• Worst ALCo Unit

  • 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 N. Todd
...With most RRs sampling locomotives from 3 and sometimes 4 different builders...
What about the Pennsy and NYC? Six!
Now what exactly was the case with the 241? Was this in general a better concept than the 244 but needed alot of tweaking?

  by tgibson

The last SP PA's were not retired until 1967 when the SDP-45's arrived. The ATSF PA's lasted until 1968/69. So they both lasted until the late 60's (and I got to see them - yay!).

Hope this helps,

  by Ol' Loco Guy

You jogged my memory. Guess both the ATSF and SP got a good return on their PA investment.
  by deezlfan
Doing the math-sounds like the ATSF fleet lasted almost 20 years !!!!
Yes, bearly twenty years. Isn't that just about the length of time a locomotive could be depreciated at the time? [ Not sure if it was 15 or 20.] That was possibly a bigger factor than the usefullness of the PA locomotives at the time. Many locomotives built in the same era lasted far longer. [Some still power money making trains today.] The PAs were certainly not worth rebuilding at twenty years old [Remember that the D&H personel sent to inspect them found them stored dead, doors opened to the elements and partially vandelized in early '67], and repowering was not a solution at ATSF. The D&H saved their's from the dead line twice, not because they were spectacular locomotives, but because a true railroad fan ran the company at the time. The D&H paid scrap value for all 5 of their PAs. [Yes 5]

Categorically incorrect. Both the ATSF and SP were the beneficiaries of a GE initiated and designed upgrade program that included:

*'new' engines and water-cooled turbos
*upgrade to Simplified Amplidyne Control scheme including re-wiring
*general carbody overhaul, repaint, etc

This rebuild program did not extend the the units years of service any perceptable amount of time or return the PAs to the head of the Super Chief. The EMD repowering experiment was a failure. ATSF wasn't afraid to rebuild or redesign [CF7s] power if a unit could provide an additional 15 years of service, but obviously the PA wasn't a candidate. While the GE electrical update was a good aspect of the rebuild, And the water cooled turbo was a great step forward, a 'new' 244 was still a 244. The program eventually caused a rift that destroyed the Alco/GE partnership. And rebuilding a 6 or 8 year old locomotive did not impress any Supervisor of Motive Power. It certainly did not result in a huge increase in locomotive orders.

SP seemed to have a closer relationship with Alco during the '60s, maybe because of the C643DH hydros being tested on the property. Could anyone add to that?

  by mxdata
With the discussion advancing rapidly today, I am going to drop back and provide a partial answer to N. Todd's question about the 241 engine. The issue of the 241 engine can become a very big topic all by itself so I will try to hit the essential items:

The 241 was ALCO's first attempt to develop a prime mover that would be a direct competitor to the 16-567 engine that EMD was using in the FT. There were both 12 cylinder and 16 cylinder 241 models developed. The project progressed slowly during World War Two, with completed twelve cylinder engines eventually being installed in the 1500A-B-C ("Black Maria") demonstrators. ALCO upper management eventually became critical of the process and made a decision (some would argue a bad one) to bypass the 241 engine and advance a subsequent design, the 244.

The 241 and 244 resemble each other slightly, as some of the design talent worked on both projects. However a number of design features of the 241 were not adopted in the 244. Several of these deleted features, if used, might have had an influence in areas where the 244 subsequently experienced service problems.

The 251 is NOT the 241 reborn, there are very significant structural differences between the two engines. The 251 was designed with the benefit of the positive and negative experiences with both the 241 and the 244 engines, and by learning from their previous difficulties ALCO was able to come up with a much more successful product.

  by tgibson
Hi again,

While the Santa Fe did not trust it's major trains to the PA's, it also did not trust those same trains to EMD E-units (yes, they had some E-8m's). They decided long ago that over their terrain B-B power was a better fit. Since they didn't have any FPA's, they obviously used F-units. :)

The PA's were retired in the late 60's not because they were bad locomotives (although they were indeed getting a bit tired), but because in 1967 the Post Office decided to pull all mail from passenger trains and put it on freights or trucks. In response the Santa Fe yanked most of it's secondary and local passenger trains, the very trains the PA's (and E-units) were pulling. While the PA's were retired in 68/69, the E-8m's were retired in 1970 - not much later.

Hope this helps,

  by Paul
I am real curious about how the RSD7 faired compaired to the PA. AFAIK, wasnt that the only other unit to get the 16-244? I gather the PA did really well on the New Haven, considering how they used them. I think PRR offed all their PAs in 67 or so, just before the merger with NYC. So, they got about twenty years out of their PAs as well. A1A trucks make for a lousey freght locomotive and considering about ten years after the PA was introduced, the railroads were slashing pax service to the bone. Choice for the railroads were, do we use a locomotive equiped with A1A trucks for freight use or do we get a good trade in deal for a new higher horspower dedicated freight locomotive? I know how I would choose. I dont think the PA actually qualifies for "worst Alco". My choice would be the C855.

  by Typewriters
I recall an article many years back in one or another railfan publication that gave what, at the time, were the only details surrounding the C-415 and the Southern Pacific's experiences, which sounded all bad.

The 8-cylinder 251 had counterbalance shafts in the crankcase, which I don't believe any other domestic locomotive engines ever had. The engine would have torn itself apart without these -- which is fine, except that now you have that many more bearings to worry about, and all the stress resulting from the imbalances inherent in a four stroke V-8 engine with a 45 degree block angle being damped out inside the engine. I believe it said that the first unit failed immediately after delivery (engine failure.) The Navy engines had these too, but they didn't have to deal with shock in the same manner as locomotive engines do.

(I don't recall whether or not these units were fitted with steel capped pistons from the outset, but if they weren't, then naturally you would have had the same problems as with the C-430 and C-630; I also wondered about aluminum cabling, but don't think that was mentioned either.)

The article also noted the total lack of room in the cab, because of the size of the duplex controller, and this received many crew complaints. Yes, there's also the water leak problem, since the engine was on one end and the radiators on the other, with the cab in between.

One wonders if, at least on the SP, the C-415 wouldn't be "worst ever" - the problems that this article told of made some other annoyances (like the shunting indexing motor on C-424 and C-628) seem minor.

As a footnote, it's interesting to note how one or another model, or even brand, of locomotive did poorly on one railroad and did much better on another. This may simply be an example of this phenomenon, which I believe I've written about somewhere in these forums before (how about NYC and the lube oil problems that only surfaced after EMD delivered GP-20's and figured out that NYC was using crappy oil -- did this same thing doom other earlier units?) Still, though, the C-415's were new on the SP when all this came up, so I think that they'd be my bet.

-Will Davis
  by MEC407
TheChessieCatLives wrote:Plus, the back end of it looks like what you'd see on a GE today.
Yes, the M640 had radiator "wings" similar to those on GE locomotives. The big 18-cylinder 251 must have needed more cooling capacity than the standard Alco/MLW radiator configuration was able to provide.

  by mxdata
Going back to Will's post on the 8-251, I believe that the Navy installation you are thinking of was on the 1182 class LSTs (1179 to 1181 had EMD's) where the engines were used as ships service generators. There would have been three of them (and six sixteen-cylinder 251s for propulsion) on each ship. These ships were built to Milspec high shock standards (approximately 100 G's) which is basically a requirement for the engine to withstand shock loads that would turn everyone in the crew into heaps of jelly by shattering every bone in their bodies. I seem to recall that they had some problems with the balance shafts and the bearings in these engines as in locomotives, when the engines were young. My recollection is that NAVSEA Diesel Section pursued this problem with ALCO and there was eventually a redesign of the balance shaft bearings that was retrofitted to the engines in service. I believe these ships are all retired now, although some of them may have gone to foreign navies as at least two of the EMD powered 1179 class LSTs did.

If anyone is offended by my mentioning SHIPS in a locomotive forum I apologize in advance, but if you only look at the locomotive side of ALCO's business activities you only get to see part of the story.

  by Typewriters
You're right! I'd forgotten about those on board ship; I was thinking about the portable power units. Yep -- those would have to have been shockproofed, or at least guaranteed by the builder to be. (Everything on our boat --- that's right, boat, or submarine -- was shockproofed, except the coffee cup holders and coffee makers. %$@#!!!)

You reminded me of the days when, driving around base, I'd sometimes see flatbed trucks carrying diesel engines, or just blocks, and would pay attention to see if it was something I'd recognize. Used to see numerous 38D8-1/8 and 38D5-1/4 blocks being shipped about.

I've always wondered about bearing life in the ALCO 8-cylinder 251, especially in switching service with rapid loading. You'd have to wonder if that was really the best possible idea. Although I hate to bring this topic up, perhaps it would have been slightly better to do as many European makers of four stroke diesels have done, which would be to replace the turbocharged 8-251 with a normally aspirated, or perhaps supercharged 12-251. Many of them included such engines in product lines automatically at launch. But that's sheer speculation and Monday morning quarterbacking, isn't it?

-Will Davis

  by MEC407
Why is it that the 8-251 had more problems than the other 251s? GE's 8-FDL didn't have any unique problems that weren't experienced by the rest of the FDL line.
  by Allen Hazen
>>>>Bibliography: I remember (what I assume is) the same article as Will Davis: I'm pretty sure it was in "Railfan & Railroad," and i suspect it wasn't too far from March 1985: Carstens often schedules related articles for "R&R" and "RMC" for about the same time, and there is an article on the C-415 by "Win Cuisinier" on pp. 75-79 of te March 1985 "Railfan and Railroad." (I don't have a scanner but do know where to find a photocopier and a post office.)
>>>>>Net-o-graphy: There was a string on this Alco forum a while back (on page 3 the last time I looked) with a title like "Alcos in military service," discussing military and marine applications of Alco engines. One post included a list: the Navy seems to have acquired 51 engine/generator sets with 8-251 engines. Stationary generating service, or even shipboard service, isn't as hard on a diesel engine as railroad service!
>>>>>Seconding MEC407's question: WHY was the 8-251 so problematic? Neither GE (C-B?) nor EMD felt they had to put extra balancing shafts in the crankcases of FDL-8, 8-567 or 8-645 engines, all of which seem to have been successful in railroad service. A couple of incarnations of the "Railroad Net" forums back there was a string on FE's early work with the FDL. The V-8 version was one of the sizes devekoped by C-B in the late 1940s/early 1950s. Two units of GE's test set of carbody units from 1954 had 8 cylinder engines. A reasonable number of U12C and U13C export locomtives were built with it in the late 1950s and 1960s. According to one person who posted to the old string, it was the success of the 8 cylinder engine that made GE confident that the 16 cylinder FDL wouldn't have many problems: after all, the engine for the XP24 (U25B prototype) would essentially just be a pair of 8 cylinder engines back-to-back, so how many problems could it have? (O.K., they underrestimated....) SO: why did Alco have so much MORE trouble with THEIR V-8?