Why do modern locomotives sound like Moms old Hoover vacuum cleaner?

1258 views
20 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    February, 2007
  • 139 posts
Why do modern locomotives sound like Moms old Hoover vacuum cleaner?
Posted by 3rd rail on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 2:44 AM

I can relate to the "Old-Guys" when they lament the passing of the Steam Locomotive. I grew up in the "Diesel Era", so I never knew the steam experience other than a few excursions, etc. But I can relate.. I got into railroads in the early 1970's. Back then you could really hear every cylinder firing on an EMD, or GE. You could, standing trackside, actually "FEEL" the power in front of you. Nowadays, these new EMDs and GEs just seem to glide by without the thunder that we once enjoyed. Sounds like Mothers Hoover vacuum cleaner in the living room. My personal favorite was the ALCO 539 in S-4s/S-2s.. Clouds of black smoke, you could tell that work was being done, and lots of nice 4-cycle diesel music... 

  Now, not to dismiss the EMD 567.. I could go to sleep listening to a GP-9 at idle, rather than my neighbors dog barking for sure.  And that brings us to the ultimate smooth soothing sound... A pair of EMD E-8's at idle. That is Four EMD 567-12's all in sync. That is 48 cylinders at 567 cubic inches each, just humming.. No turbo, just normally asperated roots-blowered 2 cycle music.  Then add in the other sounds.. Steam gererator spitting, rattling side panels, the "wheep-wheep" of the cab signal from the Conductor giving the Highball...  No modern power can ever capture that flavor...   Yep, I do miss the old days! I know the "Steam Guys" have their memories, but these are my memories.  I even have a soft spot for the F-40-ph now.. I HATED them at first, but when was the last time you saw one in service?  The GE P-42's that replaced them will be retired soon, so if you like them, get your photos now, they will be gone before you know it. The new "Charger" locos that take their place look like an anal suppository.. Not that I'd want to shove that up there.. 

  Enjoy the "OLD DAYS" Whatever they might be for your era. Because, whatever happens, change is just like the ocean tides.. You can't change it, and it happens every day.. 

 

Todd 

  • Member since
    June, 2009
  • From: Along the Big 4 in the Midwest
  • 531 posts
Posted by K4sPRR on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 9:43 AM

Your hatred for the F40ph seems to have mellowed over the years, so the Charger, the anal supository, may in the future provide you with the same "relief".  I always remind railfans that once upon a time we were bored with F-units.  Sieze the opportunity, freeze that moment in time with photo's.

But I agree, they do look like something you'd want to avoid internally. 

  • Member since
    December, 2017
  • From: I've been everywhere, man
  • 894 posts
Posted by SD70Dude on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 1:29 PM

If you are pining for F40's take a trip to the Great White North, they still form the backbone of VIA Rail's locomotive fleet.

Yes, I know they were rebuilt with separate HEP gensets a few years ago but they all got new V16 645 engines and still put on an impressive, deafening, smoky show when accelerating a train out of a station.

Greetings from Alberta

-an Articulate Malcontent

  • Member since
    September, 2010
  • From: Parma Heights Ohio
  • 2,402 posts
Posted by Penny Trains on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 7:51 PM

North Carolina Transportation Museum:

Ogden Union Station:

And of course there's METRA:

https://metrarail.com/about-metra/newsroom/metra-f40ph-locomotives-mark-40-years-service

A waking Lithium Flower just about to bloom

  • Member since
    August, 2010
  • From: Henrico, VA
  • 8,610 posts
Posted by Firelock76 on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 8:43 PM

My grandmother's Hoover upright from the 1920's would have put vintage diesels to shame!  Built like an New York Central Hudson the whole house shook when she turned that thing on!  It was forty years old when I was a kid and it still worked like a champ.  Probably could have sucked all the hydrogen out of the "Hindenburg" in thirty seconds! 

I don't know what was cooler, that vacuum or the coal furnace in the basement.

Man, they built 'em good back then!

  • Member since
    December, 2017
  • From: I've been everywhere, man
  • 894 posts
Posted by SD70Dude on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 11:47 PM

Did she need the vacuum to clean up all the soot from the furnace? Mischief

Greetings from Alberta

-an Articulate Malcontent

  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 3,102 posts
Posted by Miningman on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 11:52 PM

We had a Kirby. Built like a Baldwin and just as heavy. How my mom lugged that thing around is quite a mystery. 

  • Member since
    August, 2009
  • 271 posts
Posted by BLS53 on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 7:43 PM

3rd rail

I can relate to the "Old-Guys" when they lament the passing of the Steam Locomotive. I grew up in the "Diesel Era", so I never knew the steam experience other than a few excursions, etc. But I can relate.. I got into railroads in the early 1970's. Back then you could really hear every cylinder firing on an EMD, or GE. You could, standing trackside, actually "FEEL" the power in front of you. Nowadays, these new EMDs and GEs just seem to glide by without the thunder that we once enjoyed. Sounds like Mothers Hoover vacuum cleaner in the living room. My personal favorite was the ALCO 539 in S-4s/S-2s.. Clouds of black smoke, you could tell that work was being done, and lots of nice 4-cycle diesel music... 

  Now, not to dismiss the EMD 567.. I could go to sleep listening to a GP-9 at idle, rather than my neighbors dog barking for sure.  And that brings us to the ultimate smooth soothing sound... A pair of EMD E-8's at idle. That is Four EMD 567-12's all in sync. That is 48 cylinders at 567 cubic inches each, just humming.. No turbo, just normally asperated roots-blowered 2 cycle music.  Then add in the other sounds.. Steam gererator spitting, rattling side panels, the "wheep-wheep" of the cab signal from the Conductor giving the Highball...  No modern power can ever capture that flavor...   Yep, I do miss the old days! I know the "Steam Guys" have their memories, but these are my memories.  I even have a soft spot for the F-40-ph now.. I HATED them at first, but when was the last time you saw one in service?  The GE P-42's that replaced them will be retired soon, so if you like them, get your photos now, they will be gone before you know it. The new "Charger" locos that take their place look like an anal suppository.. Not that I'd want to shove that up there.. 

  Enjoy the "OLD DAYS" Whatever they might be for your era. Because, whatever happens, change is just like the ocean tides.. You can't change it, and it happens every day.. 

 

Todd 

 

Aviation enthusiasts have the same complaint about modern jet engines.

Too bad motorcycles and big pick-up trucks with dual exhausts, escaped the noise police. 

  • Member since
    August, 2010
  • From: Henrico, VA
  • 8,610 posts
Posted by Firelock76 on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 9:00 PM

SD70Dude

Did she need the vacuum to clean up all the soot from the furnace? Mischief

 

Nah, coal furnace with hot water heat!  It was fun to hear the "hisssss" from the radiator safety valves too.

No soot in the house at all, and the coal ash wound up as fertilizer in the garden.  did a helluva job too, Grandma and Grandpa's garden was amazing! 

 

  • Member since
    June, 2012
  • 99 posts
Posted by Fr.Al on Friday, July 13, 2018 1:45 PM

I rode behind an old Alco S1 on the Oil Creek & Titusville here in PA yesterday. The horn had a distinct Alco sound, which I recall from Vermont Railroad's ex-Rutland RS-1' s back in the 60's. There didn't appear to be the sputtering/whining(for lack of a better description), that I recall from the RS-1'S. It may be because of a smaller engine and also the fact that we didn't go above 10 MPH.

  • Member since
    February, 2007
  • 139 posts
Posted by 3rd rail on Saturday, July 14, 2018 10:33 PM

Fr.Al,  You said you rode behind an "S-1". Those had a Non-Turbocharged ALCO 539 engine. The S-2's and S-4's had the Turbo 539's. The "S-3" also had a Non-Turbo 539. The Turbo units were rated at 1000 HP, and the non-turbo units were rated at 660 HP. Those, I recall as sounding like a pack of Harley-Davidsons when leaning into a string of cars. 

 

Todd 

  • Member since
    January, 2001
  • From: MP CF161.6 NS's New Castle District in NE Indiana
  • 1,881 posts
Posted by rrnut282 on Monday, July 16, 2018 3:09 PM

One of the differences you appear to be hearing is modern locomotives are built to tighter standards and are better balanced.  In other words a little smoother while operating.  It's also a lot harder to find non-tubo powered locomotives track-side.  I can see (hear) how the exhaust of a turbo would remind one of a vacuum cleaner. 

Like almost everything man-made, give them time and they rattle with the best of the old school power as things work loose.

Mike (2-8-2)
  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: US
  • 14,682 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Monday, July 16, 2018 4:35 PM

Since 2014 - Formula 1 race cars have been using high tech Power Units that start with a 1.6 Liter Turbocharged Internal combustion engine that works in concert with a MGU-K (motor generator unit - kenitic) and a MGU-H (motor generator unit - heat).  Both MGU units develop electrical power that can be usefully dispensed by the driver to enhance the lap times of the cars.

Since the first time this Hybrid race cars hit the track there has been near universal scorn for the noises they don't make.

Historically part of the attraction of racing has been viewing the different engineering solutions each team uses to common ideal of going fast and hearing the sounds those solutions generate.  Limited sound = limited fan enjoyment.  At this point in the cars development lives they have become faster than any other cars designed for their purpose.  If you don't sound like you are going fast - to the fan you aren't going fast.

         

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

  • Member since
    March, 2016
  • From: Burbank IL (near Clearing)
  • 10,795 posts
Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Tuesday, July 17, 2018 10:21 AM

Balt has a point about racing fans.  The same gripe about limited sounds was made on the USAC circuit during the brief period when the gas turbines were running.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • 6,041 posts
Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, July 17, 2018 11:07 AM

rrnut282
One of the differences you appear to be hearing is modern locomotives are built to tighter standards and are better balanced.

And a far bigger one is that sound reduction through better muffling/silencing is in place.  As a case in point, consider the sound of the Cooper-Bessemer in the U34CH, one of the best and most distinctive exhausts (and the best 'honorary steam locomotive' ever heard) vs. the substantially more powerful generations of large GE locomotives that have been progressively developed ... and the 6000hp Deutz-derived designs. 

Now, personally, I think there are designs out there that sound at least as good as any of the "legacy" power ... some of the clown-suited New Jersey Transit locomotives with Polish-block 710s being high on the list of satisfying mechanical symphonies on acceleration.  (Find some of the YouTube videos with all the morning trains out of, say, Ho-Ho-Kus and listen for a bit.) 

I was also fond of the notch-up of the "9043s" when they were introduced, and still am.  The sounds go with the appearance.

I'll grant you that nothing quite touches the sounds of a Roots-blown 567; I pulled over and stopped for a few minutes the last time I got to hear 5 of them idling in MU (in the old Mid-South "Meridian Speedway" route's Bossier City engine facility).  Amusingly enough my introduction to practical 567s came on fantrips to Harmon, in the tattered E units and FL9s "handling" PC trains; these produced the most fascinating growling and tractor-like rattling and were often lacking enough functioning power assemblies that they would have to be coughed up to speed a couple of times, with copious fogbanks of white smoke, and then idled with the Roots drive singing down in a minor key, before the train had enough way on it to proceed at a steady notch.  For some reason I assumed that was the way EMD passenger power was supposed to accelerate!

  • Member since
    June, 2012
  • 99 posts
Posted by Fr.Al on Friday, July 20, 2018 12:43 PM

I never experienced E units or the FL9. Really, I don't have much interest in modern diesels, though I do appreciate fuel efficiency and noise reduction. Sorry if I offend!

  • Member since
    August, 2010
  • From: Henrico, VA
  • 8,610 posts
Posted by Firelock76 on Friday, July 20, 2018 5:43 PM

Well Father, modern diesels may be all "cookie cutter" and have no more personality than they can get out of a paint can, but for railfanning they'll just have to do.

Better than nuthin', but they can still be pretty exciting if you can get up close.

  • Member since
    February, 2007
  • 139 posts
Posted by 3rd rail on Sunday, August 05, 2018 8:19 AM

Firelock, You brought up an old memory.. When I was about 5-6 years old, I recall my great grandfathers farm house in Portage, Michigan. He had a wood burning kitchen range, and a coal burning furnace in the basement. Still had the Dairy Barns and silos too!  Sad to say, Today, there is a generic strip-mall on his land. I still have a Horse-Shoe that I grabbed when I was a kid..... 

 

Todd

 

  • Member since
    August, 2010
  • From: Henrico, VA
  • 8,610 posts
Posted by Firelock76 on Sunday, August 05, 2018 9:00 AM

You know Todd, you just reminded ME of something.  That coal furnace in my grandparents house didn't just provide heat through a radiator system, it also provided hot water as well.  I don't remember any electrical power failures back then, but if one happened it wouldn't have been a major concern.  With the coal furnace prividing heat and hot water, and the kitchen range being powered by gas, the only thing they needed electricity for would have been for lights and appliances.  Having grown up in northern Italy around the turn of the 20th Century they wouldn't have missed the "juice" for as long as it would have taken for the power company to restore it, as kids they lived in what we'd consider pretty primitive circumstances.

Wayne

  • Member since
    September, 2003
  • 6,041 posts
Posted by Overmod on Monday, August 06, 2018 3:40 PM

Firelock76
You know Todd, you just reminded ME of something. That coal furnace in my grandparents house didn't just provide heat through a radiator system, it also provided hot water as well.

Oh, and this reminds ME of something: I had a college friend whose parents built a house in Doylestown, PA, with an oil furnace that had an integrated 'tankless' heater for the hot water.  These are supposed to have a tempering valve installed on them -- this one did NOT.

You have not lived until you see 185 degrees F on the water piped to the dishwasher.  Sure got the dishes clean, though!!!

Could be interesting, in the Chinese sense, when guests took showers, too.  Cleans you right down to the bone in just a few seconds.  The parents were just used to it ... newfangled convenience made the water hotter than when they were young, don't you know...

  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: US
  • 14,682 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, August 08, 2018 12:48 PM

Overmod
 
Firelock76
You know Todd, you just reminded ME of something. That coal furnace in my grandparents house didn't just provide heat through a radiator system, it also provided hot water as well. 

Oh, and this reminds ME of something: I had a college friend whose parents built a house in Doylestown, PA, with an oil furnace that had an integrated 'tankless' heater for the hot water.  These are supposed to have a tempering valve installed on them -- this one did NOT.

You have not lived until you see 185 degrees F on the water piped to the dishwasher.  Sure got the dishes clean, though!!!

Could be interesting, in the Chinese sense, when guests took showers, too.  Cleans you right down to the bone in just a few seconds.  The parents were just used to it ... newfangled convenience made the water hotter than when they were young, don't you know...

I have hot water baseboard heating from a oil fired boiler.  The 'user water heater' portion of it sprung a small leak.  Plumbers had to replace the unit and it's built in gasket - $1050.  Have hot water to the house set at 180 degrees - it shortens the time required to boil water on the stove.

         

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

SUBSCRIBER & MEMBER LOGIN

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

FREE NEWSLETTER SIGNUP

Get the Classic Trains twice-monthly newsletter