For a brief period in the mid-1930s, American railroads had a grand fling with streamlined steam. Some designs - most notably the SP Daylights and the NYC Dreyfus Hudsons - were so successful they became symbols of modernity for their railroads. But most streamlined steamers were quickly relegated to secondary passenger trains by streamlined diesels, and spent their final days lending a splash of color and style to local passenger trains. So it was with the Chicago and Northwestern's glamorous E-4s.
Delivered by Alco in 1938, the high-drivered Hudsons had been intended to lead the CNW's premier passenger trains, the 400s - so-named because they traveled the 400 miles between Chicago and the Twin Cities in 400 minutes. But by the time the nine E-4s arrived, plans had been made to lead the 400s with another E-unit: EMD E3 diesels. Photos reveal that some of the E-4s' first revenue trips were on passenger locals, leading motley strings of heavyweights into small Midwestern towns. The E-4s did, however, spend their share of time on high-speed varnish; one of their assignments was taking the all-Pullman Forty-Niner from Chicago to Omaha, where they handed the train over to another colorful, streamlined steamer, the Union Pacific's one-of-a-kind yellow, brown, and red Forty-Niner Pacific.
The streamlined E-4 returns to the Premier line in 2007, complete with operating Mars light above the headlight to warn of its high-speed approach, and cataloged for the first time with Proto-Sound 2.0 and wireless drawbar.