Review by Tony Cook/photos by Shane Mason
For Denver & Rio Grande Western (D&RGW), the purchase of Alco’s PA-1 and PB-1 diesel locomotives turned out to be “diesels that didn’t” to twist the well-known phrase “diesels that did it,” which Electro-Motive Division’s (EMD) F-units were proclaimed. What I mean by that statement is Rio Grande, known for preferring General Motors’ EMD motive power, made an odd choice when selecting the builder for its diesels to perform the duty of handling the road’s section of the famed California Zephyr passenger service.
Operated in conjunction with Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q) and Western Pacific (WP), Rio Grande’s responsibility for moving the California Zephyr was the middle leg of the journey. CB&Q started the CZ on it way west from Chicago and delivered it to Rio Grande at Denver. D&RGW took the train up over the Continental Divide, actually under it via Moffat Tunnel, and treated passengers to amazing Rocky Mountain vistas in Colorado and Utah. The train was handed off at Salt Lake City to WP, which took the third and final leg of the CZ’s westbound run to Oakland/San Francisco on the U.S. west coast in California.
ABOVE: Broadway Limited Imports provides its N-scale Alco PA-1 as a fully assembled and powered model in this new release. You’ll find a powered PA-1 mated with a matching non-powered PB-1 in sets and individal powered PA-1s are also available in several road names.
The other CZ partners put EMD power on the head end the train, but Rio Grande management went with Alco’s sleek PA-1 to be the original face of the train across Colorado and Utah. It’s a curious decision in some ways, as the road was among the lucky U.S. carriers to receive early FT diesels during World War II. The road’s diesel roster, as was the case with many railroads in the late 1940s and 1950s, did include variety with Alco freight units in addition to the two sets of A-B-A passenger Alco diesels, you also would find Baldwin, Fairbanks-Morse, General Electric, and even a little 30-ton Davenport critter present mid-century. Research suggests the decision to buy Alco’s passenger diesel versus a big A-1-A EMD passenger equivalent may reside in the availability of dynamic brakes from Alco that were not an option on General Motors’ E7 when the purchase was done.
In his excellent Rio Grande Diesels: A Pictorial History series (1983, Shade Tree Books), author Joseph R. Strapac states, considering their small numbers (six), the Alco PA/PB passenger units owned by the Rio Grande achieved a popularity all out of proportion. The first volume in the three-title set by Strapac notes Rio Grande was the second western road behind Santa Fe to place an order with Alco for PA/PB power. I would agree, given D&RGW bought more than a hundred F-units (FT, F3, F7, and F9) and only had a half dozen, of these big Alco passenger diesels, the group did hold a special place with fans.
When new, Rio Grande’s numbering following the early diesel era practice of many roads and sorted the six Alcos in two “road unit” sets. This made one collection of A-B-A units D&RGW 600A, B, and C, while the other trio carried 601 A, B, and C identification. The sets were completed by Alco in 1947, so though they were intended for California Zephyr service the PA-1/PB-1 collection arrived well ahead of the train’s 1949 launch. Rio Grande’s PA-1/PB-1 delivered in black with yellow up front on the nose and pilot that thinned down into striping along the lower body sides to the end of the PA-1s and striping matched up and continued across the booster PB-1s.
Not long into their service, the road felt its Alcos needed to better color match the trailing stainless steel passenger cars of the CZ. Burlington’s EMD power was silver and Western Pacific (also EMD) also went with a largely silver look with orange band for its CZ road power. Rio Grande followed those cues and treated its PA-1/PB-1 units to a new paint job that consisted nearly entirely of silver with an Aspen Gold flavored inset running up the nose of the A-unit. At this time, the numbering was modified to a 6000-series. The four PA-1s became 6001, 6003, 6011, and 6013; the two PB-1s saw their identification move to 6002 and 6012.
ABOVE: Broadway Limited’s PA-1 chassis includes a die-cast metal frame with separate snap-on tanks between the trucks. The plastic trucks sideframes (these black examples are from a Pennsylvania Railroad sample and not silver as provided on the company’s Rio Grande models) include good detail and depth and scale out well in comparison to the prototype. Lighting is supplied by LEDs and the entire shell can be removed and set aside for any maintainance or decorating the cab interior.
The solid silver look didn’t last long and by the early 1950s, you’ll find Rio Grande’s passenger Alcos adopted the road’s four-stripe Aspen Gold with silver livery. This look was later modified by the early 1960s to a single black stripe dividing the Aspen Gold and silver sections of the body. Joseph R. Strapac’s information states 6001 and 6013 are the only passenger Alcos to see the revised single-stripe scheme….
Alco PA-1/PB-1 diesel locomotives with DCC and sound
3842, MSRP: $329.99
Broadway Limited Imports, Inc.
9 East Tower Circle
Ormond, FL 32174