What Do You Feed An Iron Horse?

"What Do You Feed An Iron Horse?"  This question was the opening title to an advertisement released by the American Locomotive Company (Alco) during World War II highlighting its first diesel model intended for main line applications, the DL series.  During this era the manufacturer was still very much in the market.  While it was already trailing Electro-Motive popular models like the first ever road-switcher, the RS1, and a catalog of lightly-powered switchers made Alco the clear second-favorite.  Of course, as the years passed it was obvious no one was going to keep pace with EMD and declining interest in its products resulted in Alco exiting the market before 1970.  The information here focuses on this particular ad, the "Iron Horse."

In 1944 Alco released this ad highlighting one of its new diesel models, the DL-109.  This locomotive was part of a series that included other variants the DL-103b, DL-105, DL-110, and DL-107.  Overall, none sold considerably well although the 109 was far more successful than the others.  The DL variants (which stood for Diesel Locomotive) were intended as Alco's answer to Electro-Motive's popular cab models beginning with the FT of 1939 and then continued with the F3, F7, and others about a decade later.  Alco's DL looked somewhat similar to Electro-Motive's locomotives with a rounded nose and sweeping, streamlined carbody.  Unfortunately, reliability proved their downfall, a common theme with products out of Schenectady. 

"What Do You Feed An Iron Horse?"

It was easy to tell in the old days, when you could see the boiler and the smokestack and the steam whistle.  You could tell at a glance you fed it coal and water. 

But these modern, streamlined steeds - their stomachs hidden under sleek bodies of gleaming steel - what is it you feed them?  Coal?  Oil?  Or electricity?

Actually, all three are used.  For modern, functional railroading demands that a locomotive be powered for a specific job.  For some jobs steam can't be beat.  For others, Diesel is the answer.  For still others, it's electricity.

That's why American Locomotive builds all three.  We know from over a hundred years of experience that only a complete analysis of the conditions to be met can result in the right selection.

Today, a large percentage of America's crack passenger and freight trains are pulled by American Locomotive engines - some steam, some Diesel, some electric.  Each is unsurpassed at its particular job, for each was built for that particular job.

This piece was featured in the February, 1944 issue of Life Magazine and offers a look at what advertising within the industry was like during those days.  Both manufacturers and railroads often used print media like periodicals to promote their product(s); for the former it was normally in the way of new or improved passenger trains while the latter highlighted new locomotives.  Remember that this was in the era long before the Internet and television was still very new.  The artwork, as seen here, was very good featuring vibrant colors and vivid details.  Today, if you are lucky enough to own the original they are highly collectible. 

Note the wording of this particular ad; at the time Alco was still producing steam locomotives such as the Baltimore & Ohio's Class EM-1 2-8-8-4s and Milwaukee Road's Class S-3 4-8-4s.    The company was also collaborating in the development of some electric locomotives, primarily working with long-time partner General Electric in this area (electrics, however, were not a large component of Alco's market share).  The ad also points towards Alco continuing belief in steam as a primary type of motive power ("For some jobs steam can't be beat...") even though by the mid-1940s it was already clear diesels were the future.  Alas, this stubborn confidence would one day bring down Alco.

The manufacturer stopped producing the DL series after 1945, scrapping its troublesome model 539T prime mover and introducing the new but likewise problematic 244 engine a year later.  This diesel powered Alco's new cab models, the FA (freight) and PA (passenger).  The locomotive's were adorned in a splendid carbody, often considered two of the all-time classics; the FA was somewhat shorter riding on four-axle trucks while the PA was clad in an A1A-A1A setup with a longer nose and frame.  The 244 engine proved generally reliable in light duty work, such as switching chores and branch lines.  However, it was simply incapable of standing up to the harsh beating of road service and the problems caused Alco to lose tremendous market share from which it would not recover.

Share Your Thoughts

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below. Please note that while I strive to present the information as accurately as possible I am aware that there may be errors. If you have potential corrections the help is greatly appreciated.

A History Of The American Locomotive Company (Alco)

A History Of The Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW)

Alco's Various Models

The "Black Maria" (Experimental)

The DL Series

The FA Series

The PA Series

The Gas Turbines

Alco's Notable Prime Movers

The Model 244

The Model 251