• Discussion of products from the American Locomotive Company. A web site with current Alco 251 information can be found here: Fairbanks-Morse/Alco 251.
Discussion of products from the American Locomotive Company. A web site with current Alco 251 information can be found here: Fairbanks-Morse/Alco 251.

Moderator: Alcoman

  by hankadam
Can anyone tell me, or where to find ALCO'S history of three-cylinder steam locomotives. Number, dates, size, customers, and all the rest. BALDWIN built one in 1926, now preserved in the Franklin Institute. It never lived up to its expectations for economy, and suffered with maintenance. Did ALCO have better luck? All the best, hankadam

  by Allen Hazen
I think the Steinbrenner book ("American Locomotive Company: A Centennial History" or something like that) has a fair bit of the information. It's narrative history, not tables and charts, but I think it covers most if not all major steam orders from the 1920s and 1930s, and has some discussion of the locomotives' subsequent history. Most 3-cylinder locomotives in the U.S. were maintenance bears, stored at every traffic downturn, often re-built as 2-cylinder: the Union Pacific was perhaps the most successful operator (the 4-12-2 fleet were 3-cylinder): I've seen it suggested that this was because they were stuck with a whole fleet and so HAD to learn how to maintain them. Probably worth noting that they replaced the Gresley conjugating gear on one with a third set of Walschaerts: I doubt they would have tried the experiment if they thought the locomotives were great in as-built condition.

New Haven also had a fair number of 3-cylinder locomotives, and learned to live w3ith them. Not sure who built theirs: the New Haven was a good Baldwin customer in steam...

It's been a while since I visited number 60000 in the Franklin Institute. Didn't (doesn't) it have a non-standard boiler -- semi-water-tube design, pressure 300+ pounds -- as well as three cylinders? That woulkd have been another strike against it: very few U.S. railroads tolerated water-tube fireboxes (B&O under Emerson had a vew, but switched back to conventional boiler design on its last steam).


It's interesting that British and French railroads had lots of 3-cylinder steam locomotives, assigning them to their fastest trains. Possible explanations: (i) their locomotives were much lighter than American, so maybe had less robust frames, so needed to minimize the forces of individual pistons, (ii) maybe even in the early 20th C their labor costs were lower so they could absorb the maintenance hassles more easily-- possible soupporting evidence on the second hypothesis is that post-WW II, British Rail built mainly 2-cylinder steam (only one of the BR "standard" designs was 3-cylinder, and only one unit was built of that design), and by the end of steam (late 1960s) the French were depending more and more on 2-cylinder power: some of their last regular steam runs were handled by 141R locomotives built you-know-where!

  by scottychaos
Lehigh Valley and DL&W also had some.
im not sure how many, I will look up the data tonight in some books I have.


  by mp15ac
A very good book on this subject is Three Barrels of Steam. Its been out of print for many years, but does turn up occasionally on eBay and Amazon. While primarily about the 4-10-2's (UP, SP, and Baldwin 60000), it does also discuss some of the other 3-cylinder designs.

The Baldwin 60000's boiler had a water-tube firebox, and was operated at 350 PSI.

Union Pacific converted eight of the 4-12-2's to double-walcherats valve gear. The rest kept the Gresley system, but with a roller main bearing and more robust parts.

The three-cylinder engines would have been better if they all had been built with cast-bed frames/cylinders (only the last group of UP 4-12-2's were) and roller bearings on the axles and inside crank. The frames would have held everything in better alignment, and the bearings would have reduced maintenance.

I think the reason why the Europeans put up with the three-cylinder concept longer then us is that with their tighter clearences if they wanted engines with a certain amount of power they couldn't use just two larger cylinders, but had to use three.