Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Baldwin "Centipede" Diesel
In the summer of 1954, when I was eight years old and we were visiting my grandmother in Tyrone, Pennsylvania, my father and I went down to the Pennsylvania Railroad station to do some train watching. When we got there, a diesel locomotive heading a passenger train was idling with its front end projecting past the station. It was a kind I'd never seen before. Dad said, "That's a Baldwin." I heard, "That's a bald one," which seemed to make perfect sense, as its low-topped cab, projecting from the front of the high-cowled engine covering, gave it the appearance of having a shaved head. The photo of the model below shows this more clearly:

Tony's Toy Trains
Indeed, the Baldwin DR-12-8-1500/2, as it was officially named, was sometimes nicknamed the "Babyface." It was more commonly called the "Centipede" because of the twelve-axeled phalanx of directional and driving wheels that undergirded each unit's body.

Baldwin Locomotive Works was one of the most successful builders of steam locomotives, but had difficulty making the transition to diesel. The Centipede was its first serious attempt at a road (as opposed to switcher) diesel. The location of Baldwin's plant, at Eddystone, Pennsylvania, made the Pennsylvania Railroad a logical customer, and it was one of only three roads (the others being the Seaboard and the National Railways of Mexico) to buy Centipedes. Unfortunately, they proved too unreliable for regular train service (the one I saw at Tyrone in 1954 must have been near the end of its days pulling trains) and they were relegated to "helper" duty, providing added rear-end power to trains heading west from Altoona, going around the Horseshoe Curve and up through the Gallitzin tunnels to the top of the Allegheny Plateau.

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