Bernie DeZalia has some very good memories of the 14 years he spent working at the American Locomotive Co. after World War II. He also has a few he’d just as soon forget.
“I can remember the frequent walkouts, and I can remember guys goofing off and the union trying to protect them,” said DeZalia, who is 95 and has lived in Schenectady for almost 70 years. “I think poor labor habits is what eventually caused ALCO to go out of business. I know I got disgusted with guys that were just plodding along, doing just enough to get by.”
At one point the second largest manufacturer of steam locomotives in the world, the ALCO plant in Schenectady closed its doors in 1969. But former employees such as DeZalia are being invited by the ALCO Heritage Museum to share their memories of the plant that for more than 100 years dominated the city landscape along Maxon Road. Saturday from 10 a.m. until noon at Niskayuna High School, oral histories will be collected and later deposited with the ALCO Heritage Museum on Maxon Road Extension. A grand opening for the place is planned for June 10.
Anyone with stories to tell about ALCO should contact Jim Cesare at (716) 238-3768 or by email at [email protected] to set up an appointment for Saturday’s session from 10 a.m until noon at Niskayuna High School.
“Our long-term goal is to take all the oral histories we’ve collected and put them into a kiosk-type exhibit where they can be listened to by anyone who comes to the museum,” said Jim Cesare, who is serving as the volunteer museum director.
“We’ve had a few interviews already, and the students at Niskayuna High School have been great manning the cameras for us. They’ve been a big help to this project.”
John Ellis created the Schenectady Locomotive Works in 1848, and in 1901 it merged with seven other companies to form the American Locomotive Co. From 1941-44, ALCO manufactured the “Big Boy,” the largest steam locomotive in the world. DeZalia, home from World War II, saw one of the last engines come out of the plant in 1944.
“I can remember they brought it out to show it off, and everyone was congratulating each other and taking pictures,” he said. “They had let it go down a small grade and then parked it. When they went to put it back in the tech building, the big steam engine wouldn’t move. Eventually they got a small 660-horsepower yard engine to move it. It was mammoth.”