Lima-Hamilton locomotives: diesels that didn’t


Lima-Hamilton # 1001, one of the manufacturer’s four 1,000 hp demonstration diesel switching engines, jockey crane components inside the Lima, Ohio plant.

History of the Lima-Hamilton locomotives

The Lima-Hamilton locomotives were built from Lima, the youngest and smallest of the big three steam builders. The Ohio maker was all about steam at its best, and it stuck to the steam standard all the way. Even as legions of diesels rolled onto competitor assembly stages, Lima Locomotive Works embraced the benefits of modern steam from its hometown of Lima, Ohio.

Lima’s dedication to steaming cost him dearly. As competitor’s order books swelled with diesel orders, Lima was hungry as steam orders dwindled. Careful not to admit defeat or publicly compromise his loyalty to Steam, Lima merged with General Machinery Corp., of Hamilton, Ohio, to form Lima-Hamilton Corp. October 1, 1947. Having rejected a post-war proposal to produce diesel locomotives for Fairbanks-Morse, Lima was neither looking for a diesel construction partner nor looking to head to the altar. Rather, the LH marriage was initiated by General Machinery, which was looking for a market for its Hamilton diesels as well as a gas turbine already in development.

Although Lima built a few small gasoline locomotives in the 1920s and 1930s, the company had virtually no experience with diesel engines. Meanwhile, General Machinery’s 4-stroke Hamilton diesel had been introduced in 1936 and had been used in marine, industrial and stationary applications. Hamilton’s diesels had also been used in experimental locomotives built by Davenport and Plymouth, and to re-engine gasoline and gasoline powered cars.

As steam production in Lima plummeted, engineers at the Hamilton, Ohio plant worked on an engine design based on the proven Hamilton 68SA. In 1948, Lima diamond-shaped builders’ plates, along with the words “Lima-Hamilton Corporation”, were affixed to only 36 steam locomotives. In 1949, Lima only had two orders on the books, both for 2-8-4 Berkshire (10 for Louisville & Nashville, 22 for Nickel Plate Road).

Three-quarter color photo of two diesel shunting locomotives on adjacent tracks.
Switches accounted for 78 percent of Lima’s diesel production. Cincinnati Union Terminal No. 23 (a 750 hp unit leased from Baltimore & Ohio) and B&O 9385 (1,000 hp) were operating in Cincinnati at the end of 1965.
J. David Ingles

Lima-Hamilton start

The Berks weren’t the only locomotives taking shape in Lima, however. By the spring of 1949, a single diesel switch with an 8-cylinder Hamilton T89SA engine and Westinghouse electrical equipment was nearing completion. Completed on May 12, 1949, Lima’s first 1000 hp, No. 1000 diesel demonstrator wore solid black paint with a simple “Lima-Hamilton” lettering on its hood.

Ironically, just a day later, Nickel Plate 2-8-4 779 was set on fire for final inspection. Overshadowed by the official unveiling of Lima’s first diesel, the 2-8-4 left the factory without notice. It would be Lima’s last steam locomotive.

Lima 1000, the first of five 1000hp switch demos, ventured into a diesel-hungry world. The most recent model on the market was attracting interest and orders. Armco Steel 708, the first Lima diesel sold, was delivered on June 27, 1949. Two days later, Lima shipped its first mass transit diesel as NKP 305 followed the 1000 demo to the gates.

By April 1950, Lima had built 38 1000hp switches, including 4 for NKP, 6 for New York Central, and 10 each for Erie and B&O. Toledo, Peoria & Western bought only one new mixer, plus 1000 & 1004 demos, while Armco took 1001 demo and a second new unit.

In the fall of 1949, Lima added a 750 hp switch to its lineup. Housed in the same body as its 1,000 hp big brother, it was powered by a 6-cylinder engine and, like all Lima diesels, fitted with Westinghouse electrical equipment. Only six were built, all for the Union Terminal in Cincinnati, between November 1949 and June 1951.

[ Unlimited Members can watch a cab ride video in ex-Cincinnati Union Terminal No. 25 at the Whitewater Valley Railroad museum.]

Three quarter angle black and white photo of a diesel locomotive switching route.
Most of the 174 diesel engines produced by Lima were commutators, but the automaker produced 16 1,200 hp highway switches for New York Central, of which the No. 5800 was the first.

Lima-Hamilton locomotives: models

Less than a year after building its first diesel, Lima expanded its catalog with a new range of 10 models in April 1950. Lima has never assigned formal model designations to its diesels, simply referring to their rated power. and their configuration. Based on Hamilton 6 and 8 cylinder engines, the new range ranged from 800 and 1,200 hp to a 1,200 hp road switch and dual-engine center cab transfer locomotives available in 1,600 and 2,400 hp, CC or A1A- A1A, versions.

Although only 4 of the 10 models were built, Lima gained momentum until 1950 and early 1951. Sales of Switcher were reasonably strong, with repeat orders from B&O, Erie, Nickel Plate, NYC (under the auspices of the Chicago River & Indiana subsidiary) and Armco Steel. Lima broke new ground with orders from Rock Island, the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis, New Haven and Wabash, which increased the purchase of 10 new 1200 hp switches by acquiring demos 1002 and 1003.

Sales of highway switches were limited to 16 steam generator-equipped 1,200 hp versions for New York, and Pennsy purchased the only 22 central cabin Lima transfer locomotives. With a power of 2,500 horsepower, they were driven on two trucks with three engines.

Three-quarter color photo of a transfer type diesel locomotive.
The PRR 5673 transfer unit, seen in Columbus, Ohio, in 1959, was part of the last batch of locomotives built in Lima. Inside each hood was a 1250 hp engine. John S. Ingles

Merger with Baldwin

As the gruff-sounding Hamilton diesels talked about it on the Lima test track, company officials were engaged in a calm conversation with their counterparts at Baldwin. Shockwaves passed through factories in Lima as news of a Lima-Hamilton and Baldwin Locomotive Works merger was officially announced. On November 30, 1950, they became the Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton Corp.

Baldwin wanted Lima not for its locomotive business, but for its non-rail product lines. As competition in the locomotive market intensified and demand cooled, Baldwin was looking to diversify, and the crane and excavator division of Lima and other industrial companies was just what was needed. On the eve of the construction of the interstate road network, BLH planned to abandon the Lima locomotive line and expand its production of excavators and cranes.

On September 11, 1951, employees in Lima lined up for an official portrait with the Pennsylvania Railroad transfer diesel 5683, the last locomotive built at the Lima plant. Not three years after the completion of its first diesel locomotive, Lima’s 174th would be the last. The last of the Big Three steam manufacturers to enter the diesel market was the first to exit.


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