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Growing With Schenectady - American Locomotive Company

An Introduction to Schenectady's Oldest Manufactory with Account of Divergences

[This booklet commemorating the 1948 centennial of the American Locomotive Company is in the Schenectady Collection [Schdy R 621.13 A512] of the Schenectady County Public Library. This introduction by Ruth Riedinger is from the 1972 reprint.]

Growing with Schenectady could have had no better title than that given by its unknown author. This booklet was a hurriedly published souvenir for the 1809-1959 Schenectady Sesquicentennial.

[Editorial note: She is probably referring to the 1948 city sesquicentennial, not the 1959 county celebration.]

The title page bears this axiom: "The heritage of the past is the seed that brings forth the harvest of the future". The irony of this is the eventual fate of Alco whose doors were closed by Studebaker Worthington. Worthington had purchased Alco. In turn Studebaker-Worthington was the purchaser and won the final harvest.

Many were the questions of why Alco sold. The Alco locomotives were tops in the field. Its coffers were full. Divergences had been many and each was a credit to the Company. The roads had had every confidence in the locomotives built by Alco. A D&H fuel accountant frankly stated that the fuel cost of an Alco was the lowest of any locomotive built. That man was my father, Theodore Ralph Willstaedt, a former fuel accountant of the D&H.

That Alco was the leader in the field is substantiated by a list of some forty odd roads Alco had served. This information is to be found on the inside back cover of the forty eight page republished booklet, Growing with Schenectady.

Sad is the fact that the author is not recognized. His work was all that the company could ask of a diligent author recording history.

American Locomotive Company had had its roots in Schenectady soil some seventy-five years when General Electric broke ground in the city. These two companies have been the major life blood of the surrounding area.

Today, General Electric now occupies Alco buildings at the northern end of Erie Boulevard. A lone computor section, Finserv, is the only Alco service left in Schenectady.

Interest in Alco still remains however. The Alco 25 year Club remains active. Loyalties of the townspeople linger on. Though many of the old staff have migrated to retirement areas, correspondence still flows.

Great was the day that the Lightning made its first run. By 1901, Alco had become the largest steam locomotive builder in the world. Most powerful of the Alco giants was the "Big Boy".

The American Locomotive Company has had a history of divergences. How many today know that Alco built automobiles? This was just after the turn of the century. Antique automobile collectors have acquired some of these Alco automobiles. One has five of which he is very proud. (No grant to publish his name has ever been requested nor will be.)

A publicity article is captioned "To the Point." From this, the following is quoted. "With the automobile product of American Locomotive Company offered under its own name, users of the American Locomotive Motor Car, or Alco, henceforth will feel more than ever assured of the maintenance by the company of that distinctive excellence for which this car has become notable." Another article records: "An Alco truck made the first Transcontinental Truck Delivery carrying three tons of Parrot Brand Olive Silk Soap. The crosscountry trip was made in 91 days, arriving in San Francisco at the City Hall on September 20, 1912.

"The start of this trip coincided with a big truck parade and display sponsored by the Philadelphia Inquirer". There were 509 commercial cars of 71 separate makes, ranging in size from mammoth trucks with 13,000 pounds capacity down to light delivery of 500."

Incidently, the article reveals that the AAA supervised its first automobile race in 1895.

It was 1906 when the American Locomotive Company engaged in the automobile business. The Alco cars won many races both here and abroad. Alco became the home of "The Vanderbilt Cup Trophy". Many other trophies were also won.

A photo of the Vanderbilt Automobile Cup bears the makers inscription at the bottom of the photo. "Tiffany and Co., New York, Makers." This is dated June 1904 apparently indicating the Tiffany founding date.

Photos of Alco truck users include labels of such old companies or institutions as the Singer Sewing Machine, Ellis Hospital (Schenectady), Gimbles Brothers, Monopole Whiskey of Henry Kroger & Co., Distillers and Jobbers, 466 Greenwich Street, New York.

Automobile building was probably the first Alco diversification. Through the years from 1951 on, Alco designed and built the Fort Belvoir Atomic Plant; Lock Gates for New York State Barge Canal; Solvent tanks for Paulsboro, N.J. Refinery; heat exchangers; and a ten mile pipe network laid at Idlewild; Steelpipe for New York City Water Distribution System; Diesel-Electric Power Packages used for Oil Well Drilling; Offshore drilling rigs powered from three 251 diesels (which cut downtime expense). Diesel-electrics also provided for deep oil well drilling on land. Alco pipe supplied the Chicago filtration plant.

Today, Montreal Locomotive Works carries on. Americans can be proud of our leaderships in the many progresses, not only here but around the world. Alco locomotives alone have opened many frontiers.

Schenectady has a notable heritage. Two great companies, General Electric and Alco, have pioneered many fields in many ways. Several other giants have followed. Little has beenrecorded of the Alco Tank. This vital instrument did its duty throughout World War II, the Korean War. In the early stages of the World War II, Lt. Albert A. Riedinger was called to duty. Orders stationed him in Intelligence with the British in Trinidad. Further orders received in Trinidad sent him to Africa to exchange tank warfare tactical maneuvers with Field Marshall Bernard L. Montgomery.

After the Africa tour, he returned to Trinidad where he was ordered to proceed to Fort Knox as an instructor in the tank school where his captaincy was awarded.

A tour of numerous posts was the next assignment after which he received his majority. Prior to his separation from the Army, he received his lieutenant colonelcy. Throughout this period he observed the abilities of Alco Tanks.

His return to civilian life was to Schenectady where he had first seen Alco Tanks rolling to and from the Niskayuna test grounds before war was declared.

Yes, Schenectady has served the world. Two giant companies led the way.

Enjoy the blessings of our American life as you read the heritage of Growing with Schenectady.

Ruth Riedinger (Mrs. Albert A.)
Schenectady, New York
November - 1972

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