EMD London HEP Man

by Andy Mitchell

The plant here in London was opened in 1950 mainly to service the Canadian Railroads and replace all of their steam with diesel electric locomotives. Since it opened there have been many changes to the place, a lot of them before my time. The plant at one time or another produced Terex trucks, city buses, articulated buses, and until recently light armored vehicles. But, since its start, it has always produced locomotives. Since I have been there I've seen locomotives going to every part of the world from Australia to Zimbabwe. As far back as I can remember, it went by the name Diesel Division General Motors of Canada. It was only in the last four years that it was changed to EMD London.

I was hired in 1989 when production shifted from Chicago to here. Imagine a railfan's wildest dream come true to be actually building the things you used to play with as a child…. only on a much bigger scale. When I was first hired I worked in the cab department for a few years. Then as a slowdown came, I was bumped from department to department. I worked on long hoods, traction motors, even as a janitor for a while. Then, after a slowdown and layoff, I got called back to where I work now, the department that produces most of the electrical harnesses for the units. A few years after I started in the department I'm in now I was asked to do snags (repairs) on the units. It’s a job I really enjoy because now I get to work all over the locomotive and roam all over the plant. It's like "have tools will travel." And travel I did! Back in 1996 or so, they asked me to go over to Ireland and repair the units we had sent there. I spent a month working at the Inchicore rail yard in Dublin, and they liked my work so much they asked me back a year later to finish what I had started.

But enough about me, let's get to the ARR units. I was actually loaned out of my department as there was not much work coming our way at the time. First, I was loaned to the cab department again where I helped with the cabs for these units. They, in turn, loaned me to the under frame department where I spent about a month wiring the HEP junction boxes with several other guys. There are two receptacles at every corner of the locomotive, so it was a lot of work, which we would later have to redo because the ARR people were worried about rubbing and chafing of the cables. Then, I was loaned to the main line to help hook up the HEP cabling above the deck. About a week after we started hooking up the cables above the deck we had to pull them all back down below deck because Alaska inspectors didn't like the holes in the deck, and rightfully so. They had to be ground out smoother and roll bars welded in to prevent the cables from vibrating through. These were a few of the major problems that led to the units being delayed slightly. The base-coat clear-coat paint job also added a lot to the time of the locomotives, but I personally think they have been one of the nicest looking units we have built in quite some time. When it was getting down to crunch time and the units were nearing their shipping date a lot of us were working 12 hour days to try and get them done on time. Five or six of us were asked to forget about everything else and just concentrate on getting the Alaska locomotives done at any cost. They didn't care which department the snag was marked up to…. do it so we can ship these out of here on time. It's kind of a shame we never saw the HEP actually working as there was one major part we were waiting for to come from Italy. We only ever received one transformer and that went into 4324 but it was decided at the last minute that there was not enough time to test the system. The locomotives went as working freight units, and the rest of the hookup will be done in Alaska before fall . I'm sure all will go well with the Head End Power as we spent tons of extra time on it because it was explained to us that "if you’re out in the middle of nowhere pulling six or seven passenger cars and you lose power to the cars you'll have a lot of angry Popsicles when you get to where you’re going."

When the first two units were pulled I just had to go outside and watch a CP SD90.43 slowly haul 4319 and 4320 out our back gate. I spent the better part of three months living on these units, and I just had to watch them start their journey to their new home knowing that they had a long trip ahead of them and come fall they would be hauling a lot of passengers. Hopefully, all of the residents and tourists alike will enjoy their trips being pulled by these wonderful locomotives.


© 2004 Andy Mitchell