Whitcomb
by John Stewart

internal combustion locomotive pioneer

This view outside the Whitcomb paint and test building shows (from left to right) a 66-ton diesel electric for Brazil. a 35-tonner for Belgium, a 70-ton locomotive for Canada, and a 65-ton, two engine switcher. Click on any image for a larger view.



In the year 1878, George D. Whitcomb, starting I from a modest machine shop, began the manu.facture of coal mining machinery, thus laying the foundation for the concern that is known today as The Whitcomb Locomotive Company, subsidiary of The Baldwin Locomotive Works. Mr. Whitcomb designed, developed and placed on the market the first successful coal mining machine. In 1892, this growing concern, then located at Or- leans and Ohio Streets, Chicago, was incorporated under the laws of Illinois as George D. Whitcomb Company.

Mules had long been used exclusively as the motive power in moving coal from the mines, but this method was expenbive and unsatisfactory. Because of the insistent demand for a more economical method, experiments were conducted using for power-electricity, compressed air and rope drive. Gasoline engines were definitely a novelty in those early days, nevertheless Whitcomb decided the principle could be successfully applied to a small mine locomotive. In April, 1906, the first successful gasoline locomotive was built and installed in a large Central Illinois coal mine. The next year the Company moved to Rochelle, Illinois, where it continued to build quantities of gasoline powered locomotives for mine operation, both coal and metal. The reputation of the Whitcomb gasoline locomotive spread at such a rapid rate that, before long, greater production facilities were needed and in 1912 the plant was again moved to its present site.

During World War 1, the output of the Whitcomb plcmt was almost entirely devoted to government orders. Hundreds of armour-plated locomotives were built for overseas service. These small 6-ton and 9-ton, narrow gauge locomotives proved highly efficient in trench warfare and they were used extensively in hauling needed supplies up to the front lines. In appreciation of their excellent contributions to the war effort, the Whitcomb Company was awarded a "Certificate of Merit" by the War Department.


Assembly floor in the Whitcomb plant showing locomotives for Belguim and Argentina. Click on any image for a larger view.



Many new innovations in the locomotive field were being introduced during this period. The first expl6sion-proof electric mine locomotive was designed and built by Whitcomb in 1914 and after exhaustive tests the U. S. Bureau of Mines issued its "Permissibility Plate." Whitcomb was the first builder of locomotives for underground work to receive such an endorsement. The first Whitcomb electric trolley locomotive was produced in 1921 and in 1929 Whitcomb designed and built the largest gasoline-electric locomotive that had then been offered our American railroads. This development was closely followed by the diesel- electrics which have revolutionized the American transportation system.

In 1931, the Company was purchased by Baldwin and named The Whitcomb Locomotive Company.

When World War II started in Europe, there was an increasing demand for locomotives. It was decided to expand the manufacturing facilities and by 1942 the factory area was doubled. The British Army asked Whitcomb to design a diesel- electric locomotive that would operate successfully through desert sand storms in areas where thermometers registered 125 degrees in the shade. The only other known factors were the track gauge, the permissible axle load and the neces- sity for all the power that could be built into them. In less than six months, these locomotives were in Egypt and North Africa hauling supplies behind General Montgomery's Eighth Army desert fighters who defeated Marshal Rommel's forces. The success of these original units was responsi- ble for the United States War Department perpetuating the design and hundreds were shipped abroad. They traveled with the American Army through the African and Italian Campaigns and were in service in France shortly after "D" Day. In January, 1944, Whitcomb received the Army- Navy "E" Award for outstanding production of these military locomotives. Two stars were subse- quently added for continued performance.


Whitcomb steel plate and wheel storage yard with 10 ton overhead crane to facilitate handling of material. Click on any image for a larger view.



Whitcomb continued to expand and progress after the war and the increased volume of business made it essential to expand storage and shipping facilities. A warehouse complete with the latest in material handling equipment was erected in 1947. A ten-ton overhead yard crane was installed to facilitate handling and storage of steel slabs and sheets. During 1948, a combination loading dock and locomotive test building was erected. Three locomotives can be load- tested simultaneously which speeds up this important operation considerably. The loading dock has a submerged track thus bringin g the deck of the flat cars level with tracks leading into the loading platform so that locomotives can be run onto the flat cars. This saves time and eliminates the need for tying up the heavy overhead crane to perform this function. Modern machine tools were purchased in 1948 to replace and augment existing equipment. New building, new machines, increased floor space, more rigid inspection, improved operating methods and planning the pre- cise flow of mcrterial to meet projected delivery schedules have all contributed to greater pro- duction. At the present time, Whitcomb is producing more locomotives with less man hours than ever before.

Whitcomb builds all types of diesel locomotives ranging in size from 3 to 104 tons for track gauges from 18" to 66". They can be found in all the corners of the world hauling materials on railroads and construction projects, in steel mills, mines, refineries, logging camps and every place where rails shine with the reflected light which denotes constant use.


Installing the electrical control panel in the hood of a 75-ton Whitcomb locomotive. The men at the right are applying the steel lining to a Whitcomb cab. Click on any image for a larger view.



There are many interesting orders now in production. The largest order covers 75, 900-horsepower, diesel-electric locomotives for Argentina.

They weigh 75 tons and are being used in freight and passenger service on the meter gauge Government-owned railways. Fourteen 44-ton, 380- horsepower, diesel-electrics will soon be hauling materials in Tunisia on the Sfax-Gafsa Railway owned by the Compagnie des Phosphates et Chemins de Fer de Gafsa. The Eti Bank of Turkey has ordered ten additional diesel mine loconiotives which will make a total of thirty-five of these small Whitcornbs operating in the mines in Turkey. The French have purchased six 66-ton, 675- horsepower, and ten 104-ton, 1,350-horsepower, diesel-electrics from Whitcomb. This is the first Marshall Plan purchase of locomotives for French West Africa and the equipment will be used to transport passengers and materials on the Congo- Ocean, Carneroun, and Dakar-Niger Railroads. During the past year locomotives ordered by do- mestic users included diesel-electrics for Youngs- town Sheet and Tube Company, Republic Steel, Wheeling Steel Corporation and Missouri-Kansas- Texas Railroad.

Baldwin Magazine, 3rd and 4th Quarters, 1949


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