Restoration, upgrades to Milwaukee Road E9 32A near completion

Volunteers and employees of the Friends of the 261 are making great progress with the restoration and upgrading of Milwaukee Road E9 32A. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, crews have been practicing social distancing while working at the 261 shop in Minneapolis.

Even though 32A was in good condition when received from Wisconsin & Southern, the unit still needed some work. The outer steel skin was removed, which revealed much rust, so new steel panels were purchased and cut to fit. The car body structures and frame were heavily needle scaled and anti-rust treatment was applied.

Mechanical work has been ongoing since the locomotive arrived. Jim DeRocher of the 32A Diesel Team provides us with the updates on work that has been performed, and what future plans are. His recap gives an insider look at the work that goes into maintaining a 65 year-old diesel, as follows:

“The No. 2 (rear) prime mover was not making transition, which is a crucial function for increasing speed during operation. After extensive diagnostics, we found and repaired failed internal components on the BARCO transition module. The front and rear axle generators were also overhauled. Following repairs, the system is now functioning correctly.

Main and Auxiliary generator maintenance was performed. This includes rebrushing the main and auxiliary generators. We discovered many brush holders were sticking open, creating the opportunity for electrical failure. The engine load regulators were serviced similarly after discovering issues. All generators are functioning correctly now. Additionally, all traction motors received similar maintenance and lubrication. 

Upon receiving the locomotive, a full crankcase and airbox inspection was carried out on both engines, the valve lash adjusted and set, and fuel injector racks adjusted. This is a maintenance measure that allows us to look inside the engine while it slowly rotates, providing the ability to ensure the engine is sound mechanically internally, and running efficiently. It was observed that the rear prime was running warm during the first excursion in 2019. The source was a defective (stuck open) oil bypass valve, which causes a 70% reduction in engine cooling when defective, that was found and repaired.

An inspection of the air brake system was performed. Two defective unions were replaced and piping that was deemed worn or leaking was repaired. Due to long term storage, the air compressor unloaders were sticking, causing delay in building full air pressure. The compressor unloaders were overhauled, and compressors received standard maintenance. A number of frozen brake heads, which hold the brake shoes against the wheels, were freed up and the linkages were adjusted.

The hot start system (one system per engine) needed work. This system keeps the engines warm while not running during cold weather operation. Justin Young replaced one defective electric drive motor. The drives were leaking fluids due to dry rotted seals. New seal kits for the drives/pumps were ordered, and they will be rebuilt once parts arrive.

Still to come are FRA periodic maintenance (this process includes changing filters, required full locomotive inspection, and confirmation of compliance), and acquisition and installation of an Event Recorder/Alerter system. The system being installed is fully compatible with Positive Train Control. It can be installed now, and PTC can be added later. Final maintenance items include a load test, a shakedown run, and making any final repairs.”

No. 32A will be painted in orange and maroon to fit with the majority of the Friends passenger fleet. Since Milwaukee Road E9s were painted Union Pacific yellow, the scheme will hark back to original Milwaukee Road diesel schemes. The paint scheme will be a combination of the Milwaukee Road’s 1947 E7 scheme with orange substituted for gray, and the 1950s E7 scheme which featured orange and maroon.

Several members of the 32A crew pause for photos while working on the E-unit. They are AJ Murphy, Steve Kinghorn, Henry Overzet, Charlie Elo, and Justin Young. – Steve Sandberg photo.

EMD E9s – A History

The E9 is the last in the series of E-units developed by General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division (EMD) of La Grange, Ill. for passenger service. The series can be traced back to the EA of 1937, built for the Baltimore & Ohio and Santa Fe; the AT&SF units were classified as E1s. Other units in the series were E3, E5, E6, E7 (the most popular E unit) and E8. Successor to the E8, the 2,400-horsepower E9 was produced between April 1954 and January 1964. 100 cab-equipped A units and 44 cabless booster B units were constructed, all for service in the United States. The E9 was the tenth and last model of EMD E-unit design and differed from the earlier E8 as built only by newer engines and a different, flusher-fitting mounting for the headlight glass, the latter being the only visible difference.

E9s have two 1,200 horsepower V12 model 567C engines, with each engine driving one generator to power two traction motors. The Milwaukee Road purchased 12 A units and six B units built to Union Pacific specifications for use on UP’s “City” streamliners when they switched from the Chicago & North Western to the Milwaukee Road between Chicago and Omaha in 1955. They were also used on other Milwaukee Road trains, notably the Olympian Hiawatha between Chicago, the Twin Cities and Seattle/Tacoma (discontinued in 1961) and the Twin Cities Hiawathas between Chicago and the Twin Cities. In April 1961 the Milwaukee purchased six more E9s for Chicago commuter service, among the last E units built. These all came with head power electrical power generators for use with bi-level commuter cars.

The last Hiawatha was discontinued in 1971 and the non-commuter units were sold to Amtrak. Amtrak used E9s until 1979, and converted some E9B units to steam generator and head end power cars. Milwaukee 32A, by then Amtrak 434, was officially retired in October 1982 and sold to the Alaska Railroad, which renumbered it 2402.

E9s led some of America’s most famous trains. In addition to the City and Hiawatha streamliners, E9s pulled Baltimore & Ohio’s Capitol Limited, Burlington’s Zephyrs, including the famed California Zephyr, Illinois Central’s Panama Limited, and Southern Pacific’s Daylights and Sunset Limited.

Of Milwaukee’s total of 18 E9A units, four are known to survive. The numbers and locations of the survivors are:
     32A – Friends of the 261, Minneapolis
     33C – Illinois Railway Museum, Union, Illinois
     36A – Display, Deer Lodge, Montana
     37A – Illinois Railway Museum, Union, Illinois.

In addition to the Milwaukee Road units, a surprising number of E9s survive, thanks largely to the model being the last in its class. The most notable of these is an A-B-A set owned by Union Pacific, including an A and B that the railroad repurchased years after they had been sold. Another well known unit is Southern Pacific No. 6051, painted in Daylight colors and maintained in operating condition by the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

Milwaukee Road’s other E units

The Milwaukee Road’s fleet of E9s weren’t the only E units on its motive power roster. In addition to the E9s, the Milwaukee Road owned two E6s and ten E7s.

The first E units to arrive were E6As 15A and 15B in September 1941. They were dubbed “Fabulous 15” thanks to their outstanding performance. According to Jim Scribbins The Hiawatha Story, at the time the Milwaukee Road was well pleased with its 4-4-2 Atlantics and F-7 Class Hudsons, and the E6s were purchased mainly because they could quickly be serviced at terminals and could make a round trip daily between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

They did just that. Each evening at 9 p.m. they would leave Chicago with train 57, the Fast Mail for Minneapolis arriving at 6:15 a.m. The train usually included 20 to 25 mail cars. A little over 90 minutes later, No. 15 would lock couplers with train 6, the Morning Hiawatha for Chicago. This train routinely included 100 mph running. No. 15 A and B held this assignment until summer 1949 with infrequent relief. Their performance sold the Milwaukee on diesels. In 1946 the Milwaukee purchased ten E7s, and in 1947 five E7s bumped the 4-6-4s from the Twin City Hiawathas for good. The last Milwaukee E7 was retired in 1969.

Surprisingly, six E9s the Milwaukee Road received in 1961 for commuter service weren’t the last new passenger power purchased by the railroad. That honor went to five EMD FP45s delivered in December 1968. They only lasted in passenger service until 1971, when they were transferred to freight service.

Milwaukee Road 32A: A Family Affair

Like Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261, E9 No. 32A is a family affair for Friends of the 261 President and Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg. The Sandberg family has a long history with both 261 and 32A.

That association began with Steve’s grandfather, Frank E. Sandberg, Sr. He hired out on the Milwaukee Road in 1920 at the age of 18 as a fireman on steam locomotives. He qualified as a engineer in the 1930s but remained on the extra board into the 1940s before he had enough seniority to run with regularity. His regular run was handling passenger trains between the Milwaukee Road Depot in Minneapolis and La Crosse, Wis. on the Milwaukee’s River Division. In that capacity he ran Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 on several occasions when it was in regular service between 1944 and 1954.

After the Milwaukee Road dieselized in 1955, the elder Sandberg continued to operate the newer motive power, including the E9s that arrived that year. At first assigned to the Cities trains between Chicago and Omaha, the E9s drifted into other assignments as the Cities trains were consolidated. Eventually they came to be used on several trains in the Chicago-Twin Cities corridor, including the Morning and Afternoon Hiawathas, locals 55 and 58, the overnight Pioneer Limited, and the Fast Mail.

Frank Senior passed on the “railroad gene” to his son, Frank E. Sandberg, Jr. born in 1941. His father often took his son to work, and he got to ride several classes of Milwaukee Road steam, including S3 class 4-8-4s such as No. 261. In the diesel era, the “two Franks” frequently rode in the cab of Milwaukee E9s together. As Frank Junior grew older his interest in railroading increased. He loved steam locomotives in particular, and with his high school sweetheart Judy Casey they photographed steam locomotives around the country.

After their marriage daughter Cathie and son Steve were born, with Steve picking up his father’s interest in railroading. Steve’s grandfather often brought his grandson on cab rides between Minneapolis and La Crosse, including in the 32A. “It is odd to think that I ran the same locomotive 50 years apart,” Steve Sandberg says. “I ran the locomotive as a five-year-old with my grandfather in 1970 and again in 2020.”
On Jan. 30, 1971, Frank Sandberg, Sr. retired from the Milwaukee Road after 51 years of service. On his last trip he brought westbound Train No. 5, the Morning Hiawatha into the Milwaukee Road Minneapolis Depot. What was the motive power for his last run? The 32A, of course. As he brought the streamliner into the station, he was surprised to find his family – including Frank Jr. and Steve – waiting along with newspaper and television reporters. Who could have foreseen that his grandson would one day run 32A again?

Three months after Frank Senior’s retirement, Amtrak was born, and 32A went to work for the new railroad, beginning a journey that would eventually bring it back to Minneapolis. After it’s Amtrak service it went to the Alaska Railroad, Scenic Rail Dining, and Wisconsin & Southern. Thanks to the support of long time Friends members Robert Schroeder and Mary Walters, No. 32A was purchased in 2019 and is now back in Minneapolis, only a few blocks from where Frank E. Sandberg, Sr. made his last run 50 years ago.

Fundraising continues for 32A repairs, paint

While the upgrade and repair of Milwaukee Road E9 32A continues in Minneapolis, so too does fund-raising to pay for the project. The cost of maintaining this classic diesel locomotive, much like Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261, is very high. In addition, plans for a colorful, classic paint scheme for the locomotive will entail considerable expense.

Members and friends can join in the effort to keep 32A running and looking good for years to come by making contributions for the project. We make it easy for you too: simply log onto the Friends of the 261 web site at www.261.com and go to “Support the 261” where you will find a list of projects. Select “Milwaukee 32A” choose your amount, enter your payment information and you are all set!

Of course the Friends always welcomes your support for other projects as well, including No. 261, Fleet Upgrades, or donations to the General Fund to be used on any project.

With no excursions currently planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic, your financial support is more important than ever. Please consider making a donation to the 32A or other projects so we can roll again soon!


Northern Lines is produced by Friends of the 261 for distribution to members and supporters. Assistance with this issue provided by Don Crimmin, Jim DeRocher, Fred Hyde, Dale Sanders, and Mike Sossalla.

Editor: Steve Glischinski

© Friends of the 261. Archived Northern Lines Newsletters are copied from original wordings of letters sent out on the date in header. format maybe different from original letter but the articles remain the same. All addresses, contact info, promotions, discounts, and pricing in archived letters are no longer valid.

No. 32A brings train 16, the remnant of the Olympian Hiawatha, through St. Louis Park, Minn. on June 21, 1963. When the Olympian Hiawatha was discontinued in 1961, the Interstate Commerce Commission ordered the Milwaukee Road to continue service from Minneapolis to Deer Lodge, Mont. Trains 15 and 16 continued to operate between those two points until they were cut back to Aberdeen, S.D. in 1964. The trains were finally discontinued in 1969. – Baron H. Behning photo, Steve Glischinski Collection.©Steve Glischinski

Engineer Frank Sandberg Sr. (in cab window) and his son Frank Sandberg Jr. are on board 32A leading one of the Twin Cities Hiawathas in June 1964. – ©Judy Sandberg

Now in Amtrak service, 32A leads Amtrak train 302, the northbound Abe Lincoln at Lemont, Ill., on Jan. 16, 1973. ©Don Crimmin

A long way from the Milwaukee Road, 32A is operating on the Alaska Railroad as No. 2402 pulling a northbound passenger train between Denali Park and Healy in June 1983. – ©Dale Sanders photo.

Alaska Railroad No. 2402 pauses between duties at ARR’s Anchorage shop on Aug. 11, 1984. Note the electronic bell and rotating beacon light on top of the cab. – ©Jim Claflin photo, Mike Sosalla Collection

Back from Alaska and now Scenic Rail Dining 10C, the former 32A pulls a dinner train at Rugby Jct., Wis. on Wisconsin & Southern June 20, 1990. ©Steve Glischinski

Now Wisconsin & Southern 10C, No. 32A pulls a special excursion train using former Chicago & North Western bi-level commuter cars at Madison, Wis. on Aug. 12, 2007. ©Steve Glischinski

Owned by the Friends of the 261 and wearing its last Wisconsin & Southern number 101, the 32A brings a 261 excursion train on the Twin Cities & Western past the former Milwaukee Road depot in Hopkins, Minn on June 23, 2019. © Steve Glischinski

Friends to upgrade fleet with medical grade air filtration systems

With the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, many heritage rail groups are seeking safe solutions to once again carry passengers. In the coming weeks the Friends of the 261 will be announcing that we have been working with Swiss manufacturers to design and implement a medical-grade air filtration system for our rail cars. This system will be the first of its kind in the United States and will provide “real time” data on air quality for our customers. We have also been working with leading HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) manufacturers to implement the new filtration system in our passenger car HVAC systems. These systems will measure the Air Quality Index (AQI), Particulate Matter (PM2.5), C02 level and filter air to .003 micros to remove coronavirus molecules. The first system was delivered in June. The Friends will be working to modify our cars and install the first systems in Super Dome 53 and Skytop parlor-lounge-observation Cedar Rapids.
If this cutting edge technology is a success, the Friends hope to offer these services as part of the equipment fleet that are chartered by other organizations, and offer it for installation on privately-owned rail cars.

IN THE SHOP – Alaska Railroad 2402, formerly Milwaukee Road 32A, is being serviced inside the shop in Anchorage in June 1983. On the right is Alaska FP7 1510, which survives today pulling excursion trains on the Verde Canyon Railroad out of Clarkdale, Ariz. – ©Dale Sanders

NEW STEEL – New steel side panels with proper sized porthole windows adorn Milwaukee Road 32A after installation by the diesel team in late June. The panels replace steel that was found to be rusted in several places. © Steve Sandberg