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06-19-2011, 02:48 AM #41
You are correct, a way of life vanished with the end of steam on the rails. While a diesel has huge and numerous advantages over steam, the "human" factors of the steam locomotive were never replaced by diesel. If you think about it, a steam locomotive was built as a one-off kind of thing, even when multiple engines of a class were produced. The building of the parts was the result of numerous skilled trades working together. The people who built the engines served apprenticeships, came up the hard way, and made the parts- whether it was forging the rods, casting the cylinder block and frame, or forming the boiler plate and fitting/rivetting the boiler.... There may have been jigs, fixtures, and production machinery like turret lathes used, but the overall building a steam locomotive took a lot more skill at all levels than building a diesel.
To become a journeyman meant serving time as an apprentice. It meant coming up the hard way, and paying one's dues. The foreman and journeyman could and did chew up apprentices. There was none of this corporate BS and "Human Resources" sending foremen to "sensitivity training". It was "you get your a-- to work and get busy. If you don't like it, don't let the door hit you in the a-- on your way out. There's plenty of better men than you wanting your billet..." Even with the jigs, fixtures and production tooling, each person still had to have a good deal more skill and sense of the work than today in the CNC era.
Then, we come to the finished locomotive. It took a lot more skill and instinct to run than a diesel. It took a lot more physical stamina to make steam and run than a diesel. It was kind of tlike the old seafaring men who spoke of the passing of the era of "wooden ships and iron men". With a diesel, anyone who can climb in the cab and has fairly short training can run one. The degree of knowledge a steam locomotive crew had to have was impressive. Knowledge of how a boiler was constructed, what stresses acted on the parts of the boiler, how steam was made, basic boiler water chemistry, knowledge of combusion, knowledge of the valve gear and how steam is used expansively... knowledge of the airbrakes including anatomy of the compressor, governor valve, airbrake valves, triple valves, cylinders and brake rigging, knowledge of auxiliary equipment on the engine like the feedwater injectors, feedwater pumps and heaters, air operated cylinder cocks, and on it went. This was the level of knowledge a fireman and engineer had to have. Then, they first had to know the operating rules.
It took skill to run a steam locomotive, and it took skill to fire one. The engineer and fireman had to work as a team with the engine. The new diesel locomotives have done away with the traditional airbrake valves and have touchscreens for controlling and monitoring locomotive functions. Sit in a comfortable ergonomic seat in a climate controlled cab and run the engine. They have alerters to make sure the engineers do not fall asleep while running trains.
With a diesel, it is a whole other story. The engines are mass produced, often on CNC machine tools. The car frames are weldments, not the massive steel castings. Production welding, production machining, all broken into finite operations so no one has the skill of the people who worked in the old steam locomotive plants. The days of massive forgings and castings are gone, as are the days of massive machined parts.
One of the defining things on a steam locomotive was the whistle. It had its own sound, and each engineer blew it differently, some "quilling" it to produce sobs and yips and moans. People far and wide loved the sound of the old steam whistles. A diesel has a plainly obnoxious sounding airhorn. The railroads knew this, so in the fifties, some put "Hancock whistles" on the diesels in an attempt to keep the sound of a whistle. Try as they would, they could not put the soul of a steam locomotive into a diesel.
It was a multitude of things that vanished with the steam locomotive. It was the sense of pride in one's trade, the sense of being part of a team if you were in a forge shop or rivetting gang or up on the engine itself... it was a sense of having paid your dues to get where you were. It was also a time when a common knowledge of what it took to become a journeyman or foreman or engineer or fireman existed, and with that came a respect that extended out beyond the realm of the shops or engine terminals.
It's all lost. Now, most people look at working as merely a job, and look at the fact that whether they put their best into it or stand around waiting for management to clear up some mistake int he drawings or missing/wrong material, "the pay's the same". The kind of respect and work ethic that drove the people who built the steam locomotives and ran them over the road is gone for the most part. We entered the CNC age, and we entered the computer age. The computer age really killed the creativity and initiative and thinking in the workplace. Now, as I have written elsewhere, we have so-called journeymen mechanics who cannot move without a written job plan and procedure spelling out each detail. In steam days, a man was handed a drawing and told what material or casting or forging he'd be getting... and the words were: "Make this according to this drawing". No further direction needed as a rule. We've done a real good job of getting rid of that degree of comprehensive thinking between computers and bureaucratic regulation.
Add to the mix the fact we are a fat, lazy, and unimagative society who, for the most part, "needs to be entertained". Look at the kids today, walking around with iPods or cell phones, incapable of entertaining themselves with some creative thinking or working with their hands. Adults entrain themselves with shopping. Even home cooked meals, made from scratch are often a rarity. We have a generation that relies on computers or computer derived products to entertain themselves, think for them, and many cannot exist without their "Blackberry".
We have a soft generation that could not stand the heat in a forge shop or near a boiler backhead, or the noise and cutting oil in a production machine shop. If it is not airconditioned and pushbutton, they can't handle it. This is the diesel locomotive generation.
I am happy to say I spent yesterday on my annual date to fire the old steam crane at the "Gasup" in Gallupville, NY. The crane is loose and old, but John McCabe ran her all day to dig a drainage ditch. I fired the boiler. A lot of people came to see the old crane, and many marvelled that wood (which we fire on) and water could make a big crane run. Some people saw John McCabe heaving the levers and wondered how anyone could do that all day to keep a crane working. Many could not grasp the fact that there is nothing automatic on a steam crane, except for the safety valve. A lot took some finessing and understanding, like getting the injectors to "pick up" and feed water to the boiler, or managing the fire to avoid popping the safety yet hold steam so the crane could travel and work. We had the benefit of a loaned 3-chime steam whistle on the crane yesterday. It made a nice sound, and I quilled it when I blew it. A big Case traction engine had a two-bell steam locomotive whistle, and would answer. A lot of older folks came by the crane and talked of the days when steam locomotives ran past their farms or through their towns, and the sounds of the whistles. We had a lot of young families who read "Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel" to their kids. These were "city types", but they made a point to show their kids the steam crane. We rigged an extra piece of rope to the whistle cord so the little ones could blow the steam whistle from the ground when the crane was not working. Sometimes, John would swing the crane and hold things for a few moments and I'd open the firedoor so the people on the ground could see the fire going.
It was a great day, and I spent a lot of time thinking of this thread. Plainly put, steam locomotives had soul and life, and what it took to build them had that with it. The work was harder and dangerous, the workplace was unforgiving, but there was an ethic that pervaded society as a result. When a plant the ALCO plant is torn down, it is more than concrete, masonry, corrugated siding and structural steel coming down. It is a tie to another era. It struck me that the ALCO boiler shop building may well be the last such locomotive boiler shop building in the USA, now it is gone.
I told my son about the demise of the ALCO plant, and we spoke of the glory that was Schenectady in the days when G.E. and ALCO were at full production. My son mentioned how the downtowns of the manufacturing towns all thrived, and how the cores of these cities experiences massive urban decay. It was an interesting discussion of the ripple effect of the death of heavy manufacturing. I mentioned the "holdovers" from the days when ALCO and GE were at full swing. Rudnick's Army-Navy Store is still in Schenectady, but their days of selling bib overalls and matched worksets in huge numbers to men who worked in the ALCO or GE plants is done.
My own bib overalls and work shirt spent the night soaking in a pail of water and detergent. My bibs and pocket watch are a tie to that era. I've spent a lot of time thinking of the responses this thread has evoked. Yes, jet aircraft are today;s equivalent to crack passenger trains and the locomotives that pulled them. But: Jet aircraft and the engines in them are mass produced, marvels of engineering and CNC machining.... and will never produce the feelings or have the soul of a steam locomotive. The whine of a jet engine or the dulled roar of a jet aircraft passing overhead will never produce the kind of response hearing a steam locomotive working a train in the distance produced. The obnoxious and impersonal honk of a diesel air horn is just that. CNC machining will do the work no human could produce, and welding makes possible assembling pressure vessels, piping and structures in ways that rivetting and screwed piping never could. I marvel at the work being done by these newer means, as my life spans both technologies. But, we come back to who did the work, what it took to get them where they were, who they were, the work ethic and pride and respect that all came with it. That is what was lost, and seeing the ALCO plant come down was like seeing not only that, but perhaps a mausoleum containing a large amount of it torn asunder with no regard for what it represented.
Diesel locomotives are infinitely more practical and have infinitely more advantages over steam, but they will are not a continuum for the soul, skill, pride, work ethic and respect that the steam locomotive embodied. Jet Aircraft make possible travel that no one could have dreamed of 100 years ago, but those jet aircraft are bland and impersonal. No one ever says: "That's old 1049 pulling number 12 (train number), right on time". Planes pass un-noticed overhead. People board them and do not give a hang who made the aircraft, how recent it is, nor do they care or know who the crew is. It's an impersonal, fast moving, unimaginative, menu-driven and different era.
It had been 43 years since the last new locomotive rolled out of the ALCO plant, but seeing the place come down to make way for condominiums, stores, and office space is a desecration that penetrated my inner core. I'm mourning a LOT more than the passing of a pile of masonry and steel, it's as Dan and others have said, a deep-seated way of life and an era that went with that demolition.
06-19-2011, 03:45 AM #42
I think we all just use the loves of our youth to mark, and marvel on, our own mortality.
There were people who could wax just as eloquent as Joe does about the passing of horsedrawn transport, and who would go on about what an abomination steam engines were.
After all, with a horse, it was a living thing, whose name you knew, who you could have a real human bond with- and steam locomotives are just machines.
Every generation is nostalgic for their youth. And we express it by being attached to the signifiers of our youth, in this case, steam locos.
But, I assure, you there ARE rail fans who feel the same way about diesel locomotives, and, in fact, there are indeed nutjobs out there who are every bit as fanatical about jet airplanes as some of us are about steam locomotives.
My wife and I used to go and park sometimes on the road just south of LAX, and watch the 3 planes a minute that land or takeoff there- and we would see guys who keep "lifebooks", like birdwatchers, of every single tail number they saw. Guys who felt the same emotional, intangible connection with the machines that Joe is describing HE feels for steam.
Is their feeling any less real, or important to them?
Of course not.
I know people who lament the passing of all kinds of things, and their love for those objects, and their placing of those objects in their own personal history is every bit as valid and real as the feelings we older types evince for older things.
Each generation has these exact same feelings, applied to wildly different things.
I know kids who collect, obsess, and recall with nostalgia sixties theme lunchboxes, analog synthesizers, vinyl LP's, polyester leisure suits, and lots more things that many of us would just shake our heads at, and complain that they are symptoms of decline, just like the old fellers would have said that a steam locomotive was a symptom of the coarsening of society.
This has gone on for centuries, if not millenia.
You could take Joe's reply above, substitute a few words, and apply it to a lot of things Joe abhors, and it would be just as relevant to a lot of people.
Really, we are talking about, as Lou Reed put it in his amazing album of 1992, Magic and Loss.
There were Two Magics here- The real Magic of a huge building, built in a way that would be neither practical nor affordable today, being Lost, and the Magic of a piece of how we see the world, and our place in it, being replaced by Time Marching On.
I love these types of buildings, and feel sad when Mammon sees them only as real estate to be developed. And, usually, what they replace them with is crap. Cheaply built, poorly designed, speculative commercial structures that have no soul, and will decay in a couple of decades.
Especially in the Northeast, there was such an abundance of these types of late 19th century and early 20th century structures that no one thinks twice about their going. And the people who try to fight it are usually defeated by the numbers.
I am an on again off again member of the Society for Industrial Archeology, and really respect the work they do, documenting and studying these structures, often right before they are destroyed. And I am also a big fan of HAER, and the incredible photography they have done of some of these long gone places. Jet Lowe, in particular, has managed to capture just that Magic and Loss that Joe talks about.
Hopefully we can manage to preserve a few, once in a while. Its tough, though- in speaking to the industrial archeologists I have met, who are hired to write evaluations of historic sites for developers, they say they can usually only save 5% at most- sometimes just a power plant building of a 100 acre site, sometimes only a piece of a facade.
As Joni Mitchell once said- You dont know what you got til its gone.
06-19-2011, 08:30 AM #43
Thanks for the above. That is as good a sermon as I've ever heard on Sunday morning.
See below for what we have in North Carolina:
NC Transportation Museum - Home
Southern Railway's Spencer Shops - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
I treated my 3 1/2 year old grand daughter a ride behind a 0-4-0 steam switcher a couple summers ago. We went up close to the locomotive before
boarding, she was fascinated by the heat radiating, the hissing and whoofing, and the air compressor pumping.
In the early 1970s, I took my kids on the Southern RR excursions pulled by a full size steam passenger engine from Asheville, down the mountain to Old Fort.
I think we need to expose our children and grand children to steam power in all forms, hit and miss engines, traction engines, all sorts of antique and obsolete technology.
06-20-2011, 03:20 AM #44
For half a century Schenectady called itself "The City Thats Lights and Pulls The World"
No more Loco's, No more Generators, still some turbines.
06-20-2011, 05:26 AM #45opie Guest
Very interesting thread. As someone who works on diesel locomotives I must chime in here. Yes, a diesel locomotive may not have the appeal as a steam locomotive does. Everyone seems to agree that economics is the reason why diesel is used versus steam. The technology in a diesel locomotive for the most part is not new however what is new is how that technology is controlled. Modern diesel locomotives are also more powerful than steam locomotives. One poster wrote that one engineer and conductor can control units whether they are in the front, middle and/or back. This is not true...yet. While we have remote control locomotives, used mainly in yards, the technology has not yet been proven on the open road. Yes it has been tested but to my knowledge that is all that has been done. Hope this helps and feel free to ask any questions on how diesels work. Sorry if this is too much off topic.
06-20-2011, 08:48 AM #46
Joes posting covers many aspects of not just a past way of life, but in many ways in my thinking the passing of civilisation!, We as engineers of our vintage, do mourn the dissappearance of these massive &dignified machines, and also the ending of the lives of the solid citizens, who ran such marvellous things, or in the engine works environment coaxed the best out of machine tools and other plant, which frequently had seen better days, But still with basic and timeless skills honed over decades from the beginning of the industrial era worked absolute wonders
Fast forward to the present day, and leaving the memories of men, whom we were in our past days priviledged to raise our hat to, or wish a pleasantry to also, Upon meeting them, Either, should it have been, in the workplace, the street, or when we had managed to enter another establishment, such as a power plant or another small factory etc, in which we were upon occasion allowed ingress for a visit.
However at this time in which we draw breath, we frequently find ourselves sadly in the era of the real charlatan, spiv, wide boy, &conman! add to this buisiness gurus, financial whiz kids,modern educationalists &other experts etc. Who have managed to do a real hatchet job, in convincing the kids, That dirtying their hands is not the way forward, and even more reprehensible is nowadays the arrogant dismissal, "That general engineering, apprenticeships & the efforts of skilled craftsmen of say fifty years back is low technology"
to be completely dismissed out of hand.
Somehow or other mechanical things etc, can be made in a faraway Changri -la, situated somewhere in the pacific rim, Leaving the better educated in our society to generally be clever devils, but still by and large highly computer literate etc, but frequently not very adaptable, Meanwhile as the big Alcos, North British Locos, Baldwins G.E,s of this world have gone, the less educated, Who could possibly, have fitted into industry, are left to rot in the rust belts of the U.S &Europe.
Much of this came home to sadden me recently, when upon speaking to one of my street neighbours, who in passing spoke of a special machine, he is overseeing the construction of at present, no prizes for guessing where it was made The other side of the world &shipped to good old Scotland, which used to be a centre for excellence in shipbuilding, locomotive, General engineering and other mechanical plant for the whole world
Going back to the steel foundry of the North British concern, we had some excellent craftsmen, and real worthies, one would think that in a heavy dirty department, where manual heavy tasks were carried out, the workers would be uncouth and not very bright,
At that period i worked with an old moulder who had been an ex A.F. Craigs apprentice, and who used to tell with pride " I was the leading hand on the moulding of the engine castings, for "The Lizzie &The Mary, in the Glasshouse! What the old fellow was at that time alluding to was the fact, he was the chargehand in Harland &Wolffes big new Clyde Foundry Glasgow & the task which he spoke of with pride was the turbine casings for the Cunard liners Queen Mary & Queen Elizabeth.
JUst after the last war, old Willie Scott, our man i am mentioning went as the member of a British delegation to the U.S. to study the work practices in American foundries, and a book was published, which spoke of the degree of mechanisation, working practices, finishes on castings, etc, Many years later i was to see extracts from the report, sadly old Will was no more at that time,
One of the pearls of wisdom, i gleamed from its pages was a visit to the house of a moulder for dinner, It seems to have been a nice house surrounded by a well kept garden, The party invited were greeted by the American moulder, resplendent in a nice dinner jacket &bow tie, &his good lady was equally very elegantly attered.
The feeling seems to have been that everyone they met were extremely courteous &well rewarded for their labours, I frequently at that time wondered if the U.States worker was from Baldwins?
Others in the plant i worked with spring to memory, One sung in the Glasgow Pheonix chior successor to the Orpheos known all over the world, How he kept his vioice in an atmosphere i found it sometimes hard to breath in i will never know We had a couple of others, who were accomplished gardeners and some others members of the photographic club
Over some later years i had a departmental head, who was in his day chief estimator for the North British, and he used to tell me how he could in two hours give a budget price for the construction & delivery of a batch of big locos to places such as India, Turkey etc , And telex it back within a couple of hours of recieving the enquiry, This i found surprising , and not a computer in site only books of weight tables and a slide rule
When the invitation to the next N.B. veterans (or recycled employees!) comes round, it will be organized by Willie Dewar an ex draughtsman whose claim to fame was organising the transport of these big locomotives to the big Finnieston crane in Glasgow for trans-shipment All these old guys were a pleasure to know Bring back steam!
06-23-2011, 02:25 AM #47
06-23-2011, 05:36 AM #48
As far as single units go, steam WAS more powerful. It is the MU feature that made diesels competitive power wise.
World War II set the stage for the end of ALCO , Baldwin, and Lima. The war production board told industries what they could and would build. There to be no new designs as a failure would be a waste of resources. EMD already had Es and FTs and were allowed to build a limited number. ALCO and Baldwin had built only end cab switchers and were limited to that portion of the diesel market. EMD , meanwhile had been building the 567 engine for submarines and LSTs and was poised to saturate market after the war. If not for WWII the progress of the Diesel would have been much slower and might have allowed all to survive.
06-23-2011, 06:02 AM #49
Yet here in the northeast where Opie and I are from, its very rare to see a DP train. We do have helper districts but those are all manned units at the rear end doing some shoving up a hill.
Detroit Edison used to run their own unit trains from the mines to Michigan and those trains had DP. This was back in the 70s and 80s when DP was a very new technology. I have heard stories of DEEX trains tied down in yards with their middle units still shoving- burning large holes into the rails. The technology certainly has come a long way.
06-23-2011, 08:49 PM #50opie Guest
I understand distributed power has been around and in use but it doesn't work everywhere. There are areas in the eastern US where it has been tried and it didn't work due to dead zones. Not to say it isn't being worked on because it is. tdmidget- I cannot think of one steam locomotive that has more tractive effort than modern diesel locomotives. If you are comparing steam to early diesel locos then yes but not modern locos. If you have info to the contrary then please share.
It also needs to be stated that all locomotives, even from the same type and manufacture, are not the same for all railroads. In dealing with locos from all class I North American railroads I get to see these differences.
06-23-2011, 09:00 PM #51
Here are the stats and modern road diesels have even the largest steam locomotives beat when it comes to tractive effort.
Bessemer & Lake Erie 2-10-4 Texas Type 96,700 lbs.
DM&IR Yellowstone 2-8-8-4 140,093 lbs.
Union Pacific Big Boy 4-8-8-4 135,375 lbs.
Erie Triplex 2-8-8-8-2 176,256 lbs.
GE AC4400CW 180,000 lbs.
GE ES44AC 198,000 lbs.
EMD SD40-2 92,000 lbs.
EMD SD80MAC 185,000 lbs.
06-24-2011, 06:54 AM #52
Rick, it is commonly said that a diesel can start a train that it cannot pull, and a steam locomotive can pull a train that it cannot start. Tractive effort is indeed the forte' of the diesel electric. Starting a train rolling does not mean that it can accelerate or make a high speed. Diesels develop this tractive effort in their "short time rating" and cannot sustain it more than five minutes or so, after which the train, now rolling requires less tractive effort but more horsepower to accelerate rapidly. The Erie triplex you referenced was capable of 6887 horsepower:
Erie Triplex Type Locomotives
I am told that the greatest advantage of DP is in time saved. Pumping up the train line from both ends take half as long. On a 100+ car train this can be significant as time is fuel consumed. It also allows faster brake application. The fact that modern DP allows independent operation of the DP means better train handling and slack management.
I , however , am a traditionalist. Seems to me that the engine(s) belong up front.
06-24-2011, 07:21 AM #53
Everybody rail fan has there own favorite locomotive! I do not want to get into a mudslinging match, but.......Those Erie Triplexes had very small fireboxes for their overall size and could not sustain "horsepower at speed".
The former ALCO plant could have been re-used for something. It had indoor overhead cranes and RR tracks going right into the craneway. Surely it could have found SOME use.
In another part of Schennectady there was a company called "Super Steel Schennectady" which subcontracted final assembly and finishing of locomotives for EMD. They also rebuilt locomotives for AMTRAK. I think they are also defunct.
Aren't the older truck and crawler cranes with the word "AMERICAN" on the counterweight products of ALCO? I still see one of those "out earning a living" from time to time. (Heck, it wasn't that many years ago that I saw a LIMA crane still earning its keep!)
06-24-2011, 08:59 AM #54
The older crawler cranes you mention with "American" on them were made by American Hoist & Derrick, in Minnesota. No relation to ALCO. I believe American Hoist and Derrick bit the dust within the last 20 years, but plenty of their cranes still survive. American's biggest crane was "the Skyhorse", not too different from Manitowac's "Ringer". Both were big "lattice boom" cranes which were common the powerplant projects in the 1970's.
A name associated with a locomotive builder that does turn up on cranes occasionally is "Lima". After Lima ceased to build locomotives, an attempt was made to build cranes in the old Lima works. Heavy cranes, used a lot of steel castings where today's equivalent would use weldments. Now and then a Lima crane turns up, most usually in a location like a quarry or crusher plant or barge mounted.
The Lima cranes used the Lima "diamond" emblem, reflecting their origins from Lima Locomotive Works.
The final gasps of Lima were combined with Baldwin and Hamilton, as Baldwin Lima Hamilton or BLH. I think BLH got rolled into "Hamilton Standard Corporation", a conglomerate. In that process, a lot of the heavy machinery and engine building was discontinued.
Cutting Oil Mac had asked about foundries and Baldwin:
In the days when Baldwin was strictly Baldwin, they owned a number of divisions including Cramp Shipbuilding (in Philadelphia), a separate foundry division and I.P. Morriss, a maker of large pumps (like dredge pumps) and hydro turbines. Cramp used to do a lot of specialized castings. With some overlap of disciplines or technologies, it made sense. Cramp poured cupro nickel alloys and bronzes for ship's propellors and marine fittings and things like sea water heat exchangers. With that base, they could and di pour runners for hydro turbines. Baldwin absorbed IP Moriss made a number of hydro turbines, as did BLH before they ceased to exist. I.P. Morriss manufactured diesel engines under license from DeLavergne. Baldwin, in absorbing I.P. Morriss and the manufacture of the DeLavergne diesel engines, rolled the DeLavergne design into the engines they eventually used in the Baldwin diesel locomotives.
I've worked on Baldwin built hydro turbines and Baldwin diesel engines. In looking at the Baldwin diesels (stationary engines running generators), I was always struck by the similarity to the 539 series ALCO. ALCO, in the 1930's, had entered into a joint project with Ingersoll Rand and GE to build an experimental diesel locomotive. The Ingersoll Rand diesel engine was nothing to write home about and Alco must have known it. Alco soon had an agreement with McIntosh-Seymour of Auburn, New York to make their diesel engines. The 539 series was a 6 cylinder in line 4 stroke diesel that was brought out in May of 1939, hence the "539" designation. GM Electromotive had brought out the 567 series in 1938 and had a well proven engine by that point.
Baldwin and Alco stuck with cast iron block 4-stroke engines, in line 6's. GM entered with a vee type engine with a lot more horsepower and better HP/weight ratio. GM got into submarine and marine propulsion engines during WWII in a much bigger way than ALCO or Baldwin, so had a terrific advantage when WWII ended.
Hamilton had built diesel engines for the US Navy, some finding their way into submarines. The Hamilton engines were a disaster, and the Navy repowered almost all the submarines originally equipped with Hamiltons. The ALCO and Baldwin diesel engines were too heavy and too small a HP output for submarine service.
By the end of WWII, the handwriting was on the wall. EMD had a proven engine that was easier to produce, more flexible in its design options, easier to maintain. They were using automotive ideas to build locomotives, using welded frames and fewer of the massive castings that Alco or Baldwin would use in the same applications.
My own take on things comes from working on ALCO diesel engines (I went to training on the 251 series ALCO diesels in their Auburn, NY plant), as well as on a Baldwin and on some ALCO 539's and some slight work on EMD 567 and 645's in generator service. It comes down to a mechanic's comparison. EMD engines are worked on using a torque multiplier. Powerpacks (cylinder/piston/rod assemblies) change out rapidly. ALCO's need to be worked on with a finer degree of work- you go by stretch of the various bolts and studs instead of torque. Much more precise work is needed on an ALCO. ALCO may have better fuel economy and run cleaner than a 2-stroke, but in the ear of the 1940's-70's, with low fuel prices, this was not an issue.
It just seemed to me that working on an EMD was going to be quicker while working on an ALCO engine was going to require a finer degree of work and take longer. If you were aboard a ship and had to repair an engine or had a locomotive out of service, this is where EMD would have the edge.
Super Steel in Schenectady was a branch of a company from Milwaukee, WI. Supersteel was building new locomotives for Amtrak and the NY MTA. These were lightly built high speed passenger engines. A friend who is now working at the powerplant with me has told me a lot. He had been a foreman at Supersteel. They used welded carframes and fabricated sheet stainless steel for the bodies. I am not sure whose diesel engines and electrics they used.
Supersteel also refurbished locomotives and rolling stock at the Schenectady plant, including refurbishing the "Turbotrain" units. Why Supersteel never located in the old Alco complex is something I never understood, either.
Supersteel closed their doors in Schenectady a few years back, so it is a moot point.
Another shop near Schenectady was Adirondack Steel Foundries. Another co-worker worked there prior to coming to our powerplant. He told me the main product was cast truck frames for locomotives and rolling stock. This same guy is one of those people who can work harder than several men and do it all day long without complaint. He told me he loved working at Adirondack. The steel castings for the truck frames used to have hellacious sand inclusions, blow holes or other defects. His job was to gouge these out with a carbon arc gouge, then grind and blend to sound steel. That being done, the castings went into the oven for preheat. Pulled out of the oven with a preheat on them, my friend then had to fill in the holes or pad weld the gouged/ground areas. He used to burn at least 50 lbs of stick electrode in a day, sometimes closer to 75 lbs. This same guy said he never minded the environment of smoke, grinding dust, heat, noise and endless hazards like ladles going by overhead. He loved it. He said he was paid piecework rate, no one bothered him, and he could burn rod all shift long without worrying about anything. While the powerplant pays far better and is interesting, cleaner and usually lighter work, my friend says he was never happier than when he was working at Adirondack Steel Foundry. The rest of the crew thinks he is a little nuts for liking those working conditions and that sort of work.
I guess Mac knows best, must be a different breed who inhabits the foundries.
We have a few people at the powerplant who had grandfathers or uncles who worked at ALCO, and we have been following the demolition in the local papers. It is not going un-noticed or unmourned here at our powerplant. At the mention that condos and offices will be on the site of the old ALCO plant, the reaction on the part of the men was not printable. It was something like "just what we f--n well need. More condos and offices, that's really gonna help the economy." This being followed with mentions of relatives who'd worked at ALCO and how Schenectady if not the US in general is going to hell in a handcart.
06-24-2011, 12:01 PM #55
Agreed as usual...just one thing...
"the US in general is going to hell in a handcart"
I prefer what good friend of mine likes to say:
"...going to hell in rickshaw"
06-24-2011, 01:37 PM #56
When the P&W factory was being built, I bet there was a similar group of old men upset that the world was changing in front of them. That is just human nature I suppose.
Modern manufacturing can do so much more, with so many less people. That may not be good from employment numbers, but it still props up the economy. I always hear people talking about the "decline of the steel industry". We make just as much steel now as we ever did. Those old factories were replaced with new, more efficient ones, right here in the USA. The only real change is that armies of men are no longer needed to make the same amount of steel.
I too am sad to see a historic building go, but it does not mean the end of manufacturing. In fact, the demolition and subsequent construction will put hundreds to work, if only for a short time.
06-25-2011, 11:41 AM #57
I agree wholeheartedly that the modern methods using CNC and automation are out-producing the factories and mills that were considered the "Smokestack Industries". I also agree we are producing most of the steel used in the USA, right here in the USA. But.... the "new steel" is made from re-claimed scrap. It is not steel made in the classic sense in an integrated mill. An integrated mill starts with iron ore, coal, and limestone at one end.... and finished steel in the form of plates, structural shapes, rods, rails or similar comes out the other end.
At present, there are very few true integrated steel mills left in operation in the USA. Mills with blast furnaces and furnaces to convert iron to steel are almost non-existant in the USA. We have abundant reserves of iron ore and metallurgical grade coal and limestone, yet we export those commodities.
The new mills are "remelt mills". They do not "make" steel in any sense of the word. They consume huge amounts of electric power where the old integrated mills stood alone, making their own power as a byproduct from blast furnace gas or waste heat.
The steel coming out of these new remelt mills is known as "s--t steel" by anyone who has to use it. The feedstocks that supply these remelt mills are "processed scrap", shredded scrap steel. Anything and everything that is steel goes thru the shredders. The result is the structural steels and low carbon steels coming from the remelt mills contain a significant amount of "tramp elements" from the scrap, Stuff like car springs, rebar, alloy steels all add elements such as chromium, manganese, nickel, and others to heats of steels designated as A-36 (structural) steel or steels used for making pipe, or other mild/low carbon steels. The result is the steel from these remelt mills has a much higher yield strength than the same ASTM designation of steel would have had from an old integrated steel mill. Unfortunately, this higher yield strength brings problems like a loss of ductility, a lowered impact strength and bad weldability.
It's reached the point where the talk is to do away with A-36 structural as the "basic grade" (36,000 psi minimum yield strength) and go up to A 45. This is due to the abundance of steel coming out of the remelt mills, and the resulting tramp elements.
I've found if I ask for mill test reports with impact strength on structural steels, a lot of jobbers cannot meet that requirement. We've seen a decided decline in the quality of steel coming out of these new mills. Corrosion resistance, ductility, weldability all are lousy on these new steels.
On jobs where things are more particular, I will specify a pressure vessel grade steel and ask for full documentation including impact tests. Where we could and did trust A-36 as it came from the likes of Bethlehem Steel or the other traditional mills, the new A-36 is another story.
The remelt mills simply are not steel mills. They do NOT make steel, just melt down scrap. Other "steel mills" in the USA buy slabs or blooms from China or similar, reheat and roll them to make plate or structurals. These are even less of a steel mill. All of these are highly automated mills, and with things like continuous casting, there is no way the old traditional mills would have been competitive. But, as long as we continue to feed the mills with processed scrap, they will never be true "steel mills". Steel made from scratch, without tramp elements to muddle things, is what the old mills made. It was steel that was a lot more predictable and from an engineering viewpoint, as well as a shop floor viewpoint, it was much better steel. We have the iron ore and the metallurgical grade coal in the USA to make our steel, but we export those commodities.
If we applied the new technology to integrated steel mills, we'd be able to truly say we "made" the steel we used. We'd also have mills that would outproduce the old traditional mills in a real sense. To say we are producing as much steel as we ever did is to compare apples and oranges. Melting scrap in electric furnaces, to feed continuous casting lines and then into the rolling mills is hardly a steel mill in the true sense of the word.
The scrap that feeds those new mills is, in large part, imported steel. When we get back to making most of our steel from our own iron ore, coal and limestone we will be headed in the right direction. Until then, the statistic that we are "making as much steel as we ever did" or however it is phrased is an incorrect statement or hype.
06-25-2011, 09:36 PM #58
The discussion of steel mills is much appreciated, perhaps it should be its own thread?
06-26-2011, 01:56 AM #59
Times change, and methods change. For the most part, we are better off for that. For many things we are not better off. At a minimum, the united states should maintain the ability to manufacture all the raw materials we need for society to function, build and maintain her infrastructure, as a matter of national pride, ability, and security, as well as seeing to it that we have the men with the knowledge and ability to do this work. Some things though should never go back to the old ways. For anybody who has been there, you cannot tell me that operating a turret lathe 8 hours a day for years, or punching hub caps out of a press makes for anything other than a paycheck. Those jobs were not fun, they were mostly miserable, noisy, boring and often times dangerous.
Burning 6010 or lagging steam lines with 85% mag or todays calcium silicate piping insulation, has always been tough work, and although most boilers today are package units rather than built in place firebox behemoths like those made by Babcock and Wilcox, the buildings and piping systems which support them are still largely fabricated by specialist shops or men in the field. Gas turbines and cogeneration for power, CNC for machining, diesel electric for rail and jet aircraft for transportation, have made life
much better for the average man.
06-26-2011, 12:30 PM #60