Trains News Wire EXCLUSIVE: Alco PA restoration reaches milestone in Oregon

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PORTLAND, Ore. – The first time Doyle McCormack saw Nickel Plate Road PA-1 No. 190, he was a 12-year-old kid growing up in Ohio. This month, 58 years after his first encounter, McCormack started up his own PA-1, which he has been restoring for more than a decade.

“It was a long time coming,” McCormack tells Trains News Wire.

The real NKP No. 190 was scrapped decades ago and McCormack's PA was built as Santa Fe No. 62-L in 1948. It is the first Alco PA to operate in the U.S. in more than three decades and one of only five PAs left in the world. One is on display in Brazil, two are preserved in Mexico, and another is being restored in Texas.

While the contemporary No. 190 started its career on the Santa Fe, it gained notoriety in the 1970s when it and three other Santa Fe PAs were acquired by the Delaware & Hudson. Later, the D&H Alcos were sent to Boston where they worked on Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority commuter trains before being sold to Mexico in 1978.

In Mexico, the four engines were used and abused and within a few years all were out-of-service, McCormack says. For more than a decade, preservationists, including the Smithsonian's Curator of Technology and Transportation Bill Withuhn, tried to bring the Alcos back to the U.S. Beginning in 1985, Withuhm made a half-dozen trips to Mexico, but it wasn't until 2000 that the engineless hulks were loaded up onto flatcars and brought north. By that time McCormack, engineer for Southern Pacific 4-8-4 No. 4449 and president of the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation, had gotten involved. In return for his help saving the two engines and for finding two sets of suitable trucks, McCormack acquired No. 18 and moved it to Oregon.

When No. 18 arrived in Portland, McCormack set out to restore the former ATSF and D&H Alco as NKP No. 190, the first diesel locomotive he ever rode, back when his father worked for the railroad. Ever since that first cab ride in 1955, McCormack wanted to own his own PA.

“I grew up with the (NKP PAs),” he says. “You know how kids are, they get obsessed with something and, well, I never let it go.”

Unfortunately decades of neglect south of the border left McCormack with little more than a shell to work with. In 2004, he purchased a former BC Rail MLW M420B and moved its 12-cylinder, 251 motor to the PA. Although PAs were originally built with 244 motors, the four D&H locomotives were rebuilt by Morrison-Knudson with 251 motors in the 1970s. McCormack also had to build new side panels for the locomotive, install new traction motors and install the electrical system.

Although McCormack and a small group of volunteers have been working on the project for more than a decade, the PA restoration has often taken a backseat to other projects, including the construction of the new Oregon Rail Heritage Center and SP No. 4449's Federal Railroad Administration-mandated 15-year overhaul. But this fall, the No. 190 restoration had gotten far enough that it could be fired up for the first time on Oct. 6. McCormack says he wanted to start and test the engine before winter set in.

“It was exciting and scary at the same time because you don't know what will happen when you hit that start switch,” McCormack says.

McCormack says the stationary test revealed a few mechanical issues that will be repaired in the coming weeks. This winter, he'll also start working on connecting the traction motors, the air compressor and finishing the cab interior. McCormack says it will be at least one or two years before the engine is completed and able to move under its own power. After that, he says he will roll it out into the sunshine, grab a cooler of Pepsi and a lawn chair, and just look at it.

“The object of the game was to get it restored,” he says. “Once that's done, I'll be happy.”

While the PA looks spectacular in its NKP blue and cream, many railfans say it should be painted into its original ATSF red and silver or D&H blue and silver. But McCormack has a simple message to them.

“Everyone has an opinion on what paint scheme it should be in and I tell everyone that they can buy it and paint it whatever they want,” McCormack says. “It'll just cost them $1 million.”

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