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Discover Downtown: miSci’s locomotive brings back tons (and tons) of memories

Sunday, October 6, 2013
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The Alco-built RS-3 locomotive stands in front of Schenectady’s miSci museum on Nott Terrace.
The Alco-built RS-3 locomotive stands in front of Schenectady’s miSci museum on Nott Terrace.

— Lori Armour and her young friends walk by miSci — Schenectady’s Museum of Innovation and Science — every day after school.

On a sunny, early autumn day, Armour and the kids took a closer look at the locomotive that has become a colorful, formidable landmark on Nott Terrace Heights.

“You don’t get a chance to see a lot of trains like this up close every day,” said Armour, as son Dillan, 4; niece Mia Armour, 8; and nephew Jay Armour, 10; inspected the heavy metal, which stands silently on its own section of railroad track and bed of stones.

“It’s good for the kids to look at it and learn something,” Armour added.

William “Mac” Sudduth, the museum’s executive director, is grateful for any attention the big engine brings to the museum. The RS-3 engine, a switching locomotive built in Schenectady by the American Locomotive Co. in 1953, has been in front of the miSci building, formerly known as the Schenectady Museum & Suits-Bueche Planetarium, since 1990.

“It’s essentially a train that shuttles cars back and forth between trains that are already made up,” Sudduth said of the locomotive. “If you stop in Schenectady and you’ve got to deliver a car that’s right in the middle of a group of cars, you have to break the train apart, get that car and put it on the side.”

The locomotive is painted forest green (also known as Pullman green), orange and yellow, the colors of its first owner.

“It started out on the Great Northern Railway,” said Chris Hunter, miSci’s curator of collections and exhibitions. “It was there from 1953 until 1968. ... That’s the color scheme it was restored to.”

Originally 125 tons

The diesel/electric machine was one of 1,370 RS-3s manufactured by Alco from 1950 until 1956. The museum’s locomotive is 55 feet long and 16 feet high. It originally weighed about 125 tons.

According to museum records, more than 7,500 people worked at the Schenectady plant when the 1,600-horsepower No. 229 was built — employees produced more than 90 locomotives each month. At the time, it took about 60 days to build each machine.

Road switchers originally cost about $70,000.

Hunter said the big rig did some traveling during its early years. “The Great Northern Railway essentially ran from Minneapolis to Seattle, Washington,” he said. “So it ran through the great Cascade Tunnel, North Dakota, Montana.”

Old No. 229 was taken off the Great Northern line in 1968 and traded in to the General Electric Co. for another engine. It was then leased to the Lake Superior & Ishpeming Railroad, and given a new number and paint job. In 1973, Lake Superior sold the diesel to Pinsley Lines, which operated several short rail lines in Vermont.

The locomotive’s hauling and switching days ended during the 1980s, when it was declared surplus and donated to the Mohawk and Hudson Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. The society donated the machine to the city of Schenectady in July 1990.

After a restoration project, the locomotive got back its original colors — but lost its engine and generator. The subtraction of 45 tons made the thing easier to move.

A big, big sign

“It makes a good sign,” Sudduth said. “It makes it easy to tell people how to get here. In addition, it’s an interesting piece of technology, it’s connected to Schenectady and that’s part of our mission, to talk about past and future innovations.”

The train is popular with children. Sudduth said he hears some mothers wish the kids could explore the interior of the big machine.

“If we had it closer to the building, we could probably do that, monitor it,” Sudduth said. “I haven’t been inside it myself, so I don’t know how much they’ve stripped it down. They might have to do more restoration.”

Hunter said visiting groups will occasionally include Alco retirees. So they’re interested in the lawn marker.

Sudduth said the engine isn’t going anywhere for now. But if the museum expands, new construction might extend toward Nott Terrace Heights. And that would mean a relocation for the curio.

Someday, expansion could also mean a companion for the RS-3.

“I’d love to have one of the Alco steam engines, too,” Sudduth said. “They’re harder to come by. . . . We’d have to find some poor museum that’s going out of business.”

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at wilkin@dailygazette.com.

 
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