• 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
The Alco Centuries are also much better looking than their EMD counterparts.

I dont think so, and looks dont make a company
Looks are just opinions... But EMDs need a personality- moving fans around and having either a loud roots blower or turbo doesn't cut it.
those alco's were junk, thats why they were mostly gone from class 1's by the early 70's
While some changes definatley need to be made, note that they were not anywhere near as bad as the Boats built while they were in production. I don't know where the early 70's crap came from, 1980-1983 is more appropriate. Obviously they didn't last long because THEIR BUILDER NO LONGER EXISTED.

Work on your capitalization and periods...

  by Ol' Loco Guy

Most of what I know of locomotive business history came from a variety of sources:

spending countless hours in various libraries slaving over periodical and newspaper indexes...and then viewing scores of articles saved on microfiche.

The Churella book-which was the first offering I've ever seen that treated the subject in such a systematic fashion.

Speaking with a (relatively) large number of folks who were involved with diesel locomotives-either on the supplier or customer side.

In any event, I've come to believe that EMD got in trouble when they lost sight of their original business mechanics (that they created)-with GE remolding their existing sales, marketing and manufacturing processes to somehwhat conform to the old EMD model.

I was under the impression that Alco did well with their sales of war material. I will have to check, as I could be mistaken.

FM ? The Erie-built locomotives were in many ways, the 'electrical forebearers' of the later Alco 2000 hp passenger units. Yes, the GT-567 was created to suit the speed torque characterisitcs of the FM engine. The GT-567 was also designed to mount on the bedplate of the OP engine-versus the Alco cantilever application on the 244. These locomotives also usedthe Amplidyne control system, GE electro-hydraulic governor, secondary DC supply system for tm blowers and radiator fans-along with the same high voltage switchgear, master controller, etc.

The only time I ever saw a complete listing of all GE locomotive electrical
equipment was during a visit to one of the Service Shops. I would suspect the methodology behind assigning model numbers was long ago lost to history.

  by mxdata
OLG and Allen, some of the methodology for GE electrical equipment model designations is brought out in the ALCO specifications for their locomotives, which sometimes included a nearly complete bill of materials for the electrical portion of the construction. The differences between some models of GE rotating electrical equipment can indeed be quite minor. I recall a difference between variations in the GE main generators among New Haven DL-109 orders which was simply a relocation of one terminal connection, but dictated a change in letter suffix.

Going back to ALCO, I think it is fair to say that they had a pretty chaotic internal situation from the early 1940s onward, extending at least through the development of the 251 engine. About forty years ago a friend who was an executive at ALCO during the war years provided to me a very long letter in which he put the entire internal scenario into context, discussing the projects, the people, and the priorities. It paints a picture of considerable confusion, particularly since management supported a combined steam and diesel sales effort through the late 1940s. I have never allowed it to be published or distributed it because it mentions some of the principals by name, and I do not know how many of those folks are still alive today, or whether their perspective on the times and events might differ. I will however make sure it eventually ends up going to the collection of a museum that has a suitable archive program.
  by Allen Hazen
(in haste, more thought-out response, maybe, anon)
I've read the Churella book, and am not sure what to think of it. Churella is very much pushing a thesis, and seems to have thought that business history could be written with judgments about technological issues bracketed. (The latter makes it a very unsatisfying book for a railfan: it's silent on the very stuff foamers love! And I think it may be problematic for other purposes as well....) Thesis plausible, but not really proven (how much can you prove with a sample of one corporation?).
Steinbrenner's "Centennial History" of Alco was clearly written FOR railroad enthusiasts, but is orders of magnitude above most railfan literature in its attention to economic issues and the larger historical environment in which railroads and locomotive builders operated. And contains some useful raw data for economic hypotheses: annual prof/loss statements for the company for every year of its existence!
(And I'm now on the wrong side of an ocean to consult my copy.)
I've never had a chance to talk to people with first-hand knowledge of the locomotive business: which makes me EXTREMELY grateful that some of the people who have are willing to participate in forums like this one!

  by mxdata
Dick Steinbrenner is a superb writer and comprehensive researcher. He looks at the total scope of a locomotive builder's business activities, not just their production of locomotives, to provide a much more complete overview of their history and projects. Unfortunately, many other writers in the railroad enthusiast publishing market tend to look only at the locomotive side of the business, and in doing so they are getting only a partial story.

  by MEC407
Are there any other books by Steinbrenner, regarding locomotive builders or anything rail-related, that are worth reading? I searched Amazon.com and the only one I found was the Alco book.
  by H.F.Malone
The Kirkland series, starting with "Dawn of the Diesel Age", is good material, even though he continues to carry the torch for BLW units (wait, maybe that's not the best phrase to use...or is it??!!), which everyone else, especially most railroads that had them, considered inferior locos.

Another book is Staff's "D-Day on the Western Pacific", which has a lot of good info and detail, and suffers from a horribly chaotic arrangement of chapters and paragraphs-- it's as if the 3x5 note cards fell on the floor and never got back in order before the book went to press. But it still is worth finding a copy if you can.

One minor comment on the Steinbrenner book: A signature Alco design was the "Cuban Sugar" series of small stock steam locomotives built in the late teens-early twenties. There were dozens of these in a few different sizes and wheel arrangements (Valley RR 97 and Arcade & Attica 18 are both examples), but no mention is made of the group in the book.

  by alcoc420
Why go ga-ga re Alcos? For me, it is nostalgia. For most railfans, I submit it is rarity. Generally, railfans seem to like rarity.

Alcos were a good part of my childhood. I never heard of Alco or EMD, but I watched C420s from my classrooms in school. My friend and used to race on foot commuter trains leaving the station. If Geeps or U-Boats were on the LIRR at the time I would probably like them the most.

Regarding looks, aesthetics can be pretty subjective. Each brand has its own strong points on styling. EMD's angular, functional styling has always been very appealing to me. Having fans on the roof is snappier than a rounded roof with flat radiators. Dual stacks is cool. GE's simple, rounded approach had a good repitition of the forms. Alco's notches, curves, and irregularities seem disjointed, but that is their charm. I like the allusion to a woman (my wife was not amused). Using a different analogy: an Alco is like a Victorian house, the EMD is like Bauhaus, and GE is like Art Deco. The analogy to a woman is better.

You folks are more knowlegdable than I, but GE was more than Alco's supplier; GE was a full fledged partner. A bigger, richer partner.
  by Allen Hazen
I ***LIKE*** your architectural analogy!

  by mxdata
Allen, going back to your previous posting about access to folks in the locomotive building business, your comment brought back some thoughts about some really excellent presentations I have seen over the years that probably would have been of great interest to serious students of locomotive technology, but were never seen outside the industry. Unfortunately I do not know of any organization or event that presently tries on an ongoing basis to get the enthusiasts who have a serious interest in locomotive technology together with some of the industry professionals who do this type of work. Perhaps such an approach would be worth trying sometime, there are at least a few people in the industry who might be convinced to take part. I would think that setting up such an event would require sponsorship by a museum in order to keep it suitably focused.

  by Ol' Loco Guy
What mxdata proposes in an excellent idea. I have seen a number of locomotive-related presentations given at the ASME/IEEE Rail Transportation Conference that I believe many serious students of locomotive technology would both enjoy and understand.

On the other hand, I've seen some material delivered at an ICE (Internal Combustion Engines)Conference that seemed to challenge even the most focused of listeners. Moral of the story is-the programs have be well matched to the audience.

My initial thought is that the History and Heritage portion of an ASME Section might be willing to work with a local museum within their service area. Any further thoughts ?

From another perspective, seems to me that the Lake Shore Chapter of NRHS is usually able to get speakers from GE-Erie.

  by mxdata
OLG, that is the "key", the programs do indeed have to be carefully selected so that they are well matched to the interests of the audience. I think it would be possible to do this, provided the activity was properly directed and adequately described, so that folks attending it had a very good understanding of the intent and scope of the presentations, and the presenters had a clear understanding of the goal as well.

Properly prepared and adequately illustrated presentations can tackle technical subjects (even difficult ones) and still be interesting and entertaining, and there are people in the industry who do these type of presentations quite well.

In 40+ years of attending both industry and railroad enthusiast events, the most memorably "bad" and boring presentations I have ever seen were not about the technical aspects of locomotives. The all time winners, as I remember them, included a long and boring roster shot slide show sponsored by a historical society but directed toward the interests of model railroaders. It was an incredibly tedious exercise in rivet counting. Another was a talk by a retired railroad superintendent about the "good old days". The guy may have been a great superintendent but he was a very boring speaker. I also recall a "historical" presentation by a local college professor. That gentleman was completely lost, he had absolutely no clue whatsoever about subject matter of interest to railroad enthusiasts.

And discussion of locomotive technology does not necessarily have to deal with current production to be of interest. As we can see from this forum, there seems to be a lot of attention given to comparing features, advantages, and disadvantages of ALCO, EMD, and GE products produced in the past. Just look at all the interest this string has generated at a time of the year that is usually slow for participation in discussions.

  by Allen Hazen
There are a number of "oral history projects around the U.S.: archives, typically based at university libraries, for taped interviews with people who did, or witnessed, interesting things. I think they usually allow interview-ees to stipulate conditions; "Not to be revealed until X years after my death," or whatever. (Example: my father was an English professor at Columbia. He was interviewed for a Columbia oral history archive after he retired. The tape is probably catalogued, waiting for some graduate student with an interest in literary theory in the 1960 or some local antiquarian interested in the history of Columbia University to come along.)
My guess is that the Smithsonian (History and Technology Museum) probably has something of the sort. The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania (Strasburg) seems to have a seriousand scholarly research archive. And there is the (employee-run?) museum at GE's Erie works. Whether any of these have the sort of resources needed to collect and catalogue interviews from the people who saw the diesel locomotive industry first-hand in the 1940s (there must be a few left, though not many) 1950s (Henry Adam Rentschler is still posting to the Baldwin/Lima forum of this site!) and later I don't know. I hope so!

  by mxdata
Perhaps there needs to be an oral history archive specifically related to the locomotive building industry, possibly maintained by a major museum.

I am sorry to have to say that among several of the railroad-specific historical societies in which I have maintained membership for many years, some of them have shown little interest in including employees of the locomotive builders in their oral history collections, even if the person was the local manufacturers representative and regularly attended meetings with the railroad management. And offers to share information or presentations with some of these groups can result in the response that if the equipment in the program doesn't have their railroad's paint scheme, they are not interested in looking at it. There are of course some exceptions to this, but a lot of railroad-specific groups just don't want to see anything except their own "XYZ Railroad".

This is one of the reasons I think that any spoken history archive or railroad enthusiast event relating to locomotive building would probably need to be hosted by a recognized museum.
  by D.Carleton
Just to get back on track...

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

Because I'm PAID to be!
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