Alco "S-3" Locomotives

The Alco S3 was the third model of switcher in its "S" line that the company produced. It was virtually identical to the previous S1 model that was built from 1940 through 1950 and its interesting that the American Locomotive Company (Alco) even elected to change the unit's name given their striking similarities. The S3 design was not quite as successful as the S1, selling about half as many units. However, it was purchased by several Canadian lines through Alco's Montreal Locomotive Works located in Montreal, Quebec.  The S1 was never offered in Canada while the S2 did witness several buyers, notably via Canadian National and Canadian Pacific.  This continued with the S3 as both Class I's acquired even more of that particular model.

Today, the S3 is perhaps the least preserved of the switcher series but several are extant.  At least three American-built examples are operational, Alexander Railroad #6 and #7 (of New York Central and Davenport, Rock Island & Western heritage) as well as Dardanelle & Russellville #18. In additional, several Canadian examples are preserved.

Classic car aficionados will surely enjoy this scene of Ford Motor Company S3 #6610 shunting a carload of new Mustangs (among a wide range of other cool models!) at its River Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan circa 1965.

The Alco S3 model rolled into production in February, 1950, which was about four months before the final S1 rolled out of the builder's Schenectady, New York plant. The model deviated a bit from its earlier counterpart in that it was equipped with the more standard AAR trucks, while the S1 and S2 designs featured Alco's very own Blunt trucks (the manufacturer was one of the only major builders of diesel locomotives to design its own trucks). Like the S1, the S3 was a standard four-axle design featuring traction motors from General Electric and air components (brakes and compressors) from Westinghouse. Both featured dynamic braking, weighed 105 tons, and carried a length of just over 44 feet.

Canadian National #8483, a Montreal-built S3, switches a passenger consist at the London, Ontario station on July 4, 1966. Roger Puta photo.

However, the S3 also differed in some other ways as well. While both models offered a continuous tractive effort rating of around 46,000 pounds the S3 featured more starting effort, 59,700 pounds (compared to the S1's 57,500 pounds). Additionally, the most noticeable difference, internally, was that the S3 included 660 horsepower whereas the S1 was slightly less powerful at just 600 horsepower. Most likely the S3 sold fewer units than the S1 for a few reasons; first, railroads were probably looking for a more powerful switcher, which was already available in the S2; and second, aside from the S2, those that wanted the extra power had a second chance at doing so with the S4 (which replaced the S2).

With Buffalo Central Terminal looming in the background, Penn Central S-3 #9365 (ex-New York Central #895) carries out switching duties on December 20, 1969. Roger Puta photo.

In the end the Alco S3 sold just 292 units. Interestingly, though, a wide range of railroads and industries purchased the model like the Pennsylvania, Chicago & North Western, Southern Pacific, Ann Arbor, New York Central, and others. The Montreal Locomotive Works built S3s for Bathhurst Power & Paper, Canadian Arsenals, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Essex Terminal, LaSalle Coke, and National Harbours Board and the MLW demonstrator was purchased by the Price Brothers (it was later picked up by CP). Overall, MLW constructed 163 S3s with CP and CN buying the majority of these (140).  For more information about the S3 please click here.  

Alco S3 Production Roster (U.S. Only)

Owner Road Number(s) Quantity Date Built
Aluminum Company Of America (Alcoa)811952
Ann Arbor Railroad4-741950
Boston & Maine1173-1188161950-1952
Brooks-Scanlon Corporation101-10221952
Champion Paper Company210411952
Chicago & North Western1262-126761951
Davenport, Rock Island & Northwestern1-771952-1953
Davison Chemical, W.R. Grace & Company10111951
El Dorado & Wesson Railway1811952
Ford Motor Company6605-661161950
Frederick Snare Corporation711951
General Portland Cement111951
Graysonia, Nashville & Ashdown Railroad5111951
Greater Portland Public Development Corporation66111950
Humble Oil & Refining Company99711950
Louisville & Nashville69-7571953
Maine Central961-96221953
Manistique & Lake Superior Railroad111950
Mount Hood Railroad5011950
New York Central874-916431950-1951
Solvay Processing211952
Southern Pacific1023-1032101951
Swift & Company66411951
Texas & Northern3-421952
Texas City Terminal3211950
Washington, Idaho & Montana Railway3011950
West Pittston-Exeter Railroad611950

Ann Arbor S3 #10 and a string of matching cabooses sit at the small yard in Owosso, Michigan during May of 1980. Note the poor condition of the track by this time. Rob Kitchen photo.

For a comprehensive look at the American Locomotive Company and all of the motive power types it built from steam, diesel, to electrics consider the book Alco Locomotives by Brian Solomon. Covering more than 175 pages Mr. Solomon's book details the history of Alco from its esteemed 4-6-4 Hudsons and 4-6-6-4 Challengers to vaunted RS and PA series diesel locomotives. If you have any interest in Alco this book is a must have!  Also consider Mike Schafer's Vintage Diesel Locomotives which looks at virtually all of the classic builders and models from Alco PAs to early EMD Geeps.  To read more about other Alco switchers please visit the Diesel Locomotives section of the site, which can be reached from the top of this page.

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Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

Researching Rights-Of-Way

A popular pastime for many is studying and/or exploring abandoned rights-of-way.  Today, there are tens of thousands of miles scattered throughout the country.  Many were pulled up in the 1970's and 1980's although others were removed long before that.  If you are researching active or abandoned corridors you might want to check out the United States Geological Survey's (USGS) Historical Topographic Map Explorer.  It is an excellent resource with thousands of historic maps on file throughout the country.  Just type in a town or city and click on the timeline of maps at the bottom of the page!

Studying Diesels

You will be hard pressed at finding a better online resource regarding diesel locomotives than Craig Rutherford's  The website contains everything from historic (fallen flags) to contemporary (Class I's, regionals, short lines, and even some museums/tourist lines) rosters, locomotive production information, technical data, all notable models cataloged by the five major builders (American Locomotive, Electro-Motive, General Electric, Fairbanks-Morse, and Baldwin), and much more.  A highly recommended database!

Electro-Motive Database

In 1998 a gentleman by the name of Andre Kristopans put together a web page highlighting virtually every unit every out-shopped by General Motors' Electro-Motive Division.  Alas, in 2013 the site closed by thankfully Don Strack rescued the data and transferred it over to his site (another fine resource).  If you are researching anything EMD related please visit this page first.  The information includes original numbers, serials, and order numbers.