Max Ephraim Jr

Max Ephraim Jr

Max Ephraim, Jr. was an American railroad mechanical engineer who helped shaped the transition from steam-powered to diesel-electric locomotives during the 1950's.


Early Life

Max was born to Max and Margaret at Washington Park Hospital on October 15, 1918 and raised on the South Side (Chicago) along with two brothers. His father was Jewish and his mother Irish, and Max experienced the discrimination common to both groups at the time. He graduated from Harper High School in February of 1936. Max attended “Illinois Institute of Technology” and graduated first in his mechanical engineering class and second in the entire Class of 1939 —all while editing the school newspaper, playing intramural sports, participating in the Rho Delta Rho fraternity, working two jobs to pay his way through school, and within 3 ½ years. Max received offers from Pullman-Standard, American Air Filter, and Electro-Motive Corporation.

Electro-Motive and marriage

He started his career at the Electro-Motive Corporation of General Motors on Monday June 12, 1939, just a few days after closing out his student days at IIT. He was assigned as a draftsman, the entry position for a mechanical engineer, at a monthly wage of $125.00. Initially he was with the Power Product section where diesel-electric generators were designed as stand-by power for clients such as telephone companies. He later worked with Richard Dilworth and Martin P Blomberg in developing and improving EMD’s diesel-electric locomotives. As he became financially stable with EMD, he and Audrey were married on Nov 22, 1941.

Ensign Ephraim, US Navy Reserves

During World War II, Max answered the call of duty by declining a deferment and accepting a commission with the US Navy in 1943. His initial assignment was at the Navy installation in Mechanicsburg PA. For sea duty, Max was assigned to the Pacific Theater as an engineering officer aboard the USS PCE-843, a 185-foot Patrol Craft Escort of the Corvette type that was laid down on 25 June 1943 and delivered to the US Navy on Jan 30, 1944 by the Pullman-Standard Car Mfg. Co. On 21 January 1945, Max and the PCE-843 sailed from Key West and, three days later, arrived at Coco Solo, Canal Zone, from whence she departed on 1 February. The PCE 843 arrived at Bora Bora, Society Islands, on the 16th and set out the following day for New Guinea and arrived at Hollandia on 3 March. There the PCE 843 joined the screen of a convoy bound for Kossol Passage in the Palau Islands. After seeing her charges safely into Kossol Passage on 12 March, PCE-843 got underway on the 13th for Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. Max and company arrived at San Pedro Bay on the 16th and sailed on the 25th with a convoy headed to Sansapor, New Guinea. The PCE 843 returned to Leyte on 9 April, and then departed for Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, on the 17th. Upon arrival there, she was assigned duty as escort and antisubmarine warfare ship until 12 June 1945. Two days later, the PCE 843 reported to the Commander of the Philippine Sea Frontier for duty as a weather ship.

The GP7

After his active duty service with the Navy (and continued service as reservist for a few more years thereafter), Max returned to EMD where he was assigned as project manager for the NW5. The NW5 was an early concept road-switcher, and was used to switch passenger cars at major passenger stations such as Chicago’s Union Station. After the NW5, Max headed development of the Branch Line locomotives – BL1 and BL2. The BL models were intended to address the shortcomings of a car body style locomotive. They provided superior visibility to their car body styled counterparts, while also eliminating the requirement to be turned around for a return trip on the same rail. Electro-Motive subsequently mothballed the BL2 and replaced it with the GP7. The "GP" stands for “General Purpose," but it is better known by railroaders as the "Geep7." As project manager, Max successfully showed that this locomotive was what the railroads needed, a general purpose locomotive like the Model T - a basic, no frills workhorse. All the complaints about the BL2 were resolved with the GP7, thus solidifying the transition from steam to diesel-electric locomotives. By the mid-1950s, the GP7 and its successor, the GP9, had become the most popular locomotives in the railroad business. "The locomotives built today are all lineal descendants of the GP7," said Rob McGonigal, the associate editor of Trains magazine. "They all have the road switcher and the long hood on the side of the car. The long hood was revolutionary." Later, Max was involved with the development of the AeroTrain.

Chief Engineer

Max gained more responsibility within EMD. In 1955, he became the locomotive section engineer. Later, In 1959, he led a team in the development of turbocharger for the EMD 567 engine and was promoted to assistant chief engineer. In 1973, just as the Dash 2 series of diesel-electric locomotives were moving tonnage across the land, Max became the chief engineer. He retired from EMD in 1983 after 44 years of employment. Over his career, he progressed from draftsman to chief engineer, and in the process became a major player in the emergence of the diesel-electric locomotive. "Max made a really significant contribution from developing the diesel from the original project it was to the final product the railroads use," said Hank Koci, a retired chief engineer of Electro-Motive. "I'd say that the result of his work is that we were able to save the railroads a lot of money. The diesel locomotive helped save a lot of railroads." Ephraim also engineered such fundamental improvements as FT Dynamic brakes, hinged doors between car body units, and F3 side panels. He also oversaw technological advances including the EMD 645 engine, fuel economized EMD 710 engine, computerized controls and brakes, and the high-adhesion truck. He had a total of 11 patents with EMD.

Coffee Grinders

After his retirement from EMD, Max became chairman of the board of Modern Process Equipment, Inc. (MPE) of Chicago, Illinois (a family owned firm managed by his sons). He was active in this position for more than 20 years, during which he oversaw the company’s growth in becoming an international supplier of equipment to the coffee industry.

Other Activities

In addition to his career achievements, Max became a devoted father of nine children. He was renowned for living by his Christian principles, which he largely attributed to the early influence of his wife, Audrey. He served as board member of the Stone Church of Palos Heights, IL, Maranatha Chapel of Evergreen Park, IL, WCFC-Ch 38 Christian TV, and Evangel University. Max held Bible studies at the EMD plant Executive Conference room every Tuesday morning at 6:46 before the start of the workday.


In 1989, Max’s wife suffered a stroke. She was able to recover and Max became her primary caregiver. Together Audrey and Max traveled to many places including numerous cruises and visits to Singapore and Florida. Audrey continued to teach Sunday Bible School with Max and lived for an additional 10 years, passing in 1999. Max died on September 16, 2001, of kidney failure at the age of 82. His children were with him when he passed away in his home.

Honoring Mr. Ephraim

Max Ephraim was elected a fellow in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and was honored with the Professional Achievement Award from the Illinois Institute of Technology. The Max Ephraim, Jr. Conference Room at the McCormick Tribune Campus Center on The Illinois Institute of Technology campus is named in his honor. Endowed Max Ephraim scholarships have been established at IIT and Evangel University.


External Links

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