Two new projects announced! DODX Cabooses and SP DH643

As you may have heard earlier this week on Monday Morning Express. We announced a couple new projects. Each of them will have a collector’s edition associated with them.

First the DODX caboose project. These cars are seen all over the US often trailing Department of Defense special moves. We will be offering six versions and one special
collector’s set of all six in a presentation box.

Second the Southern Pacific Alco DH643. There were three of these locomotives on the SP and we will do all three in all three road numbers they carried with appropriate version detail. All factory painted and lettered. We are also working on a special collector’s set of all three and a New York Central dynamometer car. They ran this way when new on the NYC and D&H. More details to come.  The below photo and background text are from Bob Zenk.

SP had asked Alco to bid on the first round of experimental hydraulic prototypes in 1959, but Alco respectfully declined. By 1962, when the bid for the second round of “Series” units was solicited, Alco was likely short on cash for R&D, but poised to deliver their Century Series of diesel-electrics. SP was a good customer from way back.

The solution for Alco was to partner with a competitive bidder, the German firm of MaK — who were competitors of Krauss-Maffei. While the KM bid was probably going to win all along, Alco joined Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton, EMD, GE, and Fairbanks-Morse in the list of domestic bidders for 21 second-generation diesel-hydraulics. B-L-H and F-M hadn’t built locomotives for years, but still maintained relationships with SP through their longtime sales representatives; EMD and GE had declined to bid in 1959 and would do so again in 1962; EMD took a meeting and expressed polite interest in SP’s further experiences with d-h power; at least one GE representative was reported to be openly dismissive of the venture. It fell on Alco to leverage a tiny bit of market position and finally satisfy the urgings of SP as a valued client.

MaK — Maschinenbau Kiel — joined other German, Austrian, and French builders in the RFP. The record doesn’t show to whose idea the partnership between MaK and Alco should be credited, but it’s clear that both benefitted from the savings in resources: Alco could assign all the powertrain engineering to MaK, longtime successful builders of diesel-mechanical locomotives, and retain a “domestic content” advantage over the competing KM bid by sourcing the prime movers and chassis. MaK would not have to do what their German competitor KM had to: they could skip having to design and certify an entire chassis and carbody for American duty, and still win the bid. The partnership was strategically placed as a hedge against any future success of the diesel-hydraulic concept. And the jury in 1962 was deliberating, but still very much out.

What most U.S. observers still consider to be a “U.S.” design in the Alco DH-643 is really a hybrid Euro-American: the frame and carbody are Alco, and the Tri-Mount six-axle truck (one center pivot and two sliding side bearings for a three-point suspension) are American through and through. But the “hydraulic” part of the powertrain was pure MaK: the transmissions were re-engineered from the same Voith L 830 rU design that KM used, but with improvements to bearings, case design, and other betterments that also provided sales points and bragging rights; the Alco Voith transmissions were “stronger” than their European counterparts, or so the argument went. In fact, both KM and Alco transmissions by the German firm of Voith were reliable, provided good service, and largely worked exactly as advertised: SP even said so in their closing remarks about the Hydro Program.

The low-mounted transmissions account for the large and oddly shaped “fuel tank” — it’s actually separate tanks and an enclosure for the two transmissions and drive shafts. The All-American Tri-Mount truck was reversed by 180 degrees so that the more widely-spaced axles were at the outboard ends of the unit, requiring the bolster and side bearing locations to be swapped. But the geared axles were an MaK design, and the configuration of low driveshafts and center-mounted transmissions was an MaK design hallmark.

Alco got some marketing traction from the fact that the Voith transmissions were doing well at the time for SP and Rio Grande on their 1961 carbody-style Prototypes, so they promoted the incorporation of them into the DH-643, Specification DH 400, as being “proven technology.” They advanced their 251-Series prime movers as being more familiar to U.S. railroads than the European design of the KM’s Maybach Mercedes-Benz motors. But to hedge their bets, they also included alternate specs for the DH-643 as Specification DH 401, to be powered by British-licensed Paxman V-12 diesels; the resulting locomotive would have been shorter and lighter, responding to a continued concern of SP’s over the unwieldy 75-foot length of the 251-motored design. And the entire cooling system — radiator, fans, and ancillaries — was done to typical Alco configuration, but went fundamentally unadvertised and unacknowledged in the U.S. as a Voith product, while being primarily designed and fabricated by the German firm.

The DH-643 thus was a brilliant solution to Alco’s dilemma with SP: it was low on R&D expenses thanks to the partnerships with MaK and Voith, and gave them the chance to advertise and promote a “domestic” solution to SP’s RFP. In the end, the call for 21 locomotives was met by a combination of KM (15 ML 4000 C’C’ units), Alco (3 DH-643 units), and by the purchase from D&RGW of their three 1961 Prototypes — a purchase said to be supported and perhaps even subsidized in part by Maybach Mercedes-Benz.

The Alcos lasted longer on SP than the KMs did, but the rationale for a mechanical solution to high horsepower and high tractive effort was obsolete as soon as high-HP diesel-electrics hit the market. They also couldn’t compete for shop attention to stay on the road longer, since service was dedicated to a relatively small area of one facility, Roseville, and they contained unique components with unique servicing requirements.

No question about their visual impact, though — they looked like monsters, and could have inherited the title of “Diesel Cab Forward” if they’d been a little better received. But like all SP’s hydraulics, they remained orphans and were regarded as freaks. But imagine: when Alco folded their diesel production, on the table was a 6,000 HP diesel-hydraulic design collaboration between Alco and MaK, destined for America.

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