Alco? I don't think so...

A few words about the "American Locomotive Works " (ALCO) development project now underway on Valley St. in Providence. Once upon a time there was a railroad locomotive factory on part of this site. This was the Rhode Island Locomotive Works, founded in 1866 and located on Hemlock Street. Between 1866 and 1899 the company produced some 3400 steam locomotives. In 1901 the company was merged with several other locomotive builders to form the American Locomotive Company, headquartered in Schenectady NY. At this point the Rhode Island works had already begun to diversify, shifting production towards a line of automobiles and trucks. This move was ultimately unsuccessful, and the Providence factory closed in 1907.

By the time American Locomotive became officially known as ALCO Products in 1955, and even before that, when the locomotive depicted on the SBER banners (a diesel, model DL-109) was produced in the 1940's, locomotive production on this site was just a distant memory. Only one small building remains with any connection
to RI Locomotive Works. SBER Co. may well wish to market the idea that their tenants are living and working in a restored locomotive factory. They may even fill it with big murals of steam and diesel locomotives. While I have no objection to murals of locomotives, this notion is just a developers fiction, a kind of Disneyfication of our industrial heritage. Most of the buildings on the site were built by the U.S. Rubber Co. Perhaps that is the history that should be celebrated (or exploited, as the case may be) here. Meanwhile, back in Schenectady, the real ALCO plant sits largely unused, having closed for good in 1969. It was at this site that the company built more steam locomotives than any other builder. This factory built the famous "Big Boy" locomotives, the world's largest, and built tanks during WWI and WWII. It was ALCO, alone of any of the U.S. steam locomotive builders that successfully made the transition to diesel manufacturing. Hopefully someday this site and this history will be preserved and celebrated as it should.

One more note on the locomotive depicted on the banners. The banners show a stylized but pretty accurate DL-109, which is an interesting choice. The New Haven Railroad (NYNH&H) owned by far the largest group of these engines, 60 out of 74 produced. They saw many years of service on the Boston to New York mainline, passing quite close to the site along Harris Ave. This line is now part of Amtrak's northeast corridor route.
photo of New Haven DL-109 from: