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Chasing the elusive Black Marias

Online supplement to "The Case of the Black Marias," by Preston Cook, Fall 2009 Classic Trains magazine
Photos of Alco's mid-1940's Black Maria freight diesels are extremely scarce. Obviously one factor was the short time the units operated. When Jerry A. Pinkepank and Kalmbach Publishing Co. issued the first Diesel Spotter's Guide in 1967, no photos of the units had come to light, so on page Alco-49, below the technical description of the Marias, a blank space was reserved for a picture should one turn up. This omission served as an incentive for locating pictures, and a small number subsequently were found and have been published.

By 1972, the continuing scarcity of information on the Black Marias prompted me to get together with my friend Bob McCaffrey, a Field Service Representative for General Electric, to try to track down some of the Alco employees who were familiar with the Marias so we could learn, and disseminate, the story of these mystery units. We were able to get in touch with George Marks, who had accompanied the Marias on many of their runs. The information George provided in interviews, combined with documents he'd saved, formed the basis of an article on the Marias published in the May-June 1972 issue of the locomotive news magazine Extra 2200 South. Because I was working for Electro-Motive at the time, I used a pseudonym for the byline: W. A. Cuisinier. McCaffrey and I, again using pseudonyms (his was Wright Conrod), followed that up with a detailed article on the units published in the Summer 1975 issue of Railfan magazine.

So how did the story and pictures from the Abbotts' 1946 cab ride (as related in the Fall 2009 Classic Trains) end up with me? Bill Abbott put some of his dad's old pictures up on eBay, the Internet auction site; my friend Howard Pincus spotted them and immediately e-mailed me, and I immediately bought them from Bill (and got the story behind them). I only wish our late friend George Marks was around to see these photos, allowing once again the telling-with even more information-of the story of these unusual and elusive locomotives that he had spent months riding . . . and repairing. -- Preston Cook

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