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Houston Tinplate Operators Society - Lionel, Trains, Layouts: Newsletter

Newsletter: June 1999

In this issue:

History of the GG1

By Walt Sklenar

Dependability. Durability. Elegance. Few, if any, engines fit these characteristics better than the venerable GG1. The Pennsylvania Railroad's ingenious design is today a legend of railroading history. The development of the GG1 was an outgrowth of the Pennsy's plan to electrify their right of way from Washington, D.C. to New York City and the need for a powerful, reliable engine for passenger service.

Electrification began in 1915 when a 20-mile catenary was constructed from the Philadelphia Broad Street Station out to Paoli, PA. Within 12 years, most of Philly's suburban lines were electrified. Utilizing MP54 electric MU (multiple unit) cars instead of steam locomotives, operational efficiency of the commuter system was greatly increased.

In 1927, Westinghouse brought out a compact A.C. traction motor, small enough to fit between the wheels of a locomotive. Soon thereafter, Pennsy began electrifying its route between Washington, DC and New York's Penn Station. The project would be completed in 1935. As this ambitious electrification project got under way, the Pennsy faced the challenge of developing a main line passenger locomotive.

A pair of passenger locomotive designs was initially tested in 1930 and 1931, with the Pennsy deciding on a 3700 HP engine referred to as the P5a. Ninety of these 4-6-4 electrics (2-C-2 classification for electric locomotives, "2" unpowered axles, "C" means 3 powered axles) were ordered, initially with a box cab design for the crew. Design flaws became apparent, however, after production P5as arrived in early 1933. One such flaw involved pulling problems when more than 10 cars were in the consist. A second was crew safety. The engine crew of a P5a was killed in a grade crossing accident involving a heavy truck. The box cab design was changed to a streamlined center-cab design in the last 28 P5as built. This accident would also have a bearing on the GG1 design .

In 1934 the Pennsy leased a New Haven EP3a for testing. This box cab had a 4-6-6-4 (2-C+C-2, "+" indicates articulated arrangement) design, and outperformed the P5a in comparative testing. A prototype was built combining the EP3a wheel arrangement with a streamlined body and center crew cab. The GG1 was born. Extensive testing of the prototype later that year proved that the GG1 was a keeper. Raymond Loewy recommended several modifications to the prototype - welding the shell rather than using rivets, and adding the renown pin stripes. The end result was a truly elegant machine! An order for 57 GG1s was immediately placed, at a cost of $250,000 per engine. In 1935, the prototype "Old Rivets" pulled the inaugural passenger run from Washington to New York.

To understand how the GG1 got its name, one must revert back to Pennsy's steam locomotive classification. Their 4-6-0 steamer was designated a Class G. The "GG" refers to two 4-6-0's back-to-back, and the "one" indicated the first design.

Between 1934 and 1943, 139 GG1s were constructed. This beauty measured 79 1/2 feet in length, 15 feet in height with the pantograph down, and weighed in at 230 tons. It was designed for bidirectional operation. The GG1 was built on an articulated frame in order to negotiate tight curves. Twelve single phase 25-cycle traction motors developed a total of 4620 HP (385 HP each), enough power to reach speeds of 100 mph. It could accelerate from 0 to 100 mph in 65 seconds! A step-down transformer fed power to the motors from the 11,000 volt AC catenary wire. The Pennsy maintained their own substations to provide 25-cycle power. Now most railroads buy power direct from power companies, which is 60-cycle. This change in power needs is one of the primary reasons why a GG1 will probably never run the roads again.

A testament to the durability of the GG1 is the time span over which they ran the mainlines for the Pennsy, Penn Central, Conrail, Amtrak and New Jersey Transit - almost 50 years!!! If longevity doesn't impress you, how about this. In 1953, GG1 4876 crashed into the main waiting area of Washington's Union Station (air brake failure), then plunged through the floor into the basement. The engine, at that time approaching 20 years of service, was cut into three pieces and shipped to the PRR shops at Altoona, Pennsylvania, where the engine was put back together. It continued in operation until 1983!

Remember the postal carrier motto...neither rain nor sleet...? Perhaps mail carriers rode GG1s to their appointed rounds. Under most conditions, only the rear, or trailing, pantograph was used to bring electricity from the catenary to the motors. "Double pantograph orders" were issued on icy days or during sleet conditions. The leading pantograph would act as a scraper to insure a good contact between the trailing pantograph and catenary wire. There were few things that could go wrong with the GG1, making it one of the most dependable locomotives ever built.

According to one GG1 engineer, visibility for the engineer was poor due to the long nose extending from the cab. This seemed to be more of a problem in and around stations where there were multiple tracks and signals.

Although the GG1 was primarily a passenger engine, some were regeared for freight service. The last of the GG1s - PRR 4879 -was retired from service on October 31, 1983.

Of the 16 GG1s still in existence, four have a good outlook for long term preservation. A number of others are rapidly deteriorating, due to neglect and being exposed to the elements. One of the best preserved is PRR 4903, located at the Age of Steam Museum in Dallas. This was one of the two GG1s which pulled the Robert F. Kennedy funeral train from NYC to Washington in 1968.

It is unlikely that a GG1 will ever lead a passenger excursion again, at least under its own power. Deterioration of current carrying parts, shorted out traction motors and cracked frames plaque many of these relics. What a shame! Imagine one of these Brunswick Green behemoths coming at you doing 100 mph! Awesome!

The Man Who Drew The Pictures

By Jim Herron

The paintings of Lionel Artist, Robert M. Sherman

We know his works. We've seen them thousands of times. While his name won't go down in the annals of history with Da Vinci and Rembrandt, still he brought smiles and anticipation to a whole generation of kids.

Remember that Lionel 2331 Pennsylvania Railroad GG-1 electric pulling out of the station with three Madison cars behind it, with the color and realism that caught our imagination and dreams? Those Lionel catalogues seemed to come alive and jump out at you. The Hudsons, Berskshires, Turbines, Pennsylvanias, New York Centrals, Lionel Lines, Santa Fe F-3's, Union Pacifics, Alcos, passenger cars, coal cars, cabooses and much, much more were illustrated by Robert M. Sherman -- the man who inspired our wish lists.

Sherman began working with Lionel during the golden age of model trains in the early 1930's and worked there until the late 1950's. He illustrated catalogues, drew track plans and designed the 1949 Lionel showroom layout. His art can be found throughout the old Lionel catalogues, but his name is never included. On a couple of occasions, Classic Toy Trains has issued calendars that feature his art.

Bob Sherman now resides in San Diego where he reminisces about the wonderful time he had working at Lionel creating drawings and catalogue art. His work was done through the advertising arm of Lionel, which included train set illustrations, work for Model Railroader (a division of Lionel) and two books put out by Lionel. Model Railroading was published by Bantam, Greenberg and the Golden Book of Trains, which is out of print.

Bob Sherman has also written a few articles for Classic Toy Trains, and more than 31 articles for Model Building containing construction and track plans. All of those great layout track plans and drawings at the end of the Lionel catalogues were Bob's gift to train aficionados to fuel their fantasies.

Thanks for the memories!

York Advice and Impressions

By Patty and Wayne Norman

For fellow novices planning a trip to York we offer the following suggestions:

  • For personal survival - follow the arrows.
  • Arrive early. Tuesday if possible.
  • Arrive early each day. Vendors actually close shop many hours before the official time.
  • Have a list of things you have and things you want but don't hesitate to buy those special items not on your list.
  • Don't waste time shopping for the best deal on small money items. Save your comparison shopping for the big ticket items that vary by $500 from one aisle to the next and $900 from one building to the next.
  • Write down name of seller even if they ask for you to write your check to "cash". Its nice to have this information later.
  • Write down location of items you may want to go back to. Trust us, in your "Train Saturated State" you will have no idea where you saw them.
  • Always offer a different price. A few sellers will not waver, but most did not seem to expect the ticketed price.
  • Check out the special deals from stores that have over bought. Gryzbowski's, Charles Ro, etc. offered some really good deals.
  • Don't hesitate to eat from the State Fair restaurant. Value and taste beat the George R. Brown Convention Center by a mile.
  • Never arrange to meet at the car. You may not find it.
  • Take the Greenberg and the TM price guides for comparisons. Prices varied a lot this year with neither book consistently the "high" or "low".
  • Start saving now.
  • Build that addition to your home, and those shelves for your purchases before you go!!!!

Look for related articles on York by Patty and Wayne in the May HTOS newsletter!!

A Transcontinental Railroad Today

By Jim Herron

If we had to build a railroad across the country today, would it be possible? Think about it. Suppose two groups of entrepreneurs have decided that for commercial gain, of course, they will lay tracks toward each other from the west and the east over the Sierras, through Donner Pass, along the Humboldt and Platte Rivers, to connect Oakland and Omaha. What do you think their chances would be of obtaining the necessary governmental permits and certificates of public convenience and necessity?

What of the displaced Native Americans, disturbed wildlife and rearranged real estate? Would the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe protest freedom of entry into the industry by the two new carriers? How would the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy react to the exhaust pollution and fuel consumption estimates submitted for the proposed locomotives? What would OSHA say about blasting through the mountains and building bridges in the winter blizzards? Would the Sierra Club protest? Would Greenpeace try to rip up the track? Would the unions protest the use of foreign minimum wage laborers to do the work they refused to do? Would the Immigration and Naturalization Service grant work permits to the thousands of Chinese workers?

The Interstate Commerce Commission would have to appoint a new administrative law judge to hold public hearings in Reno, Cheyenne, Winnemucca, Kearney and other communities along the projected route. The issue of conglomerates would have to be pondered by some of the country's greatest legal minds, if the builders are involved in non-rail business. The President would have to have something to say about it and what Congressman would miss the opportunity to pontificate on what the railroad would mean to his or her district? Courts across the land would be burdened with litigation about every conceivable issue.

All of this is not to say, necessarily, that litigiousness and overregulation have killed new private enterprise in public utilities. It just makes you wonder if, given these circumstances, the creators of Central Pacific and Union Pacific might have been persuaded to invest their dollars elsewhere. Perhaps their successors in the railroad business may be forgiven a measure of envy for olden times. After all, without any ministrations from the EPA, ICC, FRA, OSHA or Ralph Nader, though admittedly with the help of an adventuresome President and Congress, Promontory Point actually did turn out to be in the public interest. It helped make this great country what it is today, ocean to ocean.

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