Several years ago I had the chance to visit the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, Pennsylvania, home to a pair of Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) Class GG1 electric locomotives. These GG1s were No. 4800 and No. 4935, nicknamed Old Rivets and Black Jack, respectively.
Ryan C. Kunkle, Supervisor of Visitor Services at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania was kind enough to stand out in the wind that day and give us a couple of GG1 stories.
The Class GG1 locomotives were developed by the PRR in the 1930s in response to the need for fast, powerful and reliable locomotives that could perform high speed passenger service on the PRR’s expanding electrified lines. These electrified lines from New York to Washington DC, and as far west as Harrisburg, PA, were referred to as the “Northeast Corridor”.
Origins Of The GG1
How Fast Was The GG1?
This successful Northeast Corridor electrification was in part the result of the US stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. Although the electrification of the PRR lines had begun before the Crash of ’29, it was given great support during these troubled times by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration (PWA).
Renowned industrial designer Raymond Lowey was retained by the PRR during this time but contrary to popular belief, he did not design the body of the GG1. His contributions to the GG1 were sublime nonetheless. Focusing as he frequently did on simplicity rather than on, in his words “looking gadgety”, Lowey began the GG1 transformation. Working on a full size GG1 mock up, Lowey went about refining the new PRR locomotive. Two of his best known contributions to the GG1 were the removal of the body rivets in favor of smooth, welded body panels and of course the instantly recognizable “cat whiskers” gold stripes that accentuate the Class GG1 body.
To really appreciate, as well as to put into context, the lifespan of the Class GG1 in active mainline service, let’s look at what was happening in US history during the Class GG1 lifespan. The first GG1 design was adopted in 1934 and the original paint was still fresh on No. 4800 when the careers of Depression-era gangsters Bonnie and Clyde came to an abrupt end in a rural Louisiana ambush. In contrast, by the time Class GG1 No. 4800 lowered its pantographs for the last time in 1983, the space shuttle Challenger had flown its maiden voyage, and Microsoft was introducing the Windows operating system to the world. From old time gangsters in black and white photos to a brand new computer operating system we use today, the GG1 can lay claim to an interesting time in history.