Important locomotive models
for my 1984 operations are Southern Pacific’s rebuilt SD40Rs. Though overshadowed on the SP roster by
SD45s, the SD40 always turned in reliable performance, particularly on the
long, slow hauls up mountain grades.
During 1980-81, SP’s Sacramento Locomotive Works rebuilt the 86 SD40s
remaining on the roster, redesignating them as “SD40R.” Remanufactured to “like new” standards with
upgraded electrical systems, the SD40Rs provided solid service to the SP. One attractive feature of the rebuilt units
is they emerged with full SP light packages on both ends. The SP SD40R screams “Southern Pacific!”
Athearn Trains delivered
their latest version of the SD40 this past year, including four units detailed
as SP SD40Rs. I quickly grabbed up that
set plus a couple more for re-numbering.
Railfan photos from my own efforts and those of other photographers show
these units working in many trains in the Cascades in the early 1980s. Indeed, although photographed before the
rebuild, an SD40 appears as the second unit in the locomotive consist of the
train at Salt Creek Trestle that I use as the inspiration photo and background
of this blog. These are important units
in my locomotive fleet!
Athearn SP SD40R models. SP7372 (front) came from SP’s first SD40
order, but had trucks swapped during the rebuild program. It now has high brake cylinders. SP7351 came from SP’s second SD40 order. It has a rear brakewheel and stand. It also had trucks swapped during the rebuild
so it now has low brake cylinders. Note
the air tank on this unit is slightly ahead of the rear of the fuel tank, as
opposed to SP7372.
stubbed their toes a bit with one of the units, SP7351. This unit was one of the ten units originally
built in SP’s second order (EF630-2), delivered in 1968. These units had a number of detail changes
from the original order built in 1966. One of the more notable differences was
the movement of the locomotive handbrake from the nose to a brakewheel on a
stand mounted on the rear platform. Unfortunately,
Athearn produced this model with both the correct rear brakewheel and stand and
an incorrect (and redundant!) short hood brake ratchet.
Athearn acknowledged the
mistake and began a shell swap program.
At the end of August, they announced the details of the program. Owners of these units were to remove the
shells from the chassis and ship the shells only back to Athearn’s Parts
Department. At the end of October, I
received my two replacement shells, but had to defer mounting one as I prepared
for my early November operating session.
I have now performed the required reconnection of lighting wires to the
locomotive electrical board on the chassis and reassembled the units. As an aid to others completing this task,
shown below are a photograph of the connected electrical board and a diagram of
the lighting connections.
Athearn SD40R decoder and
light board with lighting connected.
Athearn decoder and
electrical connection board for SD40R.
With my SP7351 returned to
operating status, my attention turned to the re-numbering project for my
“spare” pair of units. I dove into my
usual sources for detail on Southern Pacific’s diesels. In this case, two books authored by Joseph
Strapac, dean of SP diesel detail to SP modelers, were the primary
sources. Joe’s Southern Pacific Historic
Diesels, Volume 17, EMD SD40 Family Locomotives, Shade Tree Books, 2012,
Bellflower, CA, provides the history of these units. His Diesel Locomotive Compendium, Volume 2,
Shade Tree Books, 2007, Bellflower, CA, provides tabular data. I cannot overemphasize the importance of
Joe’s publishing work that provides SP enthusiasts an outstanding resource of
information on the SP’s diesel roster.
Another vital resource on SP’s diesel fleet is provided on-line by
Richard Percy’s great website: “my Espee Modelers Archive,” with locomotive
information indexed from:
Many photographers have
provided photos of SP diesel locomotives which Richard Percy has cataloged and
made available on-line. All SP SD40Rs
appear in at least one photo on this site.
My first research effort was
focused on the original second order (EF630-2 class) units of which 7351 was a
member. Strapac’s Diesel Compendium
provided a table that identified the new unit numbers (7300s) for the ten
members of this class. All ten survived
to the rebuilding program of 1980-81.
Using those numbers, I searched the Percy website for photos of each
unit. I was surprised to discover that
eight of the ten units experienced truck swaps, likely during the rebuild
program at Sacramento. Eight units ended
up with the early low brake cylinder mounting of the original HTC trucks found
on 1966-built SD40 and SD45 units on the SP roster. Athearn did a GREAT job picking up on that feature
when they chose to model SP7351. I
expected some truck swaps, but was surprised that the vast majority of the
units from this class had their trucks swapped during rebuild.
In addition to the rear
platform brake stand, the original EF630-2 class were built with L-window cab
fronts, a feature Athearn captured correctly.
As I looked over the model and prototype photos, I became aware of just
how much more work Athearn did on these units.
There is a correct subtle difference in the air tank mounting above the
fuel tank. The EF630-2 air tank is
slightly forward of the rear of the fuel tank, as these units were equipped
originally with a second fuel filler spout at the rear of the fuel tank on both
sides. I also noted a change in
Athearn’s paint for “classic era” (“roman” lettering) SP gray and scarlet
units. Earlier Athearn models had a
great deal of white striping on the steps and at the end of the traction motor
duct, reflecting a late paint diagram.
My photos, memories (also tied to extensive locomotive modeling and
painting), and others photos all show a simpler scheme through the early
1980s. Athearn reproduced this simpler
paint standard on these SD40R models.
Given the preponderance of
truck swaps under the original EF630-2 class, it was easy to choose to stay
with the chassis supplied with 7351 and pick another number. My second unit of this type became 7328. My original plan had been to do a swap of shells
between this unit and a unit numbered 7305 with high mount brakes, but the
photo research showed that was a bad idea.
Further, the air tank shift between the two original SD40 classes
(further forward for a fuel tank filler on the EF630-2 class) cemented the
choice to keep shell and chassis together.
Removing cab numbers from
Athearn SP SD40R models. A fresh
bottle of Microsol, a brush and a Q-tip do the job.
As hinted at above, my second
unit purchased for renumbering was a model of SP7305. This model had high-mount brake cylinders on
the trucks. Until my extensive photo
research on the Richard Percy website, I thought this was a bit of an anomaly
that I intended “correcting” by swapping chassis with the “spare” SP7351
model. My research revealed a different
story. Twenty-nine of the seventy-six
units of the EF630-1 class built in 1966 received swapped trucks. Though built with low-mount brake cylinders,
these units received trucks from later construction—both from the EF630-2 class
and the many SD45s on the SP roster. As
Joe Strapac notes, the SP moved from low mount brake cylinders to high mounts
where the brake gear did not get damaged during minor derailments. There was an interim design wherein one
cylinder per truck was mounted high while the other three cylinders were
mounted low, and several of those are included in the twenty-nine SD40Rs
receiving swapped trucks. Rather than
fight several detail issues, I elected to remain with a unit that received high
mount brakes for my renumber of an SP 7305 model.
In line with Athearn’s
improvements for these models, I noted a couple more detail points. First, the EF630-1 class was equipped with
what EMD called an “extended vision” cab front.
This features a wider middle engineer’s window resulting in a thin post between
that window and the taller window immediately in front of the engineer. This is a configuration the late Gordon
Cannon once labeled a “wanna be” (L-window), as it was the step between the
standard cab window arrangement and the L-window. SP had these cabs on some GP-35s and the
first order SD40s and SD45s. I was
surprised to discover Athearn tooled a die for this cab configuration. Make that another BRAVO for Athearn! The second detail feature I discovered is
that Athearn has tooled a version of the long hood without rear number
boards. This is the way SP specified
these units when built. If one looks at
the variations of SD40 long hoods Athearn has tooled, listed in the parts
diagram, one finds 26 variations listed.
WOW! Athearn has been busy. We have come a very long way from “one size
Two different cab fronts on
SP SD40s. SP7351 from SP’s second order
in 1968 has an L-window. SP7372 built in
SP’s first SD40 order has an EMD “extended vision cab front” where there is a
thin post between the two engineer windows on the right side of the cab.
If all of this discussion of
diesel detailing subtleties seems like an advertisement for Athearn, so be
it. Athearn made a production mistake on
their SP7351 model, but to their very great credit, they devised a shell swap
program to correct that error. That had
to be expensive—likely producing a new wave of replacement shells and mailing
those shells to customers. That mistake
caused me to research these units more fully.
What I found surprised me (lots of truck swaps in the SD40R rebuild
program at Sacramento). That also led to
closer investigation of Athearn’s models which led to the very happy discovery
of the extensive development work Athearn has quietly put into these
units. I have always been a solid
Athearn customer. That comes with my
chosen favorite railroad.
What I see now is a detail
development program that rivals my own extensive modeling efforts in years
past. I began serious SP diesel
detailing before the existence of Detail Associates and Details West. I had to use shaped plastic kit sprue for the
single red UDE gyralight found on the nose of an SP unit until DA and DW
provided those parts. I retain that
detail knowledge, though today all of my time goes into layout construction. Athearn is in the forefront of manufacturers
producing detail-specific models in a mass market. That allows me to purchase ready to roll
models that meet my detail expectations, permitting my concentration on
building and operating my layout.
A final note concerning the
equipment era on my railroad right now.
When faced with building my layout and equipping it for operation for
the NMRA National Convention in Portland last year, I needed to chose an
initial equipment era. Even though I
have done a fair bit of model work for the 1950’s, I needed to do much more to
equip my new railroad for operations. My
1980s fleet was closer to being ready in numbers sufficient to equip my large
railroad. An important factor is that
Athearn had produced a large group of late-production SP cabooses (SP classes
C-50-7, -8, -9). Further, it was
relatively easy to open up the modern hood units to pop in a decoder and then
add Kadee couplers, thus producing a layout-ready locomotive. My earlier era models required far more
work. Athearn’s provision of many models
important to the 1980s operation was a key part of my “era” choice. It is 1984 on my railroad right now. It is morning in America. The SP is still an independent railroad.