Hamilton, Harold Lee (Hal)

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b. 14 June 1890 Little Shasta, California, USA
d. 3 May 1969 California, USA
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American pioneer of diesel rail traction.
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Orphaned as a child, Hamilton went to work for Southern Pacific Railroad in his teens, and then worked for several other companies. In his spare time he learned mathematics and physics from a retired professor. In 1911 he joined the White Motor Company, makers of road motor vehicles in Denver, Colorado, where he had gone to recuperate from malaria. He remained there until 1922, apart from an eighteenth-month break for war service.
Upon his return from war service, Hamilton found White selling petrol-engined railbuses with mechanical transmission, based on road vehicles, to railways. He noted that they were not robust enough and that the success of petrol railcars with electric transmission, built by General Electric since 1906, was limited as they were complex to drive and maintain. In 1922 Hamilton formed, and became President of, the Electro- Motive Engineering Corporation (later Electro-Motive Corporation) to design and produce petrol-electric rail cars. Needing an engine larger than those used in road vehicles, yet lighter and faster than marine engines, he approached the Win ton Engine Company to develop a suitable engine; in addition, General Electric provided electric transmission with a simplified control system. Using these components, Hamilton arranged for his petrol-electric railcars to be built by the St Louis Car Company, with the first being completed in 1924. It was the beginning of a highly successful series. Fuel costs were lower than for steam trains and initial costs were kept down by using standardized vehicles instead of designing for individual railways. Maintenance costs were minimized because Electro-Motive kept stocks of spare parts and supplied replacement units when necessary. As more powerful, 800 hp (600 kW) railcars were produced, railways tended to use them to haul trailer vehicles, although that practice reduced the fuel saving. By the end of the decade Electro-Motive needed engines more powerful still and therefore had to use cheap fuel. Diesel engines of the period, such as those that Winton had made for some years, were too heavy in relation to their power, and too slow and sluggish for rail use. Their fuel-injection system was erratic and insufficiently robust and Hamilton concluded that a separate injector was needed for each cylinder.
In 1930 Electro-Motive Corporation and Winton were acquired by General Motors in pursuance of their aim to develop a diesel engine suitable for rail traction, with the use of unit fuel injectors; Hamilton retained his position as President. At this time, industrial depression had combined with road and air competition to undermine railway-passenger business, and Ralph Budd, President of the Chicago, Burlington \& Quincy Railroad, thought that traffic could be recovered by way of high-speed, luxury motor trains; hence the Pioneer Zephyr was built for the Burlington. This comprised a 600 hp (450 kW), lightweight, two-stroke, diesel engine developed by General Motors (model 201 A), with electric transmission, that powered a streamlined train of three articulated coaches. This train demonstrated its powers on 26 May 1934 by running non-stop from Denver to Chicago, a distance of 1,015 miles (1,635 km), in 13 hours and 6 minutes, when the fastest steam schedule was 26 hours. Hamilton and Budd were among those on board the train, and it ushered in an era of high-speed diesel trains in the USA. By then Hamilton, with General Motors backing, was planning to use the lightweight engine to power diesel-electric locomotives. Their layout was derived not from steam locomotives, but from the standard American boxcar. The power plant was mounted within the body and powered the bogies, and driver's cabs were at each end. Two 900 hp (670 kW) engines were mounted in a single car to become an 1,800 hp (l,340 kW) locomotive, which could be operated in multiple by a single driver to form a 3,600 hp (2,680 kW) locomotive. To keep costs down, standard locomotives could be mass-produced rather than needing individual designs for each railway, as with steam locomotives. Two units of this type were completed in 1935 and sent on trial throughout much of the USA. They were able to match steam locomotive performance, with considerable economies: fuel costs alone were halved and there was much less wear on the track. In the same year, Electro-Motive began manufacturing diesel-electrie locomotives at La Grange, Illinois, with design modifications: the driver was placed high up above a projecting nose, which improved visibility and provided protection in the event of collision on unguarded level crossings; six-wheeled bogies were introduced, to reduce axle loading and improve stability. The first production passenger locomotives emerged from La Grange in 1937, and by early 1939 seventy units were in service. Meanwhile, improved engines had been developed and were being made at La Grange, and late in 1939 a prototype, four-unit, 5,400 hp (4,000 kW) diesel-electric locomotive for freight trains was produced and sent out on test from coast to coast; production versions appeared late in 1940. After an interval from 1941 to 1943, when Electro-Motive produced diesel engines for military and naval use, locomotive production resumed in quantity in 1944, and within a few years diesel power replaced steam on most railways in the USA.
Hal Hamilton remained President of Electro-Motive Corporation until 1942, when it became a division of General Motors, of which he became Vice-President.
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Further Reading
P.M.Reck, 1948, On Time: The History of the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors Corporation, La Grange, Ill.: General Motors (describes Hamilton's career).
PJGR

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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