To the Editor:
For many years, the Altamont Fair Association in Albany County has had a Model 45-EL 400 HP center cab #1 switcher in storage. This unit is one of three that were built by the Midwest Locomotive Works and formerly used at Albany’s Port District Railroad.
This is a twin gasoline engine General Electric unit that produced 400 horsepower, weighs 45 tons, and was built in July of 1931. It has long been replaced by S2s from Alco’s nearby Schenectady plant.
Her twin sister, Cab #2, was sold in the late 1940s to Brown Paper Co. in Castleton-on-Hudson, NY. Cab #3 was believed to possibly haul concrete materials in Forreston, Ill.
All but Cab #1 have been scrapped, leaving the Altamont Fair to preserve the only remaining unit. The Fair Association acquired the Midwest switcher unit sometime after 1980 when it was left behind by a local railroad organization that originally displayed several Alco and D & H rolling stock units at the fair during fair week.
Also on display was a 4 6 4 Alco steam locomotive and tender, a 1907 D & H boxcar, and a converted wood side D & H caboose workmen’s coach. The 4 6 4 Alco now rests at a railroad museum in New Hope, Pa. with plans in the works to be returned to Schenectady’s new Alco Museum.
The 1907 D & H wood-side boxcar was sold in the late 1990s and is now restored back to its original condition and the same vintage wood-side workmen’s coach has been converted to a flatbed car, due to severe alterations, deterioration, and cannibalism. Both are now preserved and displayed at Canal Street Station Railroad Village in Duanesburg.
In the spring of 2012, the Altamont Fair directors had discussed outsourcing bids for the Midwest unit to be scrapped. At a June members’ meeting, it was suggested to find a home for the engine rather than fronting its demise. I mailed out flyers to East Coast regional train museums looking for a safe home to display the one remaining Midwest switcher.
After several months with no response, another plan for its survival was submitted to cosmetically restore the engine and relocate it on the fairgrounds as a memorial display to the men and women who helped build our industrial railroads in America.
In October, the Altamont Fair board passed a motion to cosmetically restore the engine as a railroad memorial display on the fairgrounds. Plans are now in the works to have the Midwest switcher relocated to Canal Street Station Railroad Village where a sandblast and repaint will be performed.
The original cab colors will be repainted along with replacing the lettering detail of Albany Port District. Unfortunately, her engines are financially beyond repair due to the loss of parts and destroyed castings.
Her interior will be repainted for visual display. When completed, the switcher will be returned back to the Altamont fairgrounds where it will become permanently displayed on a short track to represent the railroad village of Altamont and a memorial to American rail history.
The former Altamont Train Station has recently been restored and is being reused as the Altamont Free Library. It is projects like the train-station restoration and now saving the fair’s Midwest switcher that will preserve our railroad heritage.
It is very sad and unfortunate to see rail and rolling stock become scrap iron for foreign steel trade. Every day, we sell out our country’s vital steel resources for merely pocket change.
If our country keeps destroying our industrialism, we will be left behind with little or no future for historic development. “In the name of Progress!” can be a frightening phrase, depending how it’s applied.
Our Victorian architectural engineers were the most glorious designers in the world, but each and every day we senselessly demolish and destroy these structures. With the recent loss of the Alco factory, we are now left with a mere one or two buildings of what was once a major city of industrial marvel, that produced the steam and diesel power that built our nation.
Each month, village, town, and city boards execute the demise of our heritage, destroying hundred-year-old structures to clear the way for retail development that has a life span of 10 years.
If this continues, what will we have left? When we destroy a piece of our railroad transportation history, it’s gone forever with only photos to remind us of the glory we once had.
We all want to relive the good old days, but, without museums and the power to preserve our remaining structures, it will soon all be gone.
I would like to thank the Altamont Fair directors for their recent decision to preserve this locomotive, along with a part of Port of Albany’s heritage. With the help of fair volunteers and historic appreciation, we saved a small piece of railroad history.
This story had a good ending, but not so for Schenectady’s history, with the loss of American Locomotive and downsizing of General Electric, the city that once hauled and lit the world has now diminished to a graveyard of lost dreams and pride.
If we all stand together to stop the destruction of historic buildings, steel structures, and industrial heritage, we might just save enough for our grandchildren to see and appreciate how our nation was built using honor, quality, and pride!
Joseph J. Merli, curator
Canal Street Station Railroad Village
Editor’s note: Joseph J. Merli is an Altamont Fair Association member and former director. Read about him on page 2.