Thursday, August 27, 2015

At Schenectady

from: Growing with Schenectady; 1948; American Locomotive Company.
Rolly Martin picked up this booklet during his training time at Alco in Schenectady.
What was the history behind Alco in Schenectady?

* * *
While many readers already know that the Montreal Locomotive Works facility
became a Canadian branch plant of Alco, and later the heir to its design portfolio ...
this post looks at the American Locomotive Company in its local context.
*  *  *

from: 1928 Handy Railroad Atlas of the United States (reprint); Kalmbach Publishing, Milwaukee.
The local rail network in 1928.
On a straight line connecting New York City and Montreal, Schenectady is a little closer to New York.

In 1848, a couple of Schenectadians were trying to interest members of the Norris locomotive manufacturing family from Philadelphia in setting up a plant to build locomotives in Schenectady.

At this point in history, the Erie Canal (between Buffalo and Albany) had been operating through Schenectady since 1825. Early railroad 'startups' also had terminals or stations in the town. However, the 'standard gauge', car-interchanging continental network of today had not yet been developed. Many railroads simply provided more efficient portage service between established water routes ... more efficient than horse-drawn wagons. Nay-saying Schenectadians (not foreseeing the continental network) rhetorically asked who would buy locomotives once local railroads had satisfied their needs.

Locals put up some of their own money to attract the Norris plant, and the Norris 'Schenectady Locomotive Manufactory' put out the locomotive 'Lightning' in 1848. It was an 15 ton, 84-inch-single-drivered track buster which was probably scrapped by the time of US Civil War. Nothing else was built there because orders didn't materialize. The sheriff seized the place for unpaid taxes.

from: Growing with Schenectady; 1948; American Locomotive Company.
As you may have just inferred, 'barriers to entry' were low for new railroads and locomotive builders in the early 1800s. However, railroads were generally in the experimental stage and the risks of failure were high for new enterprises. 

A note before we go too far: While there were a good number of independent firms designing and building steam locomotives during the entire steam era ... railroads often chose to maintain their own design departments and some built their own steam locomotives in their own shops. A variation of this idea was railroad motive power departments setting up their own specifications and having one or more builders fill orders using the railroad's own designs. 

from: Growing with Schenectady; 1948; American Locomotive Company.
After the investors repurchased the seized plant for about half price in 1851 (minus the Norris family) the Schenectady Locomotive Works began operations with the same set of company officers. During a slump in 1858, the firm's business agent, John Ellis, did a leveraged-buyout of the company. He kept the company name and employed a talented design engineer by the name of Walter McQueen. 

When the Civil War began, Ellis built 'a large number' of locomotives on speculation and the Federal government bought them all. Looking back, the Civil War is seen by many as the first war in which railroads played a key role.

The following image provides an example of Civil War government procurement, and also documents the non-standard nature of the railroad gauges at this point ...

from: Growing with Schenectady; 1948; American Locomotive Company.

Some of my images will not be 'pretty' but they often document something worth struggling to see. (Someone once asked me if I had a 'high definition' version of a particular image from the Great War.)  I have no access to any glass negatives.

from: A Locomotive Engineer's Album; George B Abdill; 1965; Bonanza Books.
Built by Schenectady in 1868 this locomotive is working on the Boston, Hartford and Erie Railroad. This image also documents the 'human experience' of railroading.

The conductor looks up into the cab at the engine crew. The headend and tailend brakemen are standing on the first boxcar. To stop and hold the train, starting from their respective ends, the brakemen have walked along the roof-top walks and wound each car's brake wheel to tighten the brake shoes against the car's wheels. The number of brakes applied would have been determined largely by their work experience - and whether or not the train was actually stopping.

The book states this is ten cars and a caboose in the clear for another train. You can see the 'standard' 4-4-0 wheel arrangement, light rail, wooden equipment, wooden fuel, no air brakes, a link and pin coupler on the locomotive, the ornate decoration of locomotives and no specialized work clothing. I couldn't get rid of the dark shadow in the middle of the photo.

from: Growing with Schenectady; 1948; American Locomotive Company.
The locomotive plant had suffered a flood and a fire in the 1860s. In 1872 Schenectady got a municipal water supply which must be linked to this interesting locomotive water spout. Sewers and electric lights came in the mid-1880s. Roughly 800 workers were turning out 100 locomotives per year before the next business cycle slump occurred. 

Skilled design engineer Walter McQueen evidently didn't have a 'non-compete' clause in his employment contract. He, a state senator, and some other Schenectadians purchased eight acres of land nearby and erected two large buildings with the intention of manufacturing locomotives. Within a few years McQueen returned to the Schenectady Works and the other buildings remained empty. Why bring this up?

The 'McQueen' buildings were purchased by the Edison Company, and became the Edison Machine Works (1886), then part of Edison General Electric (1889), then part of the General Electric Company (1892) - which is the only original surviving company in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (established 1896). 

In the future, the co-located GE and American Locomotive Company works would result in the Schenectadian slogan: "Schenectady Lights and Hauls the World."

from: Growing with Schenectady; 1948; American Locomotive Company.
The sharp-eyed will have spotted the Erie Canal at the left margin of this image. Unfortunately, it isn't possible to resolve the names of all the various shops.

In the 1880s, Albert Pitkin arrived at the company, having had experience at both the Baldwin and Rhode Island locomotive works. He was an advocate of large boilers and increased (coal burning) grate areas. He also promoted the cross-compound technology popular during this time ... high pressure steam first moves into a high pressure piston before it cycles into a low pressure piston - making double use of the steam's energy before it is exhausted out the stack.

from: A Locomotive Engineer's Album; George B Abdill; 1965; Bonanza Books.
The locomotive above was built in Schenectady in 1893, for the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad - an early adopter of both air brakes and automatic couplers. If you compare this locomotive with the previous Schenectady product shown, the differences are quite pronounced, including the use of coal for fuel. Brakemen jumping from car to car of iron ore as the long, heavy train descended the line from Soudan to Two Harbors would not have worked well.

from: Growing with Schenectady; 1948; American Locomotive Company.
In the 1890s, almost 2000 workers were employed at Schenectady.

Profound changes in the industry were at hand.

As industrial sectors mature, it is a common for a company to buy up competitors and excess production capacity and to shut the latter down. This consolidates the physical plant, skilled workforce, patents and customer base into the hands of the surviving entity. The new company has the potential to compete more effectively with rivals.

When the American Locomotive Company (known officially as 'Alco' years later) was created in June 1901, Schenectady Locomotive Works was combined with smaller locomotive competitors. Some plants diversified into other related products (for example, Rhode Island produced Alco cars and trucks 1906-1913). Here is a list of the other constituent companies of Alco and the date their plants ceased locomotive production.

  • 1906 - Rhode Island Locomotive Works, Providence, RI.
  • 1909 - Dickson Manufacturing Company, Scranton, PA.
  • 1913 - Manchester Locomotive Works, Manchester, NH.
  • 1919 - Pittsburgh Locomotive and Car Works, Pittsburgh, PA.
  • 1926 - Cooke Locomotive and Machine Works, Paterson, NJ.
  • 1927 - Richmond Locomotive Works, Richmond, VA.
  • 1934 - Brooks Locomotive Works, Dunkirk, NY.

from: Growing with Schenectady; 1948; American Locomotive Company.

With all this consolidation, came a considerable expansion of the facilities at Schenectady. In the 1888 view farther above, the Erie Canal was shown to the left of the plant, with the office location in the foreground. 

I believe that you'll find that office way, way in the distance, to the right of the tall smokestack on the right. Everything on the near side of the canal (above) came after Alco was created - the 'west side' expansion. The Erie Canal through this location was filled in and turned into Erie Boulevard between 1917 and 1924. Seen in the lower right corner, the Mohawk River now formed the north-western boundary of the Alco plant.

from: American Locomotives; Edwin Alexander; 1950; Bonanza Books.
Above is a standard USRA, Alco-built light Mikado which was constructed in 1918.

Again, during wartime - in this case, the Great War, the European War, World War One - the US government intervened to get things done on the rails. After a failed attempt at wartime self-regulation by the railroads, the Interstate Commerce Commission recommended the nationalization of the railroads and the United States Railroad Administration (December 1917- March 1920) was the result. 

The USRA created 'harmony' and increased efficiency as it dealt with shipping rates and labour issues; fixed some of the 'railroad boom' mess of overbuilt track networks and wasteful duplicate services; and established standard designs for new locomotives and cars which were needed to replace obsolete and worn-out equipment.

... Will Alco be affected by government measures in World War 2? ...

*  *  *

Enter General Electric ...

from: America's Largest Electrical Workshop; 1928, General Electric. from
As the crow flies, this General Electric plant was less than a mile from the Alco plant.
Here is a view of the GE plant in the 1920s.

from: America's Largest Electrical Workshop; 1928, General Electric. from
As the illustration above from the 1920s shows, GE had experience in electric motors and related gear. 
It had obtained specialized expertise when it bought the Sprague Electric Railway & Motor Company in 1889.

Alco and General Electric experimented with electric locomotives beginning in 1904.
In 1903 (the year after the Park Avenue Tunnel Accident in New York) legislation was passed which limited or penalized operation of steam locomotives on certain routes within New York City.
Where laws or traffic density could not justify the investment in the overhead electric transmission systems (or ground-level third rails) to provide power to electric locomotives ... the idea of an electric locomotive carrying its own diesel-powered electricity generation system was refined into early diesel-electric locomotives such as the one below.

from: Growing with Schenectady; 1948; American Locomotive Company.

This Alco 300 HP switcher had an Ingersoll-Rand diesel engine and GE electrical gear. It was used at the Bronx Terminal of the Central Railroad of New Jersey until 1957, when it was retired and preserved.

The locomotive above was the first 'American commercially produced' diesel locomotive and was sold to CNJ in 1925.

It is the direct successor to a pioneer locomotive constructed by the I-R and GE only and tested in 1924. The test was a success and here is a photo:

from: The Second Diesel Spotter's Guide; Jerry Pinkepank; 1973-1980; Kalmbach.
The GE/Ingersoll-Rand test unit, 1924.

Here are some of the points from that experience:
  • "The [GE] control system ... eliminated manual control of the generator field; that is, the throttle governed the diesel engine itself, with the generator and traction motors automatically adjusting through the control system, to meet the flexible demands of acceleration and grade."
  • The locomotive was tested (extensively) in the West Side Yards of the New York Central in New York City.
  • The engine carried fuel for 48 hours of continuous work - only stopping for crew changes or routine inspection.
  • Engineers were taught the use of the throttle, reverse and brake controls in about 15 minutes.
  • It consumed less than 5 gallons of fuel per hour and didn't incur the usual delays for replenishing water supplies or dumping ashes - as steam would.
  • It was 'smokeless'.
  • Extrapolating ... if it used a full tank car of fuel, a similar steam switcher would burn about twelve cars of coal.
  • This test locomotive eventually worked on about a dozen railroads during the trial.
However ... it was twice as expensive as a comparable steam switcher and it didn't have the 'instant' power of steam which was desirable for some switching moves.

*  *  *

As a long-established manufacturer of capital goods (i.e. steam locomotives) we would expect Alco to see an upturn in demand for its products near the end of a normal economic cycle - let's say in the late 1920s. However, no one was ready for the Great Depression. The steam locomotive 'tradition' (conventional thinking), hubris, the Depression and World War Two ... probably really interfered with corporate decision-making at Alco. With a huge investment in their steam locomotive manufacturing plant and workforce, this 'incumbent' could fall victim to newcomers in the locomotive manufacturing business.

A number of manufacturers (and railroads) fell into two Art Deco 'fads' during the Great Depression. One was building (buying) articulated, streamlined, diesel passenger trains - which often rode like maintenance-of-way speeders. The other fad was the streamlining of steam locomotives. If all locomotives could look like aircraft ... perhaps they could be the affordable fantasy 'transportation of the future' for the common masses who could never afford to travel on early commercial aviation.

Trains Magazine; March 1950; Kalmbach. Collection of LC Gagnon.
The article was titled: 
"Streamlined Makeshifts - 
A before-and-after photo portfolio revealing the secrets of 
a peculiar breed of steam locomotive born after 1933".

*  *  *

Enter General Motors' Electro-Motive Corporation ...

In 1930, General Motors purchased both Electro-Motive Corporation (a designer/seller of self-propelled railroad gas-electric cars - i.e. for passenger service), and Winton Engine Company (EMC's gas engine supplier and a builder of diesel engines). 

By 1935, GM was selling diesel switchers and early passenger locomotives - including power for streamlined articulated passenger trains.

from: Decades of the Diesel (booklet); circa 1965; General Motors.
General Motors, in this booklet, starts with the prototype engines shown above at the Century of Progress Exposition at Chicago - they didn't work all that well. Ralph Budd, President of the CB&Q Railroad, suggested that these engines could be used to power a new experimental train being built by the (Edward G.) Budd Company. This 'Pioneer Zephyr' was a light-weight, high-speed stainless steel passenger trainset. It set speed records and spawned imitations on other railroads. Many of these imitations were powered by General Motors diesels.

from: World Railway Locomotives; P Ransome-Wallis; 1959; Hutchinson and Co.
However, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (as one example) wanted a separate diesel-electric locomotive which could be coupled to regular passenger equipment. Santa Fe was also interested in purchasing two 1800 HP passenger locomotives. Selling stock locomotive 'units' would be more profitable and more consistent with General Motors' engineering and auto assembly line proclivities.

In March 1935, Electro-Motive began to build its own manufacturing facility at La Grange, Illinois - near the south-west edge of America's 'railroad city' - Chicago.

from: Our GM Scrapbook; 1971-1979; Kalmbach.
Part of the plant of GM's Electro-Motive at La Grange, Illinois. 

As a 'newcomer' into the locomotive manufacturing field, with an innovative product - the diesel-electric 'unit' - Electro-Motive was able to build its plant and workforce for a specific task. While the locomotive works at Schenectady had existed for a century, most of this plant was built about a decade after the first run of the experimental Pioneer Zephyr.

from: Decades of the Diesel (booklet); circa 1965; General Motors.
"This four-unit, 5400 horsepower Diesel freight locomotive - first mainline Diesel powered freight locomotive in the United States - left La Grange on November 25, 1939, to begin a gruelling 83,000 mile demonstration on 20 major railroads. By the time it completed these exhausting assignments under every conceivable operating condition, it had proven conclusively that it could do twice the work of a steam locomotive and at half the cost." ... from: Decades of the Diesel.
The inclusion of the fugitive steam locomotive crew at the left may have been intentional in this GM photograph, Anyone having business with the demonstrator is dressed in a suit. It seems that running the power of the future would be as clean a job as driving a bus.

*  *  *

Meanwhile, back in Schenectady ...

Alco was producing steam locomotives, including forty 4-6-6-4 Challengers for the Union Pacific by the end of the 1930s.

Alco also built 4-axle diesel-electric yard switchers, dabbled in other experimental diesel models and/or streamlined locomotives for passenger trainsets,

... and the DL-109 (shown below).

from: Diesel Locomotives, Electrical Equipment; John Draney; 1943-1949; American Technical Society.

These 2000 HP twin-engine locomotives were intended for passenger use but they could be used in freight service as well.
This was a good thing for Alco because ...

*  *  *

The United States enters World War Two  ... already in progress ...

The rules for competitors in the diesel-electric locomotive race changed. In January 1942, the US Supply, Priorities and Allocation Board allowed builders to continue building diesels which were on order or being built for stock - this affected about 620 locomotives. 

On April 4, the War Production Board (successor to the SP&AB) put severe limits on diesel manufacturing. Copper was an essential war material and diesels needed large quantities of copper. And if sheer hauling power was needed, steam locomotives employed proven technology and could be produced quickly. Coal was a plentiful domestic resource.

Alco and fellow 'incumbent' builder Baldwin were restricted to building steam locomotives and diesels of 660-1000 HP. Since the early trials of the mid-1920s, these low-horsepower diesel yard switchers had seen considerable technical improvement.

Electro-Motive was given approval to build 5400 HP freight diesels - similar to the GM Demonstrator 103 shown above. 

Diesels for passenger service could not be built. Alco was allowed to build 74 DL-109s and 4 B-units of the same model between 1940 and 1945 - as they were considered dual-purpose.

During the war, Alco built M3 Grant and M4 Sherman tanks. M7 Priest self-propelled artillery and finally M36 Tank Destroyers were ordered to combat German Panzer tanks.

Alco also provided a few dozen RSD-1's to assist in the US Army Transportation Corps' operation of part of the Trans-Iranian Railway. It was being jointly run by the Allies as an additional route via which material support could be provided to the southern USSR ... plus, if in doubt, world history suggests that you can never occupy 'too much' oil-bearing territory in the Middle East. An Alco shop battalion of 800 was raised to support the transplanted Alcos.

from: Diesel Locomotives, Electrical Equipment; John Draney; 1943-1949; American Technical Society.
Above: Possibly a locomotive for the Trans-Iranian Railway.

In 1948, Alco was proud of the fact that its profit margin on wartime goods was only 2.5%.

... then it had to spend $20 million to convert its entire plant to the production of diesel locomotives exclusively. Its 75,000th locomotive was built in 1946 and its last steam locomotive rolled off the line in 1948.

from: Growing with Schenectady; 1948; American Locomotive Company.
A final look at the Schenectady plant looking approximately east.
The street stretching off into the distance on the 'right page' may be Nott St
with a truck and car almost at Nott as they travel north on Erie Blvd.

*  *  *

Alco in the diesel market after World War Two ...

from: Trains Magazine; April 1950; Kalmbach. Collection of LC Gagnon.

The General Motors 'bar' at the top of the graph was truncated, but - to make the point - it still ran from the left margin, and across the top of the magazine to the right margin.

*  *  *

How Alco presented itself in the early 1950s ...

advertisement from: Locomotive Cyclopedia; 1950-1952; Simmons Boardman, New York.
This book is about 2 inches thick and its binding doesn't like being opened too wide, so the gutter edges are blurred.
It seems likely that these are Howard Fogg illustrations.

advertisement from: Locomotive Cyclopedia; 1950-1952; Simmons Boardman, New York.

advertisement from: Locomotive Cyclopedia; 1950-1952; Simmons Boardman, New York.

advertisement from: Locomotive Cyclopedia; 1950-1952; Simmons Boardman, New York.

advertisement from: Locomotive Cyclopedia; 1950-1952; Simmons Boardman, New York.
Above, the Alco-GE Diesel-Electric Locomotive School
(Its stamp appears on the first image of this post).

The GE-Alco partnership ended in 1953
and GE began to design and build its own locomotives in 1956 at Erie, Pennsylvania.
Alco continued to use GE electrical gear in its locomotives.

*  *  *

Alco diesel production for the US market during and after World War Two

I have worked with, and sometimes rounded the figures in Jerry Pinkepanks' Second Diesel Spotter's Guide (1973-1980) to try to understand Alco's American market before Schenectady stopped manufacturing locomotives in 1969. 

I didn't consider Mexican or Canadian sales or builds because they were peripheral to Alco's main business - building locomotives for American railroads. The last few sales of the T-6 were included in the pre-1961 switcher numbers.

Alco produced its 75,000th locomotive in 1946.

Type of Locomotive
Years Built
Number Sold (US)
Switcher 1940-1961 2830
Cab Unit or Booster 1946-1956 1366
Road Switcher 2000HP or less 1941-1968 2969
Road Freight 4 axle, greater than 2000HP 1959-1968 187
Road Freight 6 axle 1959-1968 422
When the demands of post-war dieselization by American railroads ... exceeded the ability of US builders to supply new power ... Alco did well. Some sources have suggested that fewer cab units would have been sold if railroads had realized that both freight switching moves, and routine maintenance were easier with road switchers - rather than with full carbody units.

Contributing to Alco's demise:

General Motors Electro-Motive Diesel maintained the lead it had
in locomotive development and marketing before 1942.

General Electric introduced their 'Universal' line of locomotives in 1956 
while Alco was still dependent on GE for electrical gear.

Trains Magazine, GW Hockaday; Feb 1969; Kalmbach.
November 1968: Alco C-636 demonstrators depart Schenectady.

Alco ad; Trains magazine; October 1967; Kalmbach.
A two-page Alco advertisement which appeared in Trains magazine, October 1967 ...
less than two years before Alco ceased locomotive production.

John, it's probably too late.

*  *  *

Here is a 2015 view of the General Electric and Alco locations.

And here is a closer look at the former Alco location.

When compared to institutions and buildings which house 'the humanities' ...

Heavy industry facilities often become lifeless shells quickly,
and they are often demolished with less remorse and with less regard to history.