Electric Towing Locomotive GE Panama Canal Mule

Panama Canal Mule Towing Locomotive








GE Towing Locomotive DESCRIPTION
The 48-mile long Panama Canal opened in 1914. One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the Canal with its system of locks greatly reduced the time for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. As a safety feature, ships were guided though the lock chambers by electric locomotives known as mules (named after the pack animals traditionally used in Panama). Mules are used for side-to-side and braking control in the locks. Forward motion into and through the locks is provided by the ship's engines.

  • Nickname: Panama Canal Mule
  • Manufacturer: General Electric
  • Production era: 1914-1915
  • 40 were produced, only three still exist
  • Power: Electric motor
  • Dual electrical and mechanical controls permitting operation from either end.
  • Speed: Maximum 5 mph, could operate at 1 mph when towing larger ships
  • Mules were operated on rails parallel to the canal, with one or more on each side to control and center the movement of the ocean-going vessels.

Panama Mule No. 686 Needs Your Help!
In memory of Dorn Thomas and to honor his work to save Mule 686 and bring it to Roanoke, the Museum and his family and friends are raising funds to provide Panama Canal Towing Locomotive No. 686 a much-needed new paint job, eliminating built-up rust and corrosion and restoring it to pristine condition for future generations, to continue to honor “the Men and Women that participated in the construction and operation of the Panama Canal.”

Your donation is tax-deductible, donate here... or mail your check to: 

Virginia Museum of Transportation
303 Norfolk Ave. SW
Roanoke, VA  24016

Please mark your checks for the “Save The Mule Fund.”

For more information, contact Jed Thomas 804-595-1031

About # 686

  • Manufactured in 1914, an original Panama Canal mule
  • Was a "Pacific Locks Mule" which operated at the west end of the canal. Atlantic mules, by comparison, differed slightly in appearance.
  • Retired in 1964.
  • The governor of the Panama Canal donated it to a proposed "American Museum of Electricity" in Schenectady.
  • Brought to the Museum in 1974, where it was restored and painted by Roanoke Chapter NRHS members.
  • Donated to the Museum by the General Electric Co. in concert with the Roanoke Chapter of the NRHS.