The American Locomotive Company, one of the nation's premier steam locomotive builders, joined forces with Schenectady, New York neighbor General Electric to build the first standardized diesel-electric locomotives in the 1920s. But when the diesel revolution began in earnest after World War II, Alco seemed doomed to forever playing second fiddle to industry leader EMD.
Observers frequently point to reliability problems with Alco's 1600 hp model 244 diesel motor as the cause. But one wonders today if Alco's problem was really its motor, or EMD's commanding sales lead. During World War II, EMD had been the only company permitted to manufacture road diesels, and shop crews nationwide had learned to service the EMD 567 prime mover. Perhaps a lack of familiarity led to lesser-quality maintenance of Alco motors; as evidence, Alco fans today point to the New Haven, an all-Alco railroad that got great service from its Alco fleet while others complained.
In any case, the brawny good looks of Alco's FA and PA cab units have endeared them to railfans and modelers for more than half a century. Both were styled by Ray Patten, General Electric's head of industrial design, who a decade earlier had received a Lord and Taylor award for a cooking range design "as sightly as a grand piano." Many would argue that Alco's FA-1 and successor FA-2 diesels were both handsomer and more powerful-looking than their major competitors, EMD's F3 and F7 "covered wagons." A signature feature of Alco cab units was the striking ribbed grille surrounding the headlight.
While Alco FAs were sold primarily as freight haulers, they did have room for a passenger-service steam generator at the rear of the engine compartment. Compared with the FA-1, the FA-2 was slightly longer to accommodate a larger steam generator and just a bit more powerful, developing 1600 hp. Alco built FA-2s and cabless FB-2 boosters from 1950 through 1956.
Did You Know?
The FA was offered as an FPA model with optional passenger gearing, but only the Canadian National bought that version.