Shown in this 1947-1948 photo taken in Alderson is the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Railroad’s experimental M1 500 electric turbine locomotive. In 1945, railroads were switching fuel from coal to oil. Some 30% of the C&O’s freight was coal, and their executives were reluctant to switch. Moreover, they predicted our oil reserves would be exhausted in 25-30 years. As an alternative, C&O developed three electric locomotives. Coal, carried in a hopper in the front of the locomotive, was used to generate 4,000,000 watts of power to run electrical traction motors. These were the world’s largest locomotives that generated 6,000 horsepower and weighed 1,360,000 lbs. Much like today’s electric car manufacturers, C&O figured it would have lower maintenance costs because there would be fewer moving parts. Unfortunately, they were wrong as the locomotives broke down continually.
The streamlined looking M1s were designed to pull luxurious stainless steel passenger cars to be used on the Cincinnati to Washington, DC route. The train was named The Chessie after C&O’s kitten mascot. It included four dome cars, a theatre, and a warm water aquarium with tropical fish.
C&O’s venture was ill-fated. Passenger rail traffic fell dramatically in the post-war years, and the B&O Railroad presented stiff competition with their Cincinnati to Washington train. The C&O scrapped the three M1s in 1950, and the deluxe passenger cars were conveyed to other railroads. Some of the coaches were shipped to Argentina where they were used from 1951 until 2015. A few remnants of C&O’s grand plan at modernizing its railroad may still be seen locally – the restored Amtrak station at Prince and the contemporary designed Fort Springs Tunnel.
Photo: Courtesy of West Virginia University Regional History Center.
Sources: Railway Magazine, Popular Mechanics, www.steamlocomotive.com, AmtrakGuy365.