• Why are some of you folks so ga-ga about Alco's ?

  • 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

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  by N. Todd
 
Well, let's just say S-W didn't pull the plug when they did, could Alco's vital improvements done at the time have gotten them at least a little back on track?

  by Alcoman
 
Nick,
Remember that Alco had about 100 orders for locomotives just before they closed. S-W did not pull the plug, They STOLE Alco's money and ran leaving Alco with little or no money to buy material and build locomotives. That's why Alco was forced to cancel almost ALL thier orders.
John

  by Centurylover68
 
That is an excellent point Alcoman. Guess I never thought of that.

  by Centurylover68
 
Imagine if Alco had made an engine of 251 quality in the 1940s. Alco wouldn't have gotten a bad rep which would have kept GE on their side. Alco might still be around. But perhaps its good they left the business.

  by Alcoman
 
It was hard enough for Alco to produce any diesel as they were still producing steam in 1940. There were two factions producing a diesel engine ( one in Auburn and one in Schenectady) each with there own group of diesel builders. This is just one thing that got Alco in trouble later. There was a made rush to complete the 244 and as a result; it was not tested long enough. As they say in the movies: ".....the rest is history."

I think Alco would have survived....at least for a few more years, if S-W had not entered the picture. I think what Alco needed was new mangement that could have overcome some of the problems it had then. Some of the problems include: Better Quality control, better field service, Another electrical supplier in order to wean itself off of GE, More modern manufacturing methods to save money and turn a better profit.
Mangement needed to be able to focus on the future needs of railroads and therefore in order to remain competitve, produce locomotives that railroads wanted along with features that railroads wanted i.e ladders that sloped inward rather than straight up.
It was apparent that A/C drive was in the future as well as horsepower of 4,000 or more. MLW was closer to developing both than anyone.
On the other hand the 251 was getting old by 1971 and needed an design updating which was attempted by MLW and later by BBD.
BBD however had the best idea...the B2400 engine which solved a number of the 251 weaknesses and gave alot more growing room to the engine.

Ok, enough of my rambling....

  by Ol' Loco Guy
 
I happen to believe Alco's post WWII management was just awful when it came to execution.

To this day, I don't understand the business mechanics of the 'deal' with GE. One can only wonder why Alco management did not react to the fact that their largest supplier gave a jump start to a new competitor (FM) ?

One has to believe that after the need for war materiel had ended, there must have a hell of a lot of expertise available that could have been harnessed toward the goal of building their own motors, generators and controls. By the mid-40's, DC motors and generators were anything but rocket science and...there were probably many suppliers for DC switch gear and controls. C-H still shows locomotive sized power contactors in their book to this day.

Once again, I have to invoke that dreaded three letter word-EMD. EMD had 100 percent capture of their parts business for many years-while Alco had to divide those spoils with GE-from the very beginning. Think cash flow and all of that financial stuff.

It seems to me that post-WWII Alco became very much attuned to the flashier aspects of EMD marketing-the demonstrator locomotives, more sophisticated instruction, maintenance and parts books, locomotive school, etc-while ignoring the parts of EMD's business model that should have been emulated.

I am speaking of standardization and maximizing manufacturing equity, e.g., building their own transmission and controls. In my view, had they gone in that direction, they might still be here today-with GE having folded their tent.

Final note-as someone pointed out to me-at one point Alco was expending a mere pittance of an R&D budget on two existing engine designs (539 and 244)-while attempting to ready a new design (251) for the field.

  by N. Todd
 
Remember that Alco had about 100 orders for locomotives just before they closed. S-W did not pull the plug, They STOLE Alco's money and ran leaving Alco with little or no money to buy material and build locomotives.
I meant both literally and figuratively. From what I understand (correct me if I'm wrong), S-W sucked Alco dry and then disposed of them, getting additional $ by selling off divisions. Of course they gave cheap reasons for doing so, like "a depressed locomotive market." By the way, the guy that did all of this died last September. I hope he ended down at Naporano.

Now why was the 241 project ended? Was an incompetent engineer decide to eliminate the genius outa jealousy?
I think Alco would have survived....at least for a few more years, if S-W had not entered the picture{...} i.e ladders that sloped inward rather than straight up.
So the serious problems that were allegedly fixed in 1968 would have helped minus S-W?
Okay, now why would railroads want to stick with ladders? Why not go back to stairwells, like what was beautifully done on late C-415s? The control console should have been redesigned a bit too.
As far as AC motors were concerned, why weren't they used sooner? Since GE was not employing them at the time, how hard would it be to have their sister electrical company start on developing it?

  by Allen Hazen
 
Ol' Loco Guy--
I remember reading somewhere that (at least later) Alco's used a lot of C-H switchgear (which, from the point of view of a shortline operator had an advantage: C-H spares were cheaper than the proprietary stuff EMD and GE used on their locomotives). ?????
I don't want to try to defend the Alco management of the 1940s, but I can think of one reason why they stuck with GE for their electricals. Alco was (at least this is the impression I get from things in Steinbrenner's book and other miscellaneous reading) NOT a financially robust company: the locomotive business had been semi-depressed from the early 1920s ((Alco and Baldwin both had far more capacity than they needed)) and had gone into free fall in the 1930s. I don't think they had the money to undertake a development program for locomotive electricals, given that they ALSO had to (i) develope an engine, (ii) design a locomotive to put it in, and (iii) rework a factory that had been built to produce a radically different project.
...and DC transmissions and control systems can't have been all THAT easy to design: Westinghouse made good traction motors, but apparently wasn't able to do control systems as good as GE's (though my source for that is an old article in "Trains," not the most reliable ...) and goofed badly in designing the generator for the 2400hp C-liner.
--
N.Todd--
Yes indeed! WHY weren't AC motors used much earlier? I think there were European diesel-electric AC-motor prototypes by the mid 1970s, and articles in "Railway Age" in the late 1970s/ early 1980s suggested AC/AC diesels for U.S. service were just around the corner (with GE-- having done work on AC motors for transit cars-- more advanced in their development than EMD, and Santa Fe particularly interested for, mainly, maintenance reasons). And yet EMD's first AC motored prototypes (with imported motors, so maybe GE really was ahead in designing their own!) didn't hit the rails until 1989.
It seems to me that GE and EMD/Siemens COULD have developed AC-motor locomotives several years earlier, and that the most likely reason they didn't was that the (??maybe unduly conservative??) railroad managements weren't pounding on their doors to do so.

  by tgibson
 
Hi,

Of course, the M640 got AC motors relatively early. Brown Boveri as I remember.

While EMD produced their own electrical gear, I have heard that it was "over protected" - it took many seconds for most EMD locomotives to load up, vs other brands. This seemed to be worst in the GP-20/SD-24 era, although later models also have that reputation. I know that SP used their Trainmasters in commute service partly because of their fast loading (and thus acceleration) characteristics. Locomotive electrical systems seem to me to be a compromise between fast loading and high capacity vs reliability and safety. EMD emphasized the latter, while Westinghouse seemed to lean towards the former (sometimes too far?).

I would assume that the AC motor technology for heavy locomotives (thyristors, etc.) was not mature by the 1970's, and the cost was too high. It may also have been the case that they needed to be smaller to fit into typical locomotives. This was obviously not the case by the 1990's, although AC locomotives are still more expensive than DC and many railroads are still buying significant numbers of DC locomotives. In fact I would assume that DC locomotives have outsold AC examples the past few years - just consider all the UP SD-70M's.

A similar example is the AC-DC transmission of the 1960's - it waited until solid state air cooled silicon diodes got small and cheap enough to be practical in a locomotive. The previous motor-generator and rectifier approaches were not sufficiently superior to existing DC technology to encourage the switch.

Hope this helps,
  by Matt Langworthy
 
Allen Hazen wrote:It seems to me that GE and EMD/Siemens COULD have developed AC-motor locomotives several years earlier, and that the most likely reason they didn't was that the (??maybe unduly conservative??) railroad managements weren't pounding on their doors to do so.
Considering the weak financial state of the industry in those days, I don't think the RRs even wanted to think about a new technology would drive up costs. Look at all the Class 1s that went bankrupt between 1960 and 1980: NH, CNJ, PC, LHR, LV, RDG, EL, Rock Island, Milwaukee Road and B&M. Even Chessie and SP had problems during that time period.

Besides, the successful EMD SD40/SD40-2 really set the standard for traction, and there was little need to exceed its capabilities for a long time.

  by Ol' Loco Guy
 
Allan,

I respectfully disagree with you. Alco was a significant supplier of WWII war material-so I would guess that their coffers were pretty full once the war ended
.
Remember that they spent 20 million bucks to 'remodel' the plant in 1946 for 'mass production' of diesel locomotives. To be flippant-why not another coupla million to set up a line for traction motors, main generators and auxiliaries. I'm sure that the boilermaker craft would have been happy to have had some work to do.

Control relays and switchgear could have been from outside suppliers, a la' EMD. The expertise to design and build controls could have been hired away from the 'big guy' at the other end of Erie Blvd.

EMD and GE had completely different philosophies on main generator design, which in turn drove the type of control scheme used. The EMD main generator had a complicated field structure, which allowed the proper generator characteristic curve to be developed with a simple (open loop) control scheme. In contrast, GE's generator as used on Alco road locomotives was an (electrically) simple shunt field gnerator. In order to get the proper characterstic curve, GE used an exciter with a complicated field structure along with a complex (closed loop) control system. I don't have my WEMCO file at hand, but I believe that WEMCO was closer to EMD in design philosophy.

BTW, when WEMCO left the business, many of the TM's had traction equipment and controls that were comparable to those applied to similar Alco production.

I concur on what other have said about AC, i.e., the innate conservatism of rr mechanical depts., distrust of foreign technology, cost, design maturity along with the fact that the EMD 40 series was the defacto standard for North American motive power at the time.

While Caterpillar and BB went as far as to commission a study of entering the locomotive market with AC locomotives, it took the combination of BN and EMD to make the concept a reality ion the form of the SD70MAC.

  by alcoAL
 
When I was growing up in the 1960s there was only one locomotive builder - ALCO. I guess that's because I grew up on Long Island. I never heard of ALCO then (I only saw their locos) or EMD (and GE made light bulbs). I only saw S1/S2, RS1/2/3 and the C420 so that's all I knew. When the LIRR got the FA1/2's as cab control cars, they sort of had them all.
Like everyone else mentioned, the looks, sounds & smoke is what makes them a favorite. In the 80s when the last C420s were running on LI, I could tell the difference between them and the GP38-2's just by the sound of them coming in the distance.

  by N. Todd
 
Locomotive electrical systems seem to me to be a compromise between fast loading and high capacity vs reliability and safety. EMD emphasized the latter
Now recall SP's experiences with 35s which had D67 motors...

  by Allen Hazen
 
Ol' Loco Guy--
I have a feeling that even wartime boom business wasn't enough to restore American Locomotive to robust financial health, but I don't really know. (And probably, given my general ignorance of business and business history, wouldn't know even if I had their financial statements in front of me!) ... And I will admit that the company's less-than-spectacularly-successful efforts at diversification suggest a management that really wasn't superbly talented...
About the later FM units having electrical equipment similar to that of contemporary Alcos: I knew that later FM locomotives had GE electrical equipment (752 motors, Amplidyne and later Static Excitation controls, but 567* main generators instead of the 581 or 586 used on Alcos). Is there more to this story, or is that the similarity you had in mind?
---
* The 567 had been used on the Erie-builts, before FM set up a production line to build large locomotives with WH electricals. I assume it was a generator model designed with the speed (etc) characteristics of the FM engine in mind: I've never seen any informative SYSTEM in GE's assignment of model numbers to motors and generators, but 567 is just one higher than 566, and have wondered whether this indicated that there were similarities between the 567 generator designed for the Erie-built and the 566 designed at almost the same time for the PA-1.

  by crazy_nip
 
jmp883 wrote:The Alco Centuries are also much better looking than their EMD counterparts.
I dont think so, and looks dont make a company

those alco's were junk, thats why they were mostly gone from class 1's by the early 70's

even the centuries, built in the late 60's didnt make it very long

its why the PA's were gone by the early 60's and the E units mostly made it to amtrak and later

going back even to the PA's, I like the looks of the E/F over the PA/FA
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