Evolution of the American Diesel Locomotive

Evolution of the American Diesel Locomotive

Evolution of the American Diesel Locomotive

Evolution of the American Diesel Locomotive

Synopsis

The diesel locomotive sent shock waves through rigid corporate cultures and staid government regulators. For some, the new technology promised to be a source of enormous profits; for others, the railroad industry seemed a threat to their very livelihoods. Evolution of the American Diesel Locomotive introduces the reader to the important technological advances that gave rise to diesel engines, examining not only their impact on locomotive design, but also their impact on the economic and social landscapes. J. Parker Lamb describes the development of these technologies, allowing the reader to fully understand how they were integrated and formed a commercially successful locomotive. Like its companion volume, Perfecting the American Steam Locomotive (IUP, 2003), this book emphasizes the role of the leading engineers whose innovations paved the way for critical breakthroughs. Rail fans will appreciate this authoritative work.

Excerpt

Full-scale introduction of diesel-powered locomotives into the American railway industry occurred primarily during the fifteen years following World War II. Although this is a relatively short time for such a fundamental change, the actual gestation period of this revolutionary technology had taken much longer, as one would anticipate. Building on the highly documented segments of this significant sequence of events, the following narrative presents the evolutionary highlights of dieselization without delving into excessive details concerning each builder, each railroad, or each locomotive model. Moreover, the presentation not only includes technical aspects but also comments on the economic and social ramifications.

Clearly, these revolutionary machines evolved via the traditional trial-and-error melding of rudimentary concepts from disparate sources, followed by the absorption of periodic refinements of both electrical and mechanical elements, to produce a machine so powerful that it led to larger freight cars, stronger couplers, and more robust roadbeds. This enabled American railroads to continually set new world standards for Gross Ton-Miles per Train Hour, symbolic of the aggregate power produced by moving heavy trains at high speeds. Such results may well have been part of the motivation for the bold statement by a prominent rail commentator in March 2004 that the diesel revolution was “the greatest technological change of the twentieth century.” While many would say that this is an exaggeration, others would agree that this was certainly one of the century’s most important technical changes.

This book will follow the general approach used in my companion volume, Perfecting the American Steam Locomotive (Indiana University Press, 2003). Thus there will be emphasis on the role of leading engineers whose innovations paved the way for critical breakthroughs. Unlike steam locomotive evolution, which occurred in parallel with development of the nation’s railway network, introduction of diesel power represented a revolutionary upheaval for an established sector of the economy that sent shock waves through rigid corporate cultures and staid government regulators. To some it represented the promise of enormous profits from rail operations, while to others it was an unmitigated disaster that personified the oft-repeated plight of business enterprises, namely, dealing with the introduction of a labor-saving technology that carried with it harsh consequences for many of its employees.

A recurrent theme in technological evolution is incrementalism, with progress on various components occurring simultaneously in many locations. Thus an understanding . . .

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