Brian Solomon's, The American Diesel Locomotive

Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

One of the favorite books in my collection is another of Brian Solomon's numerous volumes covering various aspects of the American railroad industry entitled, The American Diesel Locomotive. This book was published by MBI Publishing (perhaps the leader in mainstream railroad titles) in 2000, although it may since been re-released, and is a hardcover piece. Through eight different chapters spanning nearly 170 pages Brian covers a wide range of topics related to not only diesel but also electric locomotives. The bulk of the book, however, discusses the five major locomotive manufacturers and the best remembered models they produced including the American Locomotive Company (Alco), Baldwin Locomotive Works/Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton, Fairbanks-Morse (FM), Electro-Motive Division (EMD), and of course General Electric (although it is given somewhat less coverage than the others). While the reading itself is quite enjoyable the excellent photographs is just as good.

Brian Solomon's, The American Diesel Locomotive, begins with an Acknowledgements and Introduction both of which are written by the author himself. In the former section he discusses how the book came together and those who helped with its development. Of particular note here is his father, Richard, who you will see mentioned often in his other books as well because it was his Dad who first got him interested in trains. Most of the photographs you will see in the book come from either his own or his Dad's collection. However, several other photographers helped as well such as Mel Patrick, Blair Kooistra, Mark Hemphill, and others. The intro is actually quite long, for any book, and covers nearly ten pages describing the general history of the diesel locomotive and why railroads ultimately chose that form of motive power over the classic steam locomotives.

It's somewhat interesting that The American Diesel Locomotive's opening chapter is not about diesels at all; instead Brian discusses the electric motors and their impact on the industry, how they operated (such as alternating current versus direct current), and some of the different models developed. If you are not familiar with electrics this chapter is a fascinating read where you will learn much about this unique motive power. Solomon makes sure to include a small inset section describing what the letters and numbers mean behind their wheel arrangement (this is where I actually first learned what it meant). You should also enjoy the interesting collection of historic photographs included here such as Milwaukee Road's electrified Pacific Extension and New Haven's freight motors.

While the book's second chapter is entitled "Railcars, Boxcabs, And Streamliners" it essentially gives a background and history of the earliest diesel-electric locomotives. Here, The American Diesel Locomotive highlights such early designs as the McKeen railcars developed for use primarily on the Union Pacific, gasoline-powered that somewhat resembled those used on interurban systems, early switchers so as those manufactured by General Electric, and the first diesel used for main line use developed as a collaborative effort between GE, Alco, and Ingersoll-Rand (Jersey Central boxcab #1000). The chapter also discusses other early boxcab diesels and also highlights the emergence of the Electro-Motive Corporation, General Motors, and the Winton Engine Company. Finally, the earliest streamliners unveiled by Union Pacific and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy are discussed as well as the fundamental problems of articulated trainsets; thus leading to the development of singular power plants, the classic diesel locomotive.

In chapter three, Mr. Solomon begins his look at the various manufacturers starting with the Electro-Motive Division or EMD. Because of space requirements each builder's chapter is only about ten or twenty pages in length but nonetheless interesting to read about. The EMD chapter highlights all of the company's best known early first generation locomotives like the GP7, F and E series, and popular switcher models. The book also features the rather unpopular Aerotrain developed in the 1950s. Additional unique designs covered include the unsuccessful BL2 (the predecessor to the GP7) as well as the electric-diesel powered FL9 constructed only for the New Haven. For myself, one of the most interesting and fascinating chapters looks at the American Locomotive Company, or Alco.

In chapter four The American Diesel Locomotive looks at perhaps the most unique of all the major manufacturers whose designs were nearly instant classics if not as quite successful from an operational standpoint. Alco locomotives continue to hold their allure over railfans and historians even today, as they remain one of the most popular diesels to restore and operate among museums and historical societies. In this chapter Mr. Solomon features the best of Alco's designs beginning with a look at the company's history and its switch from building steam locomotives to diesels. You will find here the PA, FA, popular Road Switcher (RS) models along with a fabulous display of historic photographs, most of which come from his father's collection. During chapters five and six the book highlights the two smallest manufacturers, at least in terms of their market presence, Baldwin and Fairbanks-Morse.

Overall, both chapters are only twenty pages in length but give you an idea of some of the most interesting locomotives these two companies produced, especially the unique opposed-piston engines of FM. Moving into chapter seven, entitled "The Power Race",The American Diesel Locomotive looks at the second-generation models, the entrance of General Electric into the market and its battle with Electro-Motive as preeminent builder. You will also learn here about the downfall of the other builders, notably Alco which exited the market in the late 1960s. In conclusion is chapter eight, entitled "Modern Power." As you might expect this section looks at present day diesel locomotives and also discusses how GE took over the top position from EMD during the 1980s.

While much has happened with the locomotive market since The American Diesel Locomotive was written it is still a wonderful book, especially if you enjoy picture books (it certainly makes for another great addition to one's coffee table!). The historical background of the locomotives in the book is also very good and I used it quite a bit for reference while writing about the various models in the diesel section of this website. Overall, I would certainly recommend Brian's book for anyone interested in the history of the locomotive (or, again, if you enjoy photo books), as I have found it quite useful.