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Alco "S5" and "S6" Locomotives

Last revised: September 26, 2023

By: Adam Burns

The S6 was the sixth model of switcher series the company produced and debuted in 1955 and built until 1960.

The S6, up to that time, would prove to be American Locomotive's least successful switcher design with fewer than 130 purchased and none were ultimately built by the Montreal Locomotive Works.

The model was based from Alco's custom S5 locomotive built exclusively for the Boston & Maine Railroad, which had asked for a switcher with a bit less horsepower.

Similarly, the S6 offered less power than the S4 as Alco looked to capture the market for such but ultimately would not find a lot of interest. 

Still, a handful of railroads and industries did purchase the S6 including several foreign lines (the Southern Pacific would wind up with 55% of the total number built).

Today, at least two S6s are known to exist; Southern Pacific #1034 (at the National Railroad Museum) and #1051 (in operation at the Niles Canyon Railway). Both units still carry their original number and livery.


The Foster Farms' colorful switcher, an S6, was photographed here by Ron Diczhazy at Livingston, California on March 18, 2000. Author's collection.


The Alco S6 (designed by the company as its DL430) was quite similar to all of its previous siblings, and as aforementioned was the successor to Alco's S5 design. The S5 was the first switcher to employ Alco's very own prime mover, the model 251A, which was capable of producing 800 horsepower via 6 cylinders.

As John Kirkland notes in his book, "The Diesel Builders: Volume Two," the S5 was essentially an experimental design.  It featured a 251A, 6 cylinder in-line engine capable of producing 800 horsepower.

Interestingly, the builder decided not to use its troublesome model 244 prime mover in any of its switchers, which was unsuccessful in its main line freight locomotives like the PA and FA but had worked quite well in its early Road Switcher (RS) line (the RS1, RS2, and RS3 in particular).

In any event, whereas the S5 used Alco's 251A diesel engine the S6 used the updated 251B equipped with 900 horsepower. Also, just as with the S3 and S4, the S5 and S6 were equipped with updated AAR type A trucks and not the Blunt trucks used on the early models.

As you can see, both designs were quite similar especially the external carbody. Both units were 45 feet, 5 inches in length and weighed 115 tons. The most noticeable differences could be internally (aside from the slightly different prime movers).

The S5 offered dynamic braking and the S6 did not (it was the only model that did not offer this feature). However, the S6 featured a higher starting tractive effort, 61,500 pounds compared to the S5's 57,500 pounds. And, as was the case with almost all Alco models of any type, both used traction motors and air components from General Electric and Westinghouse.

It should also be mentioned that Alco offered a cow-calf version of the S6, the SSB-9A/SSB-9B. This design was built exclusively for Oliver Iron Mining of northern Minnesota.

The operation moved and shuffled ore jimmies for the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway that served the mines north of Duluth at locations like Ely, Mt. Iron, and Coleraine. Oliver Iron fleeted a large collection of switchers and was interested in as much horsepower and tractive effort as possible to move heavy ore.

Essentially, the SSB-9 cow-calf was setup was simply an S6 with a cabless S6 semi-permanently attached. In total, Oliver Mining purchased two sets of this locomotive; #1217A-1217B and #1218A-1218B.  

Data Sheet and Specifications


Entered Production8/13/1951 (Demonstrator #6*)
Years Produced8/13/1951-6/28/1954
Model SpecificationDL421/A
Engine251A, 6-Cylinder In-Line
Carbody StylingAlco
Length (Between Coupler Pulling Faces)45' 5.75"
Height Above Rail Head14' 8"
Weight230,000 Lbs. or 248,000 Lbs.
Truck TypeGRS Rigid Bolster, Drop-Side Equalizer (AAR Type-A)
Truck Wheelbase8'
Wheel Size40"
Traction MotorsGE 752 (4)
Traction GeneratorGT854
Gear Ratio74:18
Tractive Effort Rating46,000 Lbs. at 5 MPH.
Top Speed60 MPH

* This locomotive was built as a test-bed model only by Alco (construction number 77991) and the only variant carrying the specification DL421 (all other S5's were built to specification DL421A).   It was never available for sale and eventually scrapped.


Entered Production5/6/1955 (Northern Pacific #750)
Years Produced5/6/1955-12/2/1960
Model SpecificationDL430 (1st)
Engine251B, 6-Cylinder In-Line
Carbody StylingAlco
Length (Between Coupler Pulling Faces)45' 5.75"
Height Above Rail Head14' 6"
Weight196,000 Lbs.; 230,000 Lbs.; 248,000 Lbs.
Truck TypeGRS Rigid Bolster, Drop-Side Equalizer (AAR Type-A)
Truck Wheelbase8'
Wheel Size40"
Traction MotorsGE 752 (4)
Traction GeneratorGT854
Gear Ratio74:18
Tractive Effort Rating46,000 Lbs. at 5 MPH.
Top Speed60 MPH

Production Rosters


Total Built = 7

Owner Road Number(s) Construction Number(s) Completion Date
Alco (Demo)909 (Became Island Creek Fuel & Transportation Company #102)809156/14/1954
Boston & Maine860809166/22/1954
Boston & Maine861809176/16/1954
Boston & Maine862809186/21/1954
Boston & Maine863809196/27/1954
Boston & Maine864809206/27/1954
Boston & Maine865809216/28/1954
Island Creek Fuel & Transportation Company#102 (Ex-Demo #909)80915Acquired 8/3/1954


Total Built = 130

Owner Road Number(s) Serial Number(s) Completion Date
Armco Steel 1202 81720 2/1956
Belt Railway of Chicago 420 82297 2/1957
B. Perini & Sons 101 81721 2/1956
Columbia Geneva Steel 1 82303 9/1957
Northern Pacific 750 80922 5/1955
Ohio River Company 56 81717 1/1956
Oliver Iron Mining 1217A, 1218A** 81817, 81818 10/1956
Oliver Iron Mining 1217B, 1218B** 82311, 82312 10/1956
Republic Steel 153 82307 10/1959
Republic Steel 317, 318 82301, 82302 7/1957
Semet-Solvay 110 81718 1/1956
Sheffield Steel 15, 16 82299, 82300 6/1957
South Buffalo Railway 40 81420 11/1955
South Buffalo Railway 41 81719 4/1956
South Buffalo Railway 42-45 82293-82296 11/1956-12/1956
Southern Pacific 1033-1039 80923-80929 5/1955
Southern Pacific 1040-1051 81290-81301 5/1955-6/1955
Southern Pacific 1052 81433 12/1955
Southern Pacific 1053-1063 81724-81734 6/1956-8/1956
Southern Pacific 1064-1072 81805-81813 8/1956-9/1956
Southern Pacific 1073-1078 81819-81824 11/1956
Southern Pacific 1079-1090 82281-82292 11/1956
Southern Pacific 4634-4645 81421-81432 11/1955-12/1955
Tennessee Copper 107 82304 9/1957
U.S. Pipe & Foundry 38 81816 10/1956
Western Maryland 151, 152 81722, 81723 3/1956
Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico 60 81715 1/1956
Fundidora de Fierro y Acero de Monterrey 1, 2 82305, 82306 12/1958, 1/1959
Fundidora de Fierro y Acero de Monterrey 3 82308 12/1960
Ferrocarril del Pacifico 701-708 81302-81309 6/1955-8/1955
Ferrocarril del Pacifico 709 81384 9/1955
Ferrocarril del Pacifico 710-724 81405-81419 9/1955-10/1955
Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México 5300 81716 1/1956
Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas 7133-1, 7133-2 81814, 81815 10/1956
Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas 7133-3 83812 11/1960
Ferrocarriles Unidos de Yucatán 301 83811 11/1960

* The Ferrocarriles Unidos de Yucatán was a 3-foot, narrow-gauge system operating in the states of Yucatán and Campeche, Mexico from 1902-1975.

** These were cow-calf sets known as the SSB-5.


  • Foster, Gerald. A Field Guide To Trains. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
  • Kirkland, John F. Diesel Builders, The:  Volume Two, American Locomotive Company And Montreal Locomotive Works. Glendale: Interurban Press, 1989.
  • Pinkepank, Jerry A. Diesel Spotter's Guide.  Milwaukee: Kalmbach Publishing Company, 1967.
  • Solomon, Brian. Alco Locomotives. Minneapolis: Voyageur Press, 2009.


The Alco S6 sold modestly at just 126 units although they could be found coast to coast among a handful of Class Is like the Southern Pacific (which bought 70) and Western Maryland as well as industries like ARMCO Steel, Republic Steel, and Semet-Solvay.

Additionally, Mexican lines including the Chihuahua Pacifico, Cia Fundidora de Hierro y Acero, Ferrocaril del Pacifico, National de Mexico, Secretarias Communicaciones de Obras Publicas, and Unidos de Yucatan purchased 33 S6s between them.  

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