An 80-year-old Alco comes home

Genesee Valley Transportation acquires HH660, returns it to home of original home DL&W
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Former Lackawanna Alco H660 No. 409 arrives at Delaware-Lackawanna Railroad's facility in Scranton, Pa., earlier this month. The 80-year-old diesel will be restored to its original paint scheme and be used primarily as a shop switcher.
David Crosby

SCRANTON, Pa. — Genesee Valley Transportation, operator of four freight railroads with 318 total route-miles in Pennsylvania and New York, has added an old, rare Alco switcher to its fleet. The 80-year old HH660, built as Delaware, Lackawanna & Western No. 409, “came home” to Scranton, Pa., on August 12.

Genesee Valley’s railroads are well known for their fleet of Alco and Montreal Locomotive Works diesels. The company’s Delaware-Lackawanna Railroad hauls heavy trains over the former Lackawanna Pocono Mountain main line east of Scranton, and DL’s shop forces have extensive experience maintaining the company’s Alco stable, ranging from a 1,000-hp S6 switcher to 3,600-hp, six-motor giants. The little 409 will be treated well among its younger and larger cousins.

Why would a busy regional rail system invest the dollars and the energy to acquire this museum piece? Michael Thomas, Genesee Valley Transportation vice president Business Division/acquisitions, responds: “The locomotive is highly relevant and germane to the Scranton area, the principal location of the Delaware-Lackawanna railroad. Given its historical significance and the ties which bind the community to railroading in general, we felt it was appropriate to purchase the diesel and bring it home. While the locomotive was in no imminent danger of being scrapped, we felt having it in our sphere of influence would guarantee preservation. In addition, we have the resources in Scranton to repair and maintain the locomotive for future generations to enjoy.”

David Monte Verde, Genesee Valley Transportation CEO, says, “I carry this mental inventory of remaining Lackawanna locomotives and equipment.” He relates attending a meeting in March 2019 and running into John K. Howell, who he knew to be the president of NIWX, owner of the HH660. At that time, the 409 was in use at Burns Harbor, Ind. “We began the discussions then and there to bring the 409 back to home rails,” Monte Verde says. “John told me the old gal was getting tired and needed some love, and we both agreed that this could be accomplished by the Alco- and Lackawanna-loving GVT.”

Alco built just 176 “High-Hood” diesel-electric switchers prior to introducing its more-familiar “S” line, which featured a lower hood over the engine compartment. The “HH” series, built between 1932 and 1940, came in four models, of 600, 660, 900, and 1,000 hp, with several body changes over the years. Alco built a total of 43 of the 660-hp model prior to the rollout of its S1 successor. The High-Hoods were gone from the rosters of large railroads by the early 1970s, but many continued to work for industries and for locomotive leasing companies for a few more years.

Today, the few remaining units are preserved in museums. Lackawanna No. 409 was one of just three HH660s purchased by the road (following eight earlier HH600s). It became an Erie Lackawanna unit when DL&W and Erie merged in 1960. At age 23, the 409 was retired and sold. It became part of a small group of HH660s acquired by Iowa locomotive rebuilding and leasing company RELCO, now part of Wabtec. Numbered RE603, the aging High-Hood worked for various industries in the Midwest before being sold again and going to work for its new owner in Indiana. Stalwart diesel fans followed the former No. 409: In a story in the November 2015 Trains — the magazine’s 75th anniversary issue — author and photographer Scott R. Snell commented on the locomotive’s 75’s birthday. He suggested Scranton would be a good place for the locomotive to retire.

In Indiana, the unit was operating on a limited basis, according to Monte Verde. “She does run but is in need of a good cleaning, a new governor, wiring upgrades, and truck and traction motor improvements.”

He says that No. 409 will be methodically restored and painted in Lackawanna freight black with dulux gold lettering by Delaware-Lackawanna Railroad forces in the company’s new Van Storch Shop in Scranton. The locomotive will predominantly be the shop switcher, and may on occasion serve local customers on DL’s Laurel Line out of Scranton, where it also worked in the 1940s.

The HH660 will join with another historic Lackawanna diesel in Genesee Valley’s collection — Electro-Motive Corporation SC No. 426, built in 1935 — and will be used for special occasions and celebrations of railroad heritage.

Among Thomas’s responsibilities at GVT is watching for locomotives that can assist the company in handling its growing freight business. “We are always on the lookout for rolling stock which tells the history of railroading in general,” he says. “I’ve seen so many locomotives, passenger cars. and freight cars which were in good enough condition to be saved but wound up being scrapped. Not to say we have to preserve everything, but it would be nice to have a better representation of what railroading was.”

GVT’s working roster includes other “heritage” units. Most of the Alco/MLW fleet carries the company’s “Corporate White” scheme. But active units also can be seen wearing the colors of Erie Lackawanna, Delaware & Hudson, Jersey Central, and Lehigh Valley — their original owners.

“After doing this for 30 years, I have a pretty good handle on what equipment is out operating and what we would consider relevant,” Thomas says. “The internet has also made finding these gems a lot easier.”

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