The Nickel Plate Road just doesn't go away. A certain fascination (we think the word "mystique" is too strong) with the old New York, Chicago & St. Louis not only survives but appears to be thriving as we close the second decade since its merger into the Norfolk & Western.
There are perhaps a couple obvious reasons-first one numbered 7-5-9 and most recently one numbered 7-6-5. We don't believe, however, that two steam locomotives reclaimed for active service 10 years apart alone provides the answer, the rationale - for example for the NKP having spawned one of the first and one of the largest railroad historical and technical societies.
An essay on the subject might take pages and still reach no concrete conclusions. We'll limit ourselves to a few observations as we recall the oft-told story... all by way of introducing our modeling subject. The NKP really didn't attract much attention, and admirers, until the 1950's, when suddenly the railroad was cast into the limelight as one of the two staunch defenders of the steam tradition against the diesel invader, the machine loathed by the majority of modelers and rail fans as the instrument of destruction of the train-watching hobby.
Even as the NKP was applauded, there was a certain irony. The Berkshires that battled the diesels (both figuratively as potential replacements and literally as the motive power in charge of the freights on parallel New York Central) were applauded for their compact lines and staccato efficiency, but it was almost too much of a good thing - the NKP overall lacked the diversity and character of such other contemporary late-steam operators as the Baltimore & Ohio, Grand Trunk Western, Burlington, Union Pacific and (arguably) Illinois Central. Even Norfolk & Western (the other staunch steam defender), which in away endured the same efficient, antiseptic image as Nickel Plate, offered more character in the form of mountain scenery and a roster of three types of modern, efficient locomotives, not just one.
And then the Berkshire era was over. New diesel deliveries, a recession and leased C&O Geeps closed the book on steam (the final freight run of a 2-8-4 occurred on July 2, 1958). Tales of 2-8-4 's pulling meat trains at 70 mph (not to mention eye-witness claims of 80 mph) would be fodder for posthumous "character-building" sessions.
The Berkshire replacements, hood units from EMD and Alco, would suffer their own form of delayed appreciation. NKP dieselized so late that the virtues of the hood configuration vs. the more glamorous carbody freight service were unquestioned. Nickel Plate, in fact, had twice tested EMD F units, finding them at no cost advantage over Berkshires for mainline service in the first instance and restricted in visibility for secondary line service in the second instance.
NKP's first road diesels were 13 GP7's (Nos. 400-412) purchased in 1951 for service on the former Lake Erie & Western lines, particularly the Indianapolis-Michigan City branch. (The railroad never had its head in the sandbox; diesel switchers were recognized for their efficiency and placed in service as early as 1942.) More GP7's followed in 1953, but by the time major orders were delivered in 1955, 1956 and 1957, the GP9 was "every man's" locomotive. NKP also ordered smaller quantities of Alco DL701's and DL702's (RS-11's and RSD-12's).
In the train-watching context, the Geep would be appreciated for its perfect blend of form and functionalism, but only by a handful of people at the time. To make matters worse, the same railroads that once lavished extravagant color schemes on new covered wagons stipulated only the most mundane liveries for their Geeps. Sure, in a world as big as railroading there were many exceptions (Great Northern, Northern Pacific, Rock Island, Wabash, Western Pacific, etc.) but as a rule Geeps were among the early victims of the railroads' awareness of the cost of paint, if not at the time of delivery certainly at the time of overhaul.
Nickel Plate's Geeps left a bitter taste in the mouths of train-watchers of the 1950's, and to say their livery went unappreciated at the time would be an understatement. But gradually, as the N&W merger first threatened the colors and then wiped them blue, the Nickel Plate scheme became appreciated by a new generation of modelers and railfans for what it was: strikingly attractive in standard steam locomotive black and flashy yellow stripes.
Today much of the romantic past of dieseldom centers on covered wagons. Except for 11 Alco PA's used in passenger service, Nickel Plate left its devotees no such legacy. Therefore, the diesel side of our fascination with the NYC&StL must center on Geeps. Maybe this not only describes our fascination but explains it: We finally give the Geep its due when we model the Nickel Plate.
We model a GP7
Our model depicts the original scheme, which had three parallel yellow stripes running the length of the locomotive and connecting with the zebra striping at both ends of the hood. After shoppings, units began appearing with these distinctive side stripes removed; only the striping along the side sills was retained plus the end zebra stripes. Still later modifications produced the simplified scheme of three wide zebra stripes at hood ends, the stripe along the side sills and solid yellow pilots. From about 1960 new locomotives were delivered with this livery (NKP purchased DL701's and GP18's, as well as a single C420, 10 GP30's and a single GP35 from this time until the merger).
Our model GP7 No. 415 represents a locomotive as it appeared in the period 1960-1965: It retains the original paint scheme but displays several minor detail alterations. We started with an Athearn GP9, which in fact more closely resembles a GP7 than a GP9.
If you're planning a Nickel Plate GP7 (or any GP7 without dynamic brakes), the roof will have to be modified by removing the dynamic brake blister along with the winterization hatch. To do this, it's probably best to completely "level" the roof from the front of the dynamic brake blister to the end of the long hood. Fill the resulting holes with body putty and sand smooth. Begin detailing the roof by cementing in place the following parts: two exhaust stacks (Detail Associates No. 2402), four 36-inch cooling fans (Details West No. CF-142), a rear radiator hatch (Midwest Car & Foundry No. 102) and a sand filler hatch (Detail Associates No. 3002).
If your target locomotive does not have a steam generator, the roof of the short hood should also be made level. Then cement in place a blank steam generator hatch (Midwest Car & Foundry No. 100).
Athearn recently upgraded their GP9 with excellent Blomberg trucks and the new "narrow" motor, although the body shell wasn't narrowed to scale hood width. A further improvement was the handrail stanchions with the top "wrap-around" already formed, which makes installation much easier.
BILL OF MATERIALS
|No. 3151 GP9 undecorated|
|No. 7103 re-rail frog|
|No. 2402 exhaust stacks (2)|
|No. 3002 sand filler hatches (2)|
|No. 2206 rooftop lift rings (12)|
|No. 1008 mars light|
|No. 1004 headlights (2)|
|No. 2202 grabirons (13)|
|No. 1301 cab sunshade|
|No. 2301 all -weather window|
|No. 1401 EMD drop step (2)|
|No. 1507 m.u. receptacle (2)|
|No. 2205 coupler lift bar (2)|
|No. 2807 s peed recorder and adapter flange|
|No. 174 air horns (2)|
|No. 132 hand brake|
|No. 3913 service lights (2)|
Paint and decals
|Set No. L -401-1|
Kadee No.4 couplers were assembled with the coupler in the up-side down position, then cemented to the "top" of the coupler mount pads cast to the frame ends.
The remaining work entails installation of the "standard" selection of commercial detail parts as outlined in the bill of materials, and of course, painting and decaling.
Our model was painted with Accupaint Stencil Black and decaled with Herald King set No. L-401-1. Don't be deceived by the gold rather than yellow appearance of these decals; once applied to the black paint the color becomes an accurate representation of the prototype. Solvaset from Hobsco was used to soften and set the decals. These decals are a little "thicker" than those of some other manufacturers and the stronger solution of Solvaset works well. However, if you are using Microscale decals, dilute the setting fluid with water or use a less powerful brand.
After the decals had a day to set, we used a sharp hobby knife to "cut" the decals at all seams where they had not snuggled up to the paint. Setting solution was once again applied and a small piece of (packing) foam was used to press the decals firmly against the locomotive shell.
Another day was allowed for setting before we continued. The entire locomotive body shell was over-sprayed with Floquil Flat Finish diluted to 25 percent paint / 75 percent lacquer thinner. To complete the model weathering was at last applied. A special touch was given to the louver vents along the side of the hood, especially at the points where the yellow stripes crossed: A grimy black color (we've used both Polly S and Floquil) diluted to 10 percent paint / 9O percent thinner was brush applied to these details. This technique gave the desired highlights to the louvers.