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Alco Nothing Serious, You Know

Alco Nothing Serious, You Know

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Published by staustell92
This article is a collection of reminiscences by former New York Central Mechanical Engineer Harold Crouch, a serious Alco locomotive enthusiast. Harold worked for the New York Central beginning in the late 1940's, through the Penn Central days and into Conrail, before retiring. Crouch worked for the New York Central's Technical Research Department for a large part of his career.
This article is a collection of reminiscences by former New York Central Mechanical Engineer Harold Crouch, a serious Alco locomotive enthusiast. Harold worked for the New York Central beginning in the late 1940's, through the Penn Central days and into Conrail, before retiring. Crouch worked for the New York Central's Technical Research Department for a large part of his career.

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Published by: staustell92 on Oct 14, 2011
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April 1993

othing Serious, ~.. You Know!


By Harold Crouch
It has been suggested that there is some interestin early diesel-electric locomotives. So what better than to describe the "homegrown" variety - the units produced by American Locomotive Company in Schenectady, New York? AIco produced the FNFB, PAlPB, RS-2 and RS-3 models for domestic road freight and passenger service. Ail of these models utilized the AIco 244 oil engine for the power plant. So a little history of this engine may be in order. Back during the Depression Era, the AIco engineering department was cut back to the bone. About this time, the United States Navy requested that the six cylinder, in-line oil engine (MacIntosh & Seymour) be re-designed for fabricated construction rather than cast construction. Thus, the few people left in the department were tied up on this project with no time to devote to future engine designs. Shortly, AIco' s Auburn, New York plant came up with a "vee" type engine design and three of these were built and applied to some New Haven Railroad units (the Black Moriahs). This design was unique in that the big end of the conn rod was angled so that the piston and rod could be removed for re-ringing without the necessity of removing the cylinder liner. This design became known as the Model 241. A couple of failures of these rods occurred and so the oil engines were withdrawn from service. Still, AIco needed a new engine design. Thus it was that AIco hired some design people from Fairbanks-Morse, Diesel Engine Division, to come and design a new engine - which they did. When the AIco Production Department people saw the design, they threw up their hands in disgust, saying that it was meant for job shop construction and not for mass construction. At this, the Fairbanks-Morse people picked up their slide rules (remember, this was the

B.C. era - Before Computers!) and left in a huff. Consequently, the Alco Engineering Department had the added chore of trying to salvage as much as possible from the design. The result is what we know today as the Model 244 engine. This design had some deficiencies serious ones. The main bearing caps used the tongue-and-groove arrangement, which was not suitable for the crankshaft stresses. EMD, on the other hand, used a serrated type of cap which was much better suited to handle crankshaft stresses. Along toward the last of the RS-3 production, AIco changed over to the serrated design. Thus many of the RS-3' s running today have the serrated main bearing caps. Coupled with this difficulty was the use of main and conn rod bearing shells with a lube oil groove down the center - thus detracting from the total area to carry the piston head. Later versions put the lube oil groove on the back of the bearing shell and with oil holes at points where the piston load was much less. To compound the bearing difficulties was the lube oil cooler, of all things! The cooler was of the standard shell and tube type with lube oil on the outside of the tubes and cold radiator water on the inside of the tubes. When it came time to clean these coolers, using the best available cleaners and procedures, the outside rows of tubes were clean as a whistle. However, the center or core of the cooler was packed solid with carbon. At the New York Central's Collinwood Backshop, we cut several of these tube bundles in two (after cleaning) and so found this situation. During the early dieselization period, standard diesel lube oil contained about 5% additive content which, as it turned out, was insufficient. The additive in the lube oil tends to keep the carbon particles small and so helps to prevent the buildup that we saw in the coolers. Thus, at this period, New York

Central - with one of the largest AIco fleets - was losingjive crankshafts a week! In connection with this, NYCS installed a large VanNorman crankshaft grinder at Collinwood Backshop. The A.F.E. authorizing the purchase of this machine estimated that it would pay for itself in twenty years! Actually, it paid for itself in less than ten years, what with the crankshafts that were saved - not necessarily all AIcos, but other manufacturers' crankshafts as well, the crankshafts being re-ground to the next standard undersize. As a result of all the above, New York Central asked AIco for a better design of lube oil cooler - one that could be cleaned more easily. AIco then furnished a flat type that can be dis-assembled and easily cleaned. This cooler was then applied to subsequent AIco locomotive models. Another serious deficiency was the routing of the high pressure fuel pipe (hydraulic tubing) from the fuel injection pump to the fuel nozzle through the rocker arm space. In due course, the pulses of fuel wore holes through the pipe, thus pumping fuel oil into the lubricating oil. This did not help the bearing situation, as mentioned above. Finally, this problem was greatly reduced by the introduction of the "snubber" valve at the fuel injection pump discharge. The subsequent AIco model 251 engine eliminated this pipe through the rocker space entirely. The early 244 model engines used ductile iron pipes for the exhaust manifold with slip-type joints (for expansion and contraction). After a while these joints wore and thus allowed the exhaust gases to bypass the turbocharger. With the turboootreceiving its full gas flow, combustion air output was reduced (lower turbo air pressure) which produced smoking (incomplete combustion). This problem was greatly reduced with the use of stainless steel pipes and stainless steel bellows for expansion-con-


April 1993

NEWSLETTER OF THE MOHAWK & HUDSON CHAPTER, N.R.H.S. them!"The yard crew bad placed the cars on the wrong train! For many years, New York Central bad an extensive banana operation at Weehawken, New Jersey. Banana boats from Central America unloaded bananas to refrigerator cars. Train #WB-3 then made a non-stop run to Selkirk and then on west to Buffalo, New York. At Utica, the banana cars were set out for train #UM-1 to take to Malone, New York over the Central's AdirondackDivision. At Malone, the cars were


traction connections. Also, being out in the open, leaks that might develop could be more easily seen. In service, a great deal of difficulty was experienced with the cylinder liner-water jacket assembly.Holes would work through the cylinder liner and allow cooling water to pass by the piston and enter the cylinders. Not good for the bearings. A great deal of this problem was caused by not carrying the water treatment at the proper concentration. At the beginning of dieselization, chromate water treatment was widely used and gave good protection to the cooling system of a locomotive. However, chromate is NOT friendly to the environmentand so has been outlawed. Instead, a borate type water treatment is now in use. This is better suited to the environment. nor as good as chromate for engine cooling system protection. On the electrical side of the early units, General Electric Co. furnished a main generator control system called the amplidyne system. This system controlled the main generator output for maximum performance. This was a good system, but a bit complicated. Therefore, many people did not take the time to sit down and really learn how the system worked and how to diagnose problems. As may be suspected, this greatly affected locomotive output. In contrast. today's high-performance units have such a complex control system, such that the average railroad electrician cannot comprehend it. Therefore, many of the big roads have the manufacturers do the maintenance work. On the road, the AlcoFAIFB units really put out. A good friend of mine, John Kelly from West Springfield, Mass. Diesel Shop, was riding a four unit consist of FAIFB units from Selkirk to West Springfield. Going out of Selkirk Yard, the going was slow - barely above the continuous rating of the traction motors (an EMD would never have made it and would either have to reduce tonnage or call a pusher locomotive). Meanwhile, the four 244 oil engines were really putting out full fuel injection rack, good turbo air pressure and the main generators loading good. Still, the slow speed. At Pittsfield, Mass., the train bad to pick up and set out some cars. While the switching was in progress, the conductor came up from the caboose (remember them ???) to announce that they had thirty more cars than he had way bills for!!! This explained the slow going - over-tonnage! Calling back to the Selkirk, the Yardmaster at once exclaimed: "So that's where they are! I've been looking all over the yard for

wasn't even thought of yet) with ground relay trouble. The foreman and hostler ran the unit up and down trying to fmd the cause of the difficulty (I dido' t understand the necessity of this as high voltage grounds can be located with a megger instrument with the units standing still). Becoming absorbed in their work, they forgot to look where they were going and so the unit rolled into the turntable pit (Nothing serious, you know!). The big hook fished the unit out and shortly it arrived at Collinwood

The New York Central had a substantial fleet of Alco FA's, such as #1101 pictured here. The author had numerous interesting and humorous experiences with the FA's, as well as the PA's and RS-3's, ~u~ing his years of service with the New York Central. (Alco Photo,

serviced (iced) and then a Canadian National Railroad crew from Montreal would come to pick these cars up. Usually, a four unit AlCOFAIFB consist was assigned to this run. Invariably, once a month - as sure as day and night - the four units would be struggling up Owls Head grade when a unit would go off the line - low lube oil alarm, ground relay trip, hot engine alarm and even automatic train control applications! Obviously, this resulted in a delay and the CN crew would wait only five minutes, but nothing more. Anything more and they would turn around and return to Montreal!!! (Want to buy a carload ofbananas - CHEAP?!) One day FA unit #1035 came into Selkirk Roundhouse (the present diesel shop

Backsbop. The unit came in the shop where the overhead crane lifted the unit off its trucks so that the trucks could be taken to the truck shop for overhaul. With the unit about ten feet up in the air, suddenly one of the legs of the lifting rigging slipped out and the unit came down with a crash in the pit! The unit was finished up in due course and bad a new 244 unitexcbange oil engine installed. Out in the firing up shed, one went through the usual Alco break-in procedures. About the last item to check was the overspeed trip. The machinist got out his tachometer while I brought up the engine speed with the potentiometer in the electrical cabinet. The overspeed trip went out at its designated speed and the oil en-

12 THE CAll




April 1993

gine began to coast to a stop. Suddenly, there was a loud Bang and the engine compartment filled full of smoke - we had had a crankcase explosion! (Nothing serious, you know!). With the crankcase exhauster running, the unit soon cooled down (it is NOT advisable to open crankcase doors immediately after a crankcase explosion as there may be a secondary explosion). It turned out that one of the temporary main bearing lube oil filters had come adrift on #4 main - the critical bearing, naturally! At that time, AIco had a procedure - in these cases - to return the adjacent main bearing cap and a new cap would be machined to be in proper alignment on reapplication. It was decided not to take a chance and so another overhauled oil engine was applied. after which the unit was dispatched for service again. So much for the 1035. The AIco PA's, on the other hand. were another breed of cat. During the late winter and early spring of 1950, I had the assignment of riding the Twentieth Century Limited every day, Harmon to AIbany and return. At that time, there were explicit orders that only EMD E- 7 units, which had two engines per unit, were to be used on this train - NO single engine units were to be used (AICO,Fairbanks-Morse or Baldwin). One evening when I arrived at Harmon Electric Shop, I was met at the door by Carl Hall, Shop Assistant Superintendent. Carl said that two sections of #25 (The Century) were to be run that night and all they had available to cover the second job were two PA units. Carl asked if I would go with the PA' s. Locos are locos to me and so the units backed over from the ready track at Harmon to Harmon Station. When the train arrived and the motor cut off (T -motor#278, which eventually came to the Mohawk & Hudson Chapter???), the PA's coupled to the train. The car inspector coupled up the steam heat connectors as well as the air hoses and then gave a signal for steam. The fireman put one steam generator on line while I put the other one on. The fireman then went back to the cab while I stayed in the rear unit to check performance of the power plant. From Harmon to Peekskill the speed limit was 60 mph, followed by a reduction to 30 mph for the reverse curve through Peekskill, after which it was back up to track speed - 80 mph. Past Peekskill, I came up to the lead unit only to see the tmboon fIre! (Nothing serious, you know !). The turbos on the early 244 oil engines

were GE Co.' s air cooled units (RD-1 for the 12-cylinder engine and RD-2 for the 16-cylinder engine). These turbos had external bearings and some lube oil had leaked out of the bearings and had become ignited from the hot turbo. Grabbing a fire extinguisher, I tried to put out the fire. It wasn't quite enough and so I went up to the cab to get another. When the engineer saw the fire, he wanted to stop and call the local fire department. I said: "No! Keep the train going." By now most of the oil had burned

D.(S( l-I t(ClR. C

off and the other extinguisher fmished it. The units went on through to Chicago. The New York Central's PA's 42084209 were only a month out of AIco' s plant when they were dispatched east from Chi.cago. At Porter, Indiana, trouble developed (trouble always developed at Porter!). At Elkhart, Indiana, someone did something, but it was ineffective and so the units limped into Toledo, Ohio. My good friend and fellow co-worker, Bob Ash, was on hand and so rode the units through to Buffalo, New York, where I had been working B uffalo Central Terminal platform that night. Bob got off to return home, while I rode the units through to Harmon. These later PA's had a device in their electrical system called a multi -point shunt. This device was supposed to keep the main generator output right up to the curve at all times, thereby improving performance. In this case, the shunter was stuck in the "up" position and could not be made to run down - neither electrically nor mechanically. It was solid! So the "modus-operandii" was to accelerate the train up to about 35 mph and then request the engineer to take the throttle down to ''notch 1." This kept the control circuits set up. Waiting a moment for the oil engine speed to drop off (and


hence the main generator voltage), TR. the transfer relay, was pushed in manually. With a loud BANG and flash in the electrical cabinet, we were in parallel shunt and then could make good running time. This had to be repeated every time the throttle was closed. At Harmon Electric Shop it was found that the manufacturers had overlooked adding any lubricant to the shunter gear box and so the bearings were frozen solid. Later, these shunters were removed and two steps of traction motor field shunt substituted for about the same performance and more reliability. PA units #4208-4209 also earned a bad reputation on account of the Elesco steam generators that were installed in them. These .steam generators were made from the superheaterunits of steam locomotives. These were real boilers and could put out lots of steam, but the trick was to keep them going! For its operation, the boiler depended on the differential in pressure between what the circulating pump developed and the boiler pressure. The circulating pump, a centrifugal type, was mounted directly under the steam separator. Now it is a wellknown fact that to pump bot water a very high "head" is required as the pump suction (reduced pressure) will cause the hot water to flash into steam. A high "head" on a locomotive was impractical and so operation of the steam generator was not dependable. With a 16-car train in the winter time, all steam generators had to be operational. Even EMD E-7 units #4008-4009 had a bad reputation, too, on account of their Elesco steam generators. Eventually, these generators were removed and Vapor Corp. steam generators, which were more reliable, were installed. But they had problems, too. The AICORS-2's and RS-3's were built in large numbers and used for both passenger and freight service. A few were made with both a steam generator for passenger service and. at the same time, had a dynamic brake unit installed. Today, there are a few of the FA units still around. though not operable as originally built. However, a few are being rehabilitated as original. It surely will be nice to see them in action once again. On the other hand. there are a large number of RS-3's still in service, primarily on short lines, still doing what the manufacturers built them for - and thriving on the improvements that have been introduced over the intervening years. With reasonable care, they should run forever!

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