• Baldwin Diesel Shortcomings

  • Discussion related to Baldwin Locomotive Works, Lima Locomotive Works, Lima-Hamilton Corporation, and Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton.
Discussion related to Baldwin Locomotive Works, Lima Locomotive Works, Lima-Hamilton Corporation, and Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton.

Moderator: lumpy72

  by RDG126
What exactly were the mechanical maladies that proved to be the undoing of BLH diesels? Or more accurately, where there mechanical shortcomings that could not be overcome, or more a matter of the units not being maintained properly account them being in the minority on most rosters? It did seem to vary from road to road (RDG & PRSL units achieving some longetivity, as compared to the C&O AS-616's), hence my query.
  by chrisnewhaven
1) Minority
2) Baldwins were extremely good switch engines, but that's were locomotives take the worst beating. More maintenance for switching locomotives + Baldwins being used commonly for switching = management thinking Baldwins are unreliable.
Just my opinion from what I've read.

  by Typewriters
Baldwin's minority position in the field of diesel-electric locomotive manufacturing was the result of a combination of factors, including but not limited to:

1. Relatively late entry into the field of mass-produced standardized switching locomotives meant Electro-Motive and ALCO-GE could maintain their lead
2. Design freeze during the Second World War meant that Baldwin could not implement revisions to the VO diesel engine that were sorely needed; according to John Kirkland, Baldwin knew that it was being forced to manufacture and sell diesel engines that had bugs but nothing could be done about it until the War Production Board released diesel engine manufacturers to make changes
3. Baldwin did not offer any sort of diesel-electric road locomotive until the prototype multi-engine Essl design was built during the War; this was a total flop and got no attention from the railroads per se. Baldwin was then forced to play catch-up with Electro-Motive and ALCO-GE in the road locomotive markets (freight and passenger.)
4. Early Baldwin road locomotives with the turbocharged 608SC engine experienced a number of maladies with the engine, causing Baldwin to supply replacement parts and engines (whole) under warranty. While the engines were not "junk," they were initially less reliable than the ALCO-GE units' engines and far less than EMD engines so that the effect on market position was negative

It should be pointed out that there were many operations where Baldwin diesels were quite numerous and performed quite well. Perhaps the best known is the large number of road switcher sales to the Southern Pacific for some time by Baldwin. In many places, Baldwin road switchers were quite long lived. However, on Class I railroads that had lots of other makes and models and who desired to really "count beans" down to the last, all makes that were not EMD's were considered "too expensive." When (as on most roads) the EMD units were the majority, then the averages you'd use to estimate cost and performance were the averages of EMD units - and none lived up to those.

According to Kirkland, two other factors were the gradual obsolescence of the Westinghouse control equipment until it was not competitive, and then the buyout of Baldwin by Westinghouse which made sure nothing but Westinghouse gear would be used. This prevented Baldwin from improving and updating the control equipment - and according to Kirkland this was the turning point toward decline of the company as a locomotive manufacturer.

-Will Davis
  by Eliphaz
also, Baldwin engines could not MU with Alco and EMD engines, which severely constrained their utility.
  by Typewriters
Actually, Baldwin diesel locomotives WERE available with the Westinghouse "common standard" eight notch electric throttle as an option. Many were built this way - some or all of the New York Central's RS-12 units, and the SAL's (I believe), most or all of the Erie's roadswitchers, some of the Reading's roadswitchers .. these come to mind first.

This was the same throttle that was standard equipment on the Fairbanks-Morse "C-Line" locomotives, and was also standard on all Lima-Hamilton locomotives. According to Kirkland, this throttle could be purchased set up to MU with either EMD or ALCO-GE locomotives.

-Will Davis
  by hankadam
Congratulations to the earlier postings, with another thanks to our good friend, John Kirkland. For the historians among us I again recommend "The Baldwin Locomotive Works" by John K. Brown. It is a lively tail, written in a much different vein than Kirkland's. and lavishly illustrated. Available in paperback. Now then, bear with me while I do some detailed analysis of Baldwin's diesel shortcomings.

1. A-Frame (cylinder block): The designers of the welded A-Frame, transitioning from a cast block made a number of grievous errors. The first designs specified 1/4" mild steel. The twisting and turnings were dangerous. Upping the thickness to 3/8" helped a little, but the "final" solution was 3/8" high-strength steel. Even that was not a cure-all.
2. The welded design eliminated the rounded corners that were present in the cast design so that cracks often appeared, especially near the camshaft retainer on the side. These cracks resulted in leaks, both oil and water so that the engine compartment of a locomotive was often a gooey mess. The electro-mechanical contacts threw off sparks and that sometimes caused fires = another serious problem.
3. Cylinder Heads: This was a very difficult casting with all the various passages. The Baldwin Foundry had about a 50% rejection rate. After the Baldwin Foundry was closed they found an excellent shop, The Hamilton Foundry and Machine Shop, in Hamilton, Ohio. The speciality foundry consistently achieved 100% acceptance of the castings, but at a price. Another item that increased the cost of a Baldwin loco.
4. Cylinder Liners: The liners were victims of erosion, due to the water flow. The "cure" was to rotate the liner so that erosion would not be in just one area. However that meant that the cylinder head had to be removed, piston dropped and liner rotated. Not many crews resorted to this complicated and expensive "cure"
5. Pistons: The early aluminum pistons, in the 600-series engines were subject to blow-by, causing more oil leaks and reduced efficiency. It wasn't until 1960 (five years after BLH ceased loco production) that a new design piston, with cast iron top ring groove and a heavy-duty top piston ring performed beautifully. If this change had not happened when it did, the Baldwin fleet would have disappeared!
6. Bed Plate: A different set of engineers must have designed the bed plate since it was strong, rigid, and an excellent base for the engine and all the many moving parts above. The problem was that the bearing surfaces had to be scraped in by hand, taking eight to sixteen hours. The finished results were a beautiful fit and finish but still another cost item.
7. And now for COSTS: These numbers cannot be verified and are only approximate, but they will illustrate a point:
In the '50's a 1000 HP switcher sold for about $100,000. The EMD loco, mass-produced, cost about $95,000 so they were making about $5000 on every locomotive, whereas the Baldwin switcher cost about $105,000. You do the math: less money to spend on improvements.
In conclusion, Baldwin NEVER did shake the steam mentality; It was always lurking around the corner. Witness the crude and expensive attempts to build giant, coal-fired misfits of steam power almost until the end. This again distracted from serious efforts to improve the diesel. Sad to see such a powerful, and innovative Corporation fail, and ultimately disappear. That is an oft-told tail in American industry.
  by Allen Hazen
Thank you, Hank Adam! As locomotive history blog-posts go, that is as much above the average quality as Preston Cook's articles are above the quality of most of what gets published in rail fan magazines! (you and Preston Cook having the advantage over most authors of actually having worked in the industry...)
(1) Was the cost differential between the BLW and EMD switchers just a consequence of EMD's economies of scale, or did the BLW units also incorporate more expensive components? The Westinghouse (and, in the last few BLW switchers built, GE 752) traction motors were bigger and heavier and (I'm morally certain though I don't have documentation to back me up) contained more copper than EMD's wimpier motors: my guess is that they would have been more expensive even if the same numbers of both had been built.
(2) One other thing that might be an inherent "flaw" in the Baldwin diesel engine design: the cylinders were BIGGER than those in EMD engines, even than those in Alco 539-engined switchers. So things like pistons were heavier. I think I have read that at least some railroad shops found that this made regular maintenance and inspection work on Baldwins more time-consuming (so: more expensive)than equivalent work on other types. ... Larger cylinders and pistons CAN have compensating advantages (witness GE's move from the FDL to the larger-cylindered GEVO to get a powerful, fuel efficient, and low-emission engine), but they mayn't have been as salient for railroad motive-power purchasers when Baldwin was building.
  by trainspot
Hi Henry, very interestinginformation, thanks! And good to see your name here again!
  by Tadman
It is good to see HankAdam here again! And also good to hear of Hamilton, again, as I passed through Hamilton, OH, last week, for the first time in a while. I used to live up the road in Oxford during college and I loved to drive through Hamilton as there was plenty of trains to see.
  by R Paul Carey
Many thanks to all those who have posted to this thread! Baldwin diesels have always been a subject of special personal interest, both from a technical aspect and also as a case study in business. My earliest experiences (including cab rides) were all with NYC RS-12's.

FWIW, a neighbor and good friend had retired in the early 1960's from NYC's Purchasing Department, and had much experience with motive power and other equipment. He also rode the Putnam Division behind those same RS-12's.

NYC, of course, sampled the wares of all the builders (and came to suffer the "consequences", as a result). When I asked him the principal reason NYC "swore off" further purchases of BLH locomotives, he answered - without hesitation: "They failed in product support. When we had a Baldwin shopped awaiting materials, it would be out of service for days, sometimes even weeks. EMD, on the other hand, did 'whatever it took' to help us get one of their units back in service, whatever the problem."

Baldwin's field support was constrained by failure to achieve "scale" - and this was due, in turn, to all the other reasons so well described above...
  by Allen Hazen
R Paul Carey--
Thank you for recounting what the NYC man said! We modern rail fans can speculate endlessly, but the speculation is empty without evidence. "Oral history"(*) from people who worked in the fields the sort of thing we badly, badly, need!

Failure in product support seems to have been an issue for another minority locomotive builder. Though it pains me (as a GE locomotive fan) to have to admit it, the U25B seems not to have been an intrinsically better locomotive than an Alco C425. The New haven bought ten of each in 1964, and then ordered only U25B in 1965: apparently because GE's product support was better. Similarly, there is a story about rail fans asking a Delaware & Hudson person, shortly after D&H's first GE order, what made GE locomotives better than the Alcos the railroad had previously bought: he said they weren't, in themselves, but that GE product support was better (and GE was a shipper).

Maybe the secret to success in the locomotive business is to be part of avery large corporation that can back you while you try to build market share?


(*) Many universities have "oral history" programs: interviewing people who have been in or near historically interesting things, with the interviews being transcribed and archived. If you know a retired railroader who has interesting stories... maybe it would be a good idea to contact the history department of the nearest university to ask if they have such a program, and then put the two in contact!
  by theastralcity
Allen Hazen wrote:R Paul Carey--
Maybe the secret to success in the locomotive business is to be part of avery large corporation that can back you while you try to build market share?
If this is true than one can also lay a large part of the blame upon Westinghouse for their failure to support Baldwin in their efforts. Although I've heard elsewhere that Westinghouse traction motors were superior to those from GE at the time, and survived some of the repowering efforts done to Baldwins for that reason.

I've also heard that early on the builders at Baldwin were not as given to standardization as the other builders. I've even heard rumors that wiring could be different from unit to unit which lead to many headaches for railroad shop forces later on. Wouldn't things like wiring at least fit standard diagrams and routing? I've always wondered if this was actually the case or just one of the rumors that pop up around Baldwin.

I do have to say this thread is an excellent history lesson, very informative and well written. My thanks to all of the contributors, I've learned quite a bit.
  by urr304
Just as an example of wiring differences, my company bought a number of wood sanding machines from a German manufacturer. The machines are set up in two side by side lines, mirror image of each other. But, one place they laid the control cables on one head different from the other, which causes a drive belt change on one to take less than an hour, the other is a two hour ordeal; thankfully the belts only need change every three years if not abused.

Just does not happen with locomotives only.