The Story of the GNW GE Gas-Turbine Electric Locomotive
Athearn Veranda GTEL with a Soundtraxx Tsunami Decoder
With the energy crisis (this is the 70's after all), the GNW was looking for a way to reduce diesel fuel usage. Turbines have the ability to burn almost any fuel, so the management bought up a UP turbine from the UP Cheyenne shops, retrofitted in a modern aero-derivative turbine, and started burning their used motor oils, waste solvents and even chicken fat from the greasy spoons along their tracks…
The story starts along the tracks near Chloride NM, a great place to hang out and watch the action along the GNW ROW. Here we see a GNW GP38-2 pulling the beautiful, but inoperable GTEL to the Warm Springs shops for rework.
Work started immediately after the loco’s arrival. The ever-power-short GNW needed to get the GTEL up and running to reduce the lease costs of foreign power on the line.
Since the unit would be repainted, I had to strip all the parts off the loco – motor and all. Nothing too difficult in all this, but a lot of parts, so keep them in nice piles and separated for easy assembly later.
I also stripped off most of the lettering using 91% Isopropyl Alcohol. Keep using fresh Q-tips and lots of alcohol and it will work. The alcohol evaporates fast, so don’t become discouraged if it seems to be slow. Just slop on some more.
There is a lot of electrical stuff in an Athearn GTEL. The forward board is for the gyra/strobe light, and the rear board is for the headlight, backup light and a plug for an aftermarket decoder. The standard 8-pin plug is under the fancy 9-pin connector. I messed with the boards for an afternoon. Reading up on the web, the common complaint of the Athearn lighting boards is dim lights. If you dig around, you will find a few brave souls who actually changed SMD resistors on the boards to change the lamp operating voltage (!). Long story short, TSU has everything that the boards have, so why keep them? I ended up pulling them both out. At one point I had considered keeping them in to act as shields for wiring, but there just is not much room in the loco for that (surprising, huh?!).
So for my retrofit, I ended up milling a little off the vertical posts that hold the shell to the frame, just enough to slip the decoder in up near the roof, roughly over where the old board was. It fits just fine.
About the speakers, I wanted dual speakers. From what others had done, I decided on a 1.22" high-bass speaker with an enclosure in the rear and a 1.25" flat in the front. With a unit that large, one would expect the high-bass and enclosure would fit in the rear area. It does not work without some mods. Additionally, the frame weight extends up into the very rear area of the unit. Between the posts, the frame weight, and the narrowing of the shell something else has to be done. Soooo.... I took frame and whacked off the weight. I took the hi-bass enclosure to the scroll saw and shaved off half the thickness of the plastic on both sides. With these changes, the speaker and enclosure Slides in just perfect BEHIND where the rear speaker 'should' go. The loss of the weight cast into the frame was made up later by some additional weights installed after the installation.
As for the forward speaker, I bought a 1.25" with an enclosure, hacked it all to pieces trying to get it to fit under the cab.... no luck. That one just went in without an enclosure. It still sounds great. However, if I were to do it over again, I would go with a 1.22” or a 1.20” speaker. The 1.25” is just a bit too large to comfortably fit in the space.
As I have a 'private' freelanced RR, repainted for my own RR. Possibly the biggest, most painful masking job I have ever had to do. Basically the GNW has a horizontal stripe across the side of the loco. Do you have any idea how many innies and outties along the side that bugger has?! And then the recessed walkways at the ends of the veranda....
I also used SMD LEDs for all the replacement lighting. Installed dual 3527's for the headlight, an 0603 for the gyra light, added a rooftop beacon, plus an 0603 for a cab light. This necessitated that all the wiring will be in the shell, not on the frame, and leads between the shell and the frame for motor power, power pickup, backup light (tender light) and one of the two speakers. I also made a small 'termination' board for all the very fine SMD wire leads. I felt this would be an overall better installation for what I am doing.
This is also a good time to repaint and detail the cab. The GNW’s standard cab color is nauseous institutional green, and it was applied. Throttle and brake handles were painted silver (who actually thinks they are located where Athearn put them?!), and the interior weathered. A somewhat overweight engineer and a pint-sized fireman was added as well.
Work carefully to install the rest of the components. Route and train the wires so they don’t pinch, still allow the shell to come off, and are out of the way of any moving parts. Here are a few photos of the final assembly.
Once you install it, you will have to spend some time configuring the decoder. It actually has 2 prime mover sounds, and both operate differently. To get the whole scoop, be sure to download the Soundtraxx Turbine Supplement at:
I am using what Soundtraxx calls "Mode 4", where there is a speed limiter when on the hostling diesel, and you need to manually 'turn on' the turbine to go faster than some preset limit. Love it. BUT, this automatically uses F9 and F10 for the turb controls. I want to keep F9 for my 'dim' mode for the headlights, as on all my other locos. I'd like to map the F9 (turbine start) and F10 (turbine shutdown) to F10 and F11. I changed the default settings around as follows:
CV 41 to 128
CV 44 to 4
CV 45 to 32
I also program in a LOT of momentum and set CV61 to allow the brakes to function as brakes. Take a look at my webpage on momentum for details.
The unit was rolled out of the GNW shops at Warm Springs. SW8 110, the shop switcher, pulled the GTEL out into the warm New Mexico sun for the first time in GNW paint on October 4, 2011, er, 1979.
The GNW company cameraman was on site to record the first startup and test of both the hostling diesel and the gas turbine:
Later that day, the GNW ran the GTEL light back out on the high iron over to Valley Gate for a public showing of the new unit.
Plans are for the GTEL to run on priority freights. Reliability concerns are still there, but the GNW is confident this was a worthwhile investment. At least it sounds really cool….
Quote of the Day:
“Would you like to kiss me on the veranda?” “No, on the lips is fine.” - Dusty Bottoms, AKA, Chevy Chase, The Three Amigos, 1986