Reconnecting With an EMD E9A

In the summer of 1994 I had the luxury of traveling from Chicago to Denver on a double-decker Amtrak Superliner with several musician friends to attend a high school jazz band camp. Go ahead. Insert your favorite 'band nerd' joke here, I can take it. I played tuba and bass trombone and music was a large part of my life back then. My trip to Colorado at the age of 15 was an incredible journey that created memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. It was the first time I traveled long-distance by train, and the first time I ventured west of the Mississippi River.

I'll spare the details of the trip, except for three little tidbits.

1. I saw the most picturesque place on planet earth just outside of Mount Pleasant, Iowa on that first day of the trip. It was a sunny summer afternoon. There was a white farmhouse set way far away from the railroad tracks. There were children playing on a tire swing hanging from a tree next to a giant pond. Trees surrounded the property and the sunlight poked through the branches. It looked like something out of a Country Time Lemonade commercial.

2. Using a VHS recorder, I captured the magic of flushing a passenger train hopper toilet's contents directly onto the blurry railroad tracks below. This footage, complete with adolescent male giggles, exists somewhere.

3. On the return trip from Denver on a side track sat a long line of then recently-retired late 1950's - early 1960's EMD E9 locomotives painted in green & white Burlington Northern livery. The engines were covered in soot, they looked tired, and were destined for the scrap heap. As we pulled closer to Union Station, J.C. Smith, our dining car steward and PA announcer mentioned that if anyone was interested in buying a used train, the old green & white locomotives nearby were for sale for a very 'reasonable price'. The passengers laughed and I thought it was pretty funny, too. But I also knew not all would make it to a new home. I felt really sad that the iconic round EMD locomotives were being phased out after logging millions of miles across the United States. But that was then, and this is now. Its a hard life for a 157-ton gal who likes to drink a lot...of fuel.

While attending the 2014 Vintage Transportation Extravaganza at the Illinois Railway Museum, some 20 years later, I caught a glimpse of one of those green & white EMD E9's that I rolled past 2 decades ago. It moved me a little when we saw it, and I regaled Sarah, Dad, and my brother Gordon with this same story of the band camp train trip.

How often do you get a second chance to see something that made such an impression on you when you were younger? Some people get to meet their favorite athlete, or shake hands with a singer or actor they idolize. I got to touch a 24 cylinder train I saw when I was 15.

The General Motors EMD E9 A and B models were built between 1954 and 1964, and were considered the last of the great passenger locomotives. The Illinois Railway Museum acquired BN 9908 and 3 others several years ago after they were retired from Metra commuter rail service in Chicago in the 1990's. Prior to that many pulled Amtrak cars around the states. I'm certain that 9908 was among the many sitting outside Union Station in 1994 when I whizzed past on a newer EMD train.

Powering the E9 were two EMD model 567c supercharged V-12 two-stroke diesels. Combined power ratings topped 2,400 horsepower and they were full of enough grunt to move the E9 down the track at a maximum speed of 118 miles per hour.

Rust appears in some areas of 9908, and as the white nose paint suggests, there's some cosmetic work that needs to be done to keep the tin worm away. What 9908 lacks in beauty, it makes up for in performance. Its a runner!

A total of 100 EMD E9 models were built during their 10-year model run. Of those 100, only 42 remain. Its estimated that 10-15% are operational. None are in regular revenue service. 

Another interesting tidbit about BN 9908? Its rolling stock spins on massive sets of Hyatt bearings with the EMD casting on the cap. If you remember my blog post about the New Departure Bearing Company, you'll recall that Hyatt was also a General Motors company.

Before heading home from the car show at the railway museum, I gave BN 9908 a little pat on the side and said a few nice things to it. I'm very grateful to know that the folks at IRM are taking good care of my old acquaintance. I can't wait to come back for a visit next year.

 If anyone wants to know where my "happy place" is, its right here next to old iron like this. 



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