How the Mighty Have Fallen

Posted by George Hamlin
on Monday, July 4, 2022

I suspect that I’m hardly alone in the railfan community in terms of “coming of age” in the hobby during the 1960s, and liking Alco locomotives.  Although General Motors/EMD products were far more prolific on North American railroads (including Alco-licensed MLW (Montreal Locomotive Works)), the Alco/MLW products certainly had outsized personalities in the diesel locomotive world.

After all, weren’t the elegant passenger-service PA models dubbed “honorary steam locomotives”, at least in part to the prodigious quantities of smoke that they were capable of producing?  On the sound front, while EMDs, in particular the turbocharged models, seemed to purr smoothly along the right of way, Alcos had a far more distinct, almost guttural, sound. At this point, we were still getting used to the chugging sound of GE products, not knowing that they would become effectively the predominant voice in the diesel choir in the future.

As the market for “second generation” diesels heated up in the 1960s, Alco brought forth its “Century” series, in both four- and six-axle versions.  The latter included the 2750 horsepower Century 628, and not long after, the 3000 horsepower Century 630, which matched the power output of the EMD SD40.  These included a number of “new and/or improved” features reflecting, among other things, GE’s entry into “mainline” locomotive production with its U25B.

Extra 2200 south, “The Locomotive Newsmagazine”, summed up the C628 as follows, in its Issue No. 54, dated October, November, December 1975: 

“The Century 628 shows a level of complexity which may never be achieved, or affordable, in a locomotive again.  The factors that make it a particularly interesting example of late Alco production will also contribute to its scarcity and demise in the not too distant future.”

I was fortunate to witness, and occasionally, photograph a number of these almost 70-foot in length beasts in service during the 1960s and 70s, on U.S. customer railroads Delaware & Hudson, Seaboard Coast Line (former ACL locomotives), Louisville & Nashville; and N&W.  Those on the last-named road featured high short hoods, and would go on the have a “second life” as iron ore haulers on the Chicago & North Western. 

Other U.S. customers were the Monon, Pennsylvania, and Lehigh Valley. Export models went to three Mexican railroads (NdeM, CH-P and FCP), as well as Hammersley in Australia.

By the mid to late-1970s, as predicted by Extra 2200, they definitely were becoming scarcer, and Alco itself had exited the U.S. market.  By 1978, I had moved to Houston, Texas, and discovered that the SP had moved at least some of its C628s and C630s to the Texas city for storage. For a while these were visible on my daily commute, but I had little opportunity to get any photos.

Finally, on Sunday, January 14, 1979, I had my chance.  I spotted SP 3113, built in 1965, just east of the railroad’s Hardy Street shops, where it had been rebuilt in the early 1970s.  Given the day of the week, this industrial/commercial area at least appeared to be deserted, but I recall hearing sounds of unknown origin that suggested that lingering here alone probably wasn’t a great idea.

As you can see, the former tonnage mauler was in rough shape, appearance-wise.  My initial conclusion was that the windshield and left front door glass had been vandalized, but I later wondered if they had been removed for use elsewhere, based on the lack of any visible broken glass in the vicinity.

I also, unfortunately, can state for the record that no air pollution was observed during my visit. I’ve  wondered subsequently when the 3113 had run previously, or whether it ever did again.


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