Rather than buy E units from General Motors or similar PAs from Alco, the Milwaukee elected to pull the Olympian Hiawatha with locomotives made by Fairbanks-Morse, a newcomer to the locomotive business. Fairbanks-Morse dated back to the early nineteenth century, when it made windmills and other industrial products. But its staple was scales, which it exported all over the world. By 1900, Fairbanks-Morse was considered the best-known brand name in the world for the widespread use of its scales.
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In the 1890s, the company started experimenting with internal combustion engines, and by the 1930s it was making some of the most reliable Diesels in the world. Many of its engines had opposed pistons, which means each cylinder had two pistons in it, each turning separate crank shafts. As a result, a single, 10-cylinder (20 piston) engine could be more powerful than a General Motors V-16 engine. The United States Navy, which had purchased a number of General Motors’ 201-A engines for its submarines in the 1930s, ended up replacing them with more reliable Fairbanks-Morse engines during the war years.
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In 1944, when Fairbanks-Morse made its first Diesel locomotive (a switch engine) in Beloit, Wisconsin, it was purchased by the Milwaukee Road, which–though its headquarters was in Chicago–liked to think of itself as a Wisconsin company. So the railroad was confident that Fairbanks-Morse engines could pull the Olympian Hiawatha.
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For passenger service, F-M designed a 2,000-HP locomotive around one of its 10-cylinder engines, while General Motors required two 12-cylinder engines to produce the same power. The F-M locomotive was too large to assemble in its Wisconsin plant, so it contracted out to General
Motors Electric to build it in Erie, Pennsylvania. As a result, the locomotives are known simply as “Erie-builts.” Fairbanks-Morse hired Raymond Loewy to design the shell of the locomotive, which is far different from the EMD E and F units. The first were completed in 1945, and the Pennsylvania Railroad purchased more of them than any other road, followed by the Milwaukee.