Baldwin Centipedes, Babyfaces, and Sharknoses: Sleek Beauties



In 1943, the Baldwin Locomotive Works introduced a truly unique line of cab unit diesels with the unveiling of a monster locomotive that quickly earned the nickname "Centipede". Two years later, after some reworking of the design, the first units joined the fleet of the Seaboard Air Line. Initially, it seemed that the enormous horsepower of 3000 and the immense starting tractive effort of 102,000 lbs. would make the Centipede a top-seller. But it was not to be, the 24 wheels of the Centipede, and the engines and pipe work, resulted in high maintenance costs that quickly stalled sales. In late 1945, Baldwin introduced the "Babyface" cab units. Both passenger and freight versions were eventually offered. In 1948, the Babyface carbody was dropped and the "Sharknose" design was substituted. The Sharknose immediately became classic and the design still looks modern today. Unfortunately, like the other diesel builders of the post-war era, Baldwin could not compete effectively with EMD and Alco, although the company did do better than Fairbanks-Morse. Baldwin units suffered from higher-maintenance costs and, therefore, lower availability. EMD products seemed to be superior in this regard to all other builders, except in relation to some Alco diesels. Baldwin threw in the towel and left the market in 1956.

(The following list excludes a few models with very limited production runs)

Technical Data:

Model: Babyface/Sharknose
4 Axle BO-BO
Horsepower: 1500/1600
Tractive Effort: 73,750 lb.
Engine: Baldwin 608SC/608A
8 Cylinders
Produced: 1947-1953
Units sold: 167 A units
98 B units
Total: 265

Model: Centipede 2-D-D-2
Engine: 2 Baldwin 608SC
8 Cylinders.
Horsepower: 3000
Tractive Effort: 102,250 lb.
Produced: 1945-1948
Units sold: 40 A units
No B unit version
Total: 40

Technical Features:
1. The Centipede had 24 wheels of which 16 were powered. The 3000 horsepower and 102,000lb. tractive effort was enormous for the late forties.
2. Each Centipede was 91 feet long and weighed 409,000 lb. Each carried 3500 gallons of fuel and 2500 gallons of water for the steam boiler. A Centipede also needed 650 gallons of water for cooling purposes and 380 gallons of oil.
3. Maximum speed for the Centipede, based on gearing, was usually 93 m.p.h.
4. The Centipede was fitted with 8 traction motors.
5. The first Babyface/Sharknose model consisted of 37 units fitted with the Babyface carbody and 68 equipped with the Sharknose body.
6. A later version, the RF-16, also used the Sharknose body. A total of 160, both A and B units, were sold.
7. The RF-16 Shark beat the F7 with 100 additional horsepower and tied the FA-2 with 1600 horsepower.
8. Sharknose/Babyface units were almost 55 feet long. Each weighed 248,000 lb.Tractive effort was superior to other cab units of similar type.
9. A 6-axle passenger model of the Sharknose was also offered. The Pennsylvania Railroad was the only customer. It purchased a total of 18 A units and 9 boosters.
10. Contrary to many reports, Baldwin diesels could be run in MU operation with diesels built by other makers if the units were ordered with the proper MU equipment from the Baldwin catalog.
11. The Sharknoses had a reputation as excellent luggers on the PRR, they were used heavily in ore and coal service. The Westinghouse traction motors they used had higher amperage ratings than comparable EMD power.


Historical Analysis:

Baldwin made a valiant effort to compete in the diesel locomotive business after World War II. However, like FM, it got into the cab unit business too late to make much of an impact. By the time the bugs had been worked out of the models, the era of the cab was over. This certainly limited the appeal Baldwin had to potential buyers. In all, the company sold 353 cab units from 1943-1953. This was a very low figure in comparison to EMD. It is doubtful that EMD even paid much attention to Baldwin. The old steam builder quietly faded away and left the business in 1956. It was a sad end.


The only known survivors of the Baldwin cab units are two ex-NYC RF-16 Sharknose A-units. None of these units are currently operational. The sharks are currently in storage in Michigan. I do not know of any other units that have made it this far. It is hard to understand why more examples of these great diesels were not set aside for preservation.

Railfan Perspective:

Railfans can be grateful that Baldwin entered the diesel locomotive field. The Babyface look, similar to the E and F unit, was a distinctive design that was hard to confuse with anything else. The Sharknose was probably one of the most beautiful diesels ever built, rivaling the PA in the beauty department. A shark appeared to be moving even at rest. It was a product of the streamlined era in which the appearance of a locomotive actually meant something. It is a shame that the designers of today have largely abandoned that philosophy.

Pennsylvania Sharks make an interesting sight. Redden collection.


 "The American Diesel Locomotive" Brian Soloman. MBI Publishing. 2000.

 "Modern Diesel Locomotives" Hans Halberstadt. MBI Publishing. 1996

"Vintage Diesel Locomotives" Mike Schafer. MBI Publishing. 1998

"A Field Guide to Trains" Gerald Foster. Houghton-Mifflin. 1996

 "Diesel Locomotives: The First 50 Years" Louis A. Marre. Kalmback Books. 1995

 "The Encyclopedia of Trains and Locomotives" C.J. Riley. MetroBooks. 1995

 "The Railroad Encyclopedia" Edited by Anthony Lambert. Eaglemoss Productions. 1996
 "Black Gold-Black Diamonds: The Pennsylvania Railroad & Dieselization, Volume II" Eric Hirsimaki. Mileposts Publishing. 2000.

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