukee Road unit E21 in freight use

The Milwaukee Road used two for passenger service, designated class EP-4 (2-D+D-2), and the remaining ten for freight, designated class EF-4. They were used on the railroad's electrified Rocky Mountain Division in Montana and Idaho to take the place of older GE boxcab electrics that had been operating there since the 1920s. They were never used on the road's electrically disjunct Coast Division in Washington, as none of that division's substations were upgraded to accommodate them. Three had been delivered in standard gauge, while the rest were converted to standard gauge in the Milwaukee's shops.

The EF-4s performed well, so much so that Milwaukee management soon desired to utilize the two EP-4s exclusively on freights. This was being done by 1956, when the passenger Joes were replaced by newly migrated EP-2 Bipolars. After the latter turned out to be ill-suited to the Rocky Mountain Division, they and the EP-4s were replaced by three-unit consists of EMD E-unit and/or FP7 diesels which hauled the Olympian Hiawatha end-to-end, unassisted, until its discontinuance in 1961. Neither EP-4 received the post-1955 Union Pacific-inspired Armour Yellow, red and gray paint scheme used on Milwaukee passenger power, such as the Bipolars and GE Passenger Motors.

The Little Joes lasted until the end of electric operation on the Milwaukee on June 15, 1974. By that time, they were the Milwaukee's only electric road locomotives, all the GE Freight Motors (except two which were used together in MU as the Harlowton switcher) having succumbed to old age.

South Shore LineEdit

A South Shore Line unit in 1966

The South Shore, while primarily a commuter railroad between Chicago, Illinois, and northwestern Indiana, used them in freight service.[4] They had to be modified to operate on 1500 V DC catenary, and were delivered with roller bearings on all axles as on the Milwaukee EP-4s. In service on the South Shore the "Little Joe" name was not generally used; the locomotives were referred to as "800s". Two of the three lasted until 1983, making them the last electrics in regular mainline freight service on a US common-carrier railroad. Today, freight trains are pulled by diesel-electric locomotives.

Two 800s survive today, 802 at the Lake Shore Railroad Museum, and #803 in running condition at the Illinois Railway Museum, and is occasionally operated.[5]


The Companhia Paulista de Estradas de Ferro converted its locomotives to its 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) gauge. They became known as Russas, and stayed active through each re-organization of the Brazilian railways, finally ending up with FEPASA in 1971. They continued to operate until 1999, becoming the last representatives of their class in revenue service. It was at this point that FEPASA was privatized, and electric operation was immediately ended.

A FEPASA Little Joe locomotive, 1970s

Original BuyersEdit

Owner Quantity
Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (CMStP&P RR) 12
Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad (CSS&SB RR) 3
Companhia Paulista de Estradas de Ferro 5


South Shore #803 on display in 2013

Milwaukee RoadEdit

Milwaukee #E70 is on static display at Deer Lodge, Montana.

South ShoreEdit

South Shore #803 is preserved, in operational condition, at the Illinois Railway Museum (IRM). South Shore #802 is preserved and on public display at the Lake Shore Railway Historical Museum in North East, Pennsylvania, 10 miles (16 km) away from Erie, where the GE Locomotive Assembly Plant that constructed the Little Joes is located.[6]


In Brazil, #6451, #6453, #6454, were scrapped after the deactivation. Number 6452 is in a museum in Jundiaí, São Paulo and #6455 is in a museum in Bauru, São Paulo, but is missing many parts. As of 2008, 6475 is safe in a museum.[7]


  1. ^ Ellis, Hamilton (1976). The Pictorial Encyclopedia of Railways. Hamlyn Publ Group Ltd. p. 620. ISBN 978-0600375852.
  2. ^ a b Holley, Noel T. (November 1987). Milwaukee Electrics (1st ed.). Hicksville, NY: N J International. ISBN 0-934088-14-4.
  3. ^ "The Class EF-4/EP-4 "Little Joes"". Retrieved 2017-12-07.
  4. ^ "Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railroad History".
  5. ^ "Roster of Equipment: Chicago South Shore & South Bend 803".
  6. ^ "Around the LSRHS Museum". Lake Shore Railway Historical Society. Retrieved December 30, 2010.
  7. ^ "Brazilian locomotives".

External linksEdit