The Next GP30... An On-Line Soap Opera

Day One: Thursday June 21, 2001

Day Two: Saturday June 23, 2001

Day Three: Monday June 25, 2001

Welcome to my narcissistic little world, and hopefully one or more of you will at least have some fun reading this stuff, and if you get some kind of modeling ideas from it, great. Like everything, this is another experiment. I'd love to hear from you, but remember I'm not trying to be all things to all people nor am I trying to sell you anything. I know that's strange but it's true. This is nothing but an ego trip, so I provide it free of charge. I decided to build another N&W phase I high nose GP30 immediately on the heels of the 536. The links are not public, so if you are interested and haven't seen it, you can find my photos of the finished 536 here. The new model will be of the same phase and in most respects identical, but I have not yet decided whether it will be in F3 hamburger black, or F6 13D black. So let's get started....

Click on any photo for the full-size image

What I'm starting with is shown right here - a brand new Proto 2000 Phase I GP30. It's hard to tell in this photo, but this raw shell comes in a coat of gray primer from the factory. Life-Like has insisted on doing this from virtually the beginning of the Proto 2000 line, and have given several varied excuses for it. First I was told it was a "communication problem" with the Chinese manufacturer. Then I was told later that the proverbial "most people" want the undecs in primer. I have taken a straw poll or two and while a number approaching 50% don't mind the primer, only a small handful actually want it. While its true that primer is necessary anyway for some paint schemes with light base colors, it's still something you want to apply after the model has been assembled and detailed, not on the raw shell. One of the actual ink & pulp magazines recently published a letter from a reader complaining about the decorated undecorateds, that usually gets some attention.
Here is what the shell looks like after about a 2-week stripping in 91% isopropyl alcohol. It is a clean, safe strip and does a fine job for something that should not be necessary in the first place. I let this shell soak extra time after the initial scrubbing so I could get rid of all the little flecks of paint that gather in the fine grilles of the radiator. It's a shame that Life-Like's manufacturer does such a fine job of molding this shell, then covers it up as if they have something to hide. They don't, this shell is about as good as it gets! You'll notice no nose in this parts pile... this is because we won't be using either of the factory noses.
This is how a Proto 2000 Phase I GP30 drive looks pulled right out of the box. The factory monster weight casting is screwed in place, which will make it easy to remove later for modification. The factory light board will be tossed and a Wangrow 104 decoder will go in its place, those clone couplers will be pitched. The Phase I GP30 drive features improved (yet again) acetal plastic Blomberg sideframes, Life-Like's best yet. They still get pitched because a) Athearn's look better and b) they are made of a paintable material. The saving grace has always been the nearly drop-on adaptation of the Athearn Blombergs... based on the recent trend at Life-Like to stomp all over de facto standards (such as gear ratio), I wouldn't be too surprised if the next P2K geep has been specifically engineered to make fitting Athearn sideframes a royal pain. We're already there on the Atlas geeps, so whatever. In the mean time, I've got GOBS of these older P2K geeps to swipe parts from!
A neat and orderly workbench is essential to productive model building. It's best to have only one project at a time out on the bench, and unrelated items should be stowed away. Tools should be handy and organized. As you can see, I am a real fanatic about this ;-) Yes, this is not a joke, this is my real workbench. I look at it this way... I can clean my workbench, or build a model. I rarely do both at the same time.
It helps also to have some ambiant entertainment. Unfortunately a Gateway commercial was playing when I snapped this photo, featuring one of the founders yakking about how important it is to build a "relationship" with the customer. Yeah, right. My sales rep still owes me a phone call from ten years ago. This was after calling his boss to complain. I can understand tech support dodging me, but when you can't get the salesman to call you back, that's pretty pathetic. Gateway was a good little company (key word "little") when they started out. They outgrew their britches many, many years ago. I can't imagine why anyone would buy one of their computers when you can buy them and get immediate delivery (as well as immediate return/exchange of DOA) from any one of thousands of local computer stores. But back to topic... while television is not a sound I can sleep with, nor do I want to wake up to (ever), I find that mindless drek such as the Sci-Fi channel, or interesting documentary like the History Channel makes for a great babysitter while model building. Without it I feel isolated. But I never put on anything that demands a lot of attention, especially visual.
Are we ready to start hacking? Not yet. First, let's take an historical look at the suffering of GP30 model builders of the past. What you see is an original, stripped black plastic Athearn GP30 shell. Irv Athearn's most famous mistake, he based his model on what was apparently a combination of artist renderings and speculation. In trying to scoop the market, he did too good of a job - EMD never quite made anything like this! Aside from the tooling we would today consider a bit crude, and the widebody (hood about a scale foot too fat) to accomodate the old motors, it has a bunch of other problems many of which should be evident here. Yeah, it kinda-sorta looks like a GP30, it ain't anything else. But the nose is too long, the cab is too far back, the blister is too slender and too short, the blower housing is completely missing, and the back end is all wrong. Interesting little collectible item today, especially if you can find one in truly mint condition, since the molds were destroyed something like 35 years ago... but not useful for prototype modeling.
Next up was the Lionel GP30. I believe it was first produced around 1977 or 79. There are stories about other GP30 tooling, but every other plastic HO GP30 floating around that isn't a Proto 2000 and isn't an old Athearn is some incarnation of the Lionel/Jerry Moyers GP30. It was a really, really fine piece of work in its day, but to this day because it was always controlled by the Hong Kong parent company of whoever was selling it, it has never yet been offered with a decent mechanism. This shell has been sold as Lionel (with cheap drive), Bachmann (nearly identical), Bev-Bel (as shell only, and also painted with Athearn GP35 drive), Front Range Products (with their own yucky drive), and lastly as Bachmann Spectrum. The shell tooling was not altered until the Spectrum version came along. Bachmann added the long-missing roof rivets, but didn't correct the fan spacing error (aka The Fan Mistake). They did up some improved acetal plastic railings, but then ruined the shell by shoving fat, ugly grabirons through oversize holes on both ends. The Spectrum drive was one of the better ones under this shell, but noisy and crabby and typically Bachmann in terms of consistancy and durability. The shell you see here is a long way from a stock Lionel/Bachmann... it has been really torn down to replace the radiators with Cannon parts, has a Plano fan hatch to correct The Fan Mistake, etc. This is about where it was when I learned of the pending Proto 2000 GP30.
When rumours of a GP30 from Proto 2000 abounded, I considered holding off completely, but the way these things go there are rounds of denial and around the time the world begins to believe it's NOT going to happen, then we get a "surprise" announcement from the manufacturer. Here was a bizzare attempt over a couple of evenings to improve upon the Moyers shell - by grafting the uniquely GP30 blister and attachments onto a Kato phase Ia GP35 shell. A lot of work to abandon (not to mention over $30 worth of material) but what the hey. I did something like this over 25 years ago with an Athearn GP35 and the old Athearn GP30 blister piece... and before that even turned a GP35 into a GP30 using styrene and lots of putty. To say it had a few rivets missing is a gross understatement. I scrapped it for parts years ago, but I wish I had kept it for the historical illustration of what we GP30 fanatics will go through.
Then a couple years ago in a fit of stupidity and a glut of cash, I bought this Challenger Imports brass N&W GP30. Overall it is a decent model, but like all GP30's in HO scale (except Overland and Proto 2000) it has The Fan Mistake. I am not sure whats up with the horn, it seems to be missing something there (as is my 536). This model has a nice sea foam green cab interior, but only has single controls - all N&W GP30's were dual control stand from the factory. The major mistakes on this model are in the paint job. The cab numeral font is totally wrong, it's not even close. Ditto the number board fonts, which are ridiculous looking and inverted... the GP30's had white-on-black numberboards as-built, which is two paint jobs ago to this model. It's a decent running model, with a gearing all its own... but after a couple hours like most brass models it began to fall apart, the screws securing the front truck sideframe dropped out. Running brass is sort of like riding an old Murray bicycle over rough gravel... always need to keep the tools handy to tighten those screws.
Ok, ok, I know you're ready to smack me after all the preliminaries... but hey what happens when you buy the latest video of a blockbuster movie... ya gotta watch the previews! I even make it much easier to fast forward. So here is the first modification, that being to remove the center of the cab's front wall, and move back the brow line. Measurements? I don't have exact measurements and have never seen a scale drawing of a high nose GP30 I found trustworthy. So I interpolate these dimensions. Recent articles by Andy Lester and Larry Puckett concur with my observations - the brow's angle remains the same, both in the "V" as viewed from the top, and the vertical rake... just the whole thing is moved back about 14" which leaves kind of a "walkaround" on top of the cab as you can see on the brass model photo above. I must admit to using the brass as a guide, and there's no guarantee a brass model is accurate that's for sure... but the Challenger model doesn't disagree with any photos I've found from a variety of angles, so I'm using it as a benchmark for now. Besides, at least all of my GP30's will have roughly the same brow configuration.
Before we move onto the next operation, a word from our sponsor.... ok, so Nikon isn't a sponsor. I don't have a sponsor but if I did it would be more likely to be something outside of the model RR undustry. I like Nikon cameras and Nikon lenses. I've been using them for about 8 years, but I have been a "Nikon Snob" since I was about 12 years old. Just took me that long to be able to buy the durn things. Nikon has never paid me a dime to tout their stuff, not that they need to... in fact they've stiffed me on a rebate for a camera I bought for my daughter a few years ago. I don't like their point n' shoots or digitals any better than anyone else's point n' shoots and digitals... but when it comes to professional grade SLR's Nikon is still king. This is an F3HP with a 105/2.5 lens on board. This photo, and all of the ones on this day's page, were taken with an N90, 60/2.8 micro lens, and an SB25 flash operating in aperture priority mode, on Fujicolor 200 negative film. The scratches, dust, and generally poor processing are courtesy of Ritz Camera, but about half the time they do the film (no prints) at no charge so I can't complain too much. But at some point on this project I'll have to run a roll or three down to Norton and get them done right, so you can see the good stuff.
The very next thing I decided to do was take care of the toebreakers, i.e. the shallow steps on the Proto 2000 GP30. In order to make see-thru steps, they had to have a vertical mold opening... which unfortunately prohibits the steps properly overlapping each other. So whaddya want for 80 bucks, see-thru with the wrong dimensions, or correct dimensions but solid? Hey, neither... I'm a model builder dammit. So away with the toebreakers. On the 536, I waffled about doing this until very late in the project, and so it was a pain to cut the steps out after the rest of the shell was finished and detailed. Trust me, it's much easier to do it like this on the bare walkway. Cut out the old steps, and then I made the cute little step fillers you see in the photo. Actually made one, then cloned them using the eyeball and scratch method. These just fill in the notches in the angled portion of the stepwell. I didn't do this on the 536 and all finished and weathered it doesn't really show, but I decided I wanted the stepwell filled out. Again no measurements, just trying to get close and smooth things out.
Here is what the filler piece looks like glued in place, trimmed at the bottom to match the length, and then sealed with a little troweling of Zap-A-Gap, and rough sanded. I use Zap-A-Gap for filler putty on stuff like this. It dries nearly instantly, bonds to styrene permanently, and leaves a very hard, sandable surface. Zap's CA has the best balance of drying time and workability - most thick CA's are too rubbery for my taste, and/or take too long to set up. Once the fine sanding is done and a touch of Gunze primer dabbed on (and polish sanded again) the stepwells should look like they came this way from the factory.
Hard to believe but in only two hours time (at the bench) we have gotten this far... here's the shell at 4 am on 6/22/01, with the stepwell modifications done and the cab cut open. In the next session we'll tackle making the GP30's unique high nose from a Cannon high nose kit.
Hey!! Don't forget us! That plaintive cry you hear is coming from three old, older, and real old model projects which just got shoved down a notch on the list so I could tackle this GP30 thing. Left to right: my only Kato SD45 project that is out of the gate, started in August 1997 - around the time I first heard "Hell" by the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and kinda got distracted learning to play a bunch of different musical instruments. I did do some work on it in the last couple of months, gutting the fans and putting the hollowed-out Detail Associates housings in place, and adding the A-Line steps which are a nice clean fit on the Kato shell. Center is an Atlas GP40 which is coming up on a year old, with the fan modifications, Cannonizing all over the place, and an earlier rework of the pilot toebreakers. On the right is an Atlas GP38 on it's way to becoming an N&W GP38AC, same straightforward Cannonizing but it has had the long hood railings reworked to evenly spaced stanchions to represent that particular phase of EMD production.
...and I couldn't forget this, my very first Highliner A unit in danger of being finished. As you can see, it's pretty much done. I need to rig up a horn for the right side - the N&W F's had a very odd horn arrangement, with a forward facing 3-chime on the right and a backward-facing blat on the left. This loco is very close to the paint shop, but I will still need the side grille etchings.
This baby is over a year in the making now - a brass Overland SD70 being fixed up with appropriate Cannon parts and Athearn Genesis Q-fans. I haven't decided how to handle the cab yet, whether to Cannonize or keep the brass cab which will have to be tweaked a little to meet up with the plastic rooftop I had to graft into place to support the dynamic hatch.
Last on the oldies list... this Kato phase Ia GP35 was built in a couple of evenings back in 1994 or 95. It really is pretty straight, except for the Cannon front end and DA metal grabs. Handrails are all factory. This model will probably get finished and weathered someday but suffers from being not up to my current practices - too nice to scrap, but not nice enough to stand as-is on the front line. I think someday when I feel in the mood I'll have at it and it will end up a respectable mate for the 536 and others.

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