The Diesel Builders



Diesel Builders of Cab Units (In order by # sold)

EMD (A division of General Motors)
In 1922, in Cleveland, Ohio, the Electro-Motive Engineering Corporation was born. By 1924, the company began marketing gas-electric motorcars to the railroads. These proved more economical in handling branchline passenger traffic compared to steamers. In 1929, EMC built 7 distillate-electric locomotives for the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad. This success EMC had with these units helped play a role in the firm's purchase by the huge General Motors corporation in 1930. After being merged with the Winton Engine Company, EMC became the Electro-Mechanical Division, or EMD, that we know today. After supplying the diesel engine for the highly successful Zephyr, of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, in 1934, EMD refined it's technology and developed the boxcab unit for the B&O Railroad in 1935. Santa Fe also used the new model to pull it's prestigious passenger train, the Super Chief. In 1937, EMD placed the first E units in service and then, in 1939, came out with the first F unit, the FT. And so began an incredible success story for EMD. Not saddled with the production of steamers like it's competitors, EMD put all it had into diesel construction. The company dominated the post-war boom in diesel construction, holding over 70% of the market on average. After the success of the E and F units, EMD introduced the hood unit with the General Purpose (GP) and the Special Duty (SP) locomotive. By the late sixties, EMD had crushed Alco, Baldwin, and Fairbanks-Morse and only had GE to contend with. GE, however, turned out to be a strong competitor and has not gone the way of EMD's other foes. It has only been in recent years that EMD has lost it's dominant position and fallen to second place behind GE. Nevertheless, EMD is still churning out locomotives today.


American Locomotive Company (Alco)

Alco was created in 1901 from a merger of 8 steam locomotive builders. The company was successful, building some of the largest and finest steamers of the day. In the late thirties, Alco built the huge 4-8-4 Hudsons and Niagaras for New York Central and Challengers and Big Boys for Union Pacific. These steamers were considered to be some of the best ever built. In partnership with GE, Alco began building diesel locomotives in 1929. In 1935, the company sold diesel power cars to the Gulf, Mobile, and Northern. Success with these units led to further diesel development, while the company continued to build super-power steam locomotives. This large infrastructure for steamer construction, unfortunately drained resources that could have been put to better use in the refinement of diesel technology. Alco, had little choice however, but to build steamers for as long as railroads wanted them. The company settled into second place behind EMD after World War II, sometimes holding 40% of the market. The companies FA, S-1 and Road Switcher (RS) series of locomotives sold moderately well and provided much-needed competition with EMD. Unfortunately, Alco found it's hold on the market eroding away by the late fifties. Most EMD locomotives outsold Alco versions by huge margins. To make matters worse, GE bowed out of it's agreement to cooperate with Alco and launched it's own series of "U-boats" in the fifties. Alco quickly slipped to third place among the diesel builders. Finally, in 1969, after producing over 10,000 diesels, Alco went out of business. Some Alco designs continued to be produced, under license by the Montreal Locomotive Works in Canada, until 1989 when MLW also withdrew from the locomotive business. The distinctive chug-chug sound generated by the Alco diesel engine has endeared the company to railfans. Alco locomotives can still be found on the rails today, just listen for that unique sound!



Baldwin constructed steam locomotives since before 1830! The company was one of the primary builders of steamers for a century. Baldwin experimented with diesels as early as 1925, but did not introduce a production version of a diesel until 1937, when it sold 5 diesel switchers. The companies bankruptcy in 1935 stalled diesel development and played a big role in the delay in building diesels. By 1946, the company had achieved modest success with it's line of switchers, selling 686 V0660 and V01000 units. Baldwin created many unique cab units over the years. The Centipede, with 24 wheels, was an interesting diesel, unlikely to be confused with anything else. The Babyface and Sharknose carbodies used for Baldwin's cab units were classic from the moment they first touched the rails. Sadly, Baldwin simply could not compete with EMD and Alco and diesel sales were disappointing, overall. Baldwin left the diesel locomotive business in 1956 after selling 3208 diesels. It was an unfortunate end to a long era of locomotive construction.



FM, a supplier of electric motors and other similar devices, decided to build diesel locomotives in 1944. The company had experienced great success in the thirties and early forties building diesel engines for submarines. FM used the unique, opposed-piston (OP) engine and, since it worked well with submarines, the company decided to try it with locomotives. Although the engine used long cylinders with pistons on each end to attain a slightly higher thermal efficiency and eliminated complex cylinder heads as a result, the OP engine was maintenance-intensive and troublesome. Indeed, if a major problem developed with the pistons, the roof of the locomotive had to be removed and then several other major components had to come out to provide access to the pistons. This reduced availability of FM diesels and did not give the OP engine a good reputation. FM marketed switchers first, like other builders. The Erie unit and C-Liner followed, but sales were low. FM's most impressive locomotive was probably the road switcher called Trainmaster. This excellent diesel could generate a whopping 2400 h.p., but only 127 units were built. The reputation of the OP engine probably played a large role in the failure of FM's venture in the diesel locomotive business. FM withdrew from the locomotive business in 1963 after selling a total of 1194 locomotives. The railfan can be glad FM tried, though, because variety is all too uncommon in the railroad business.