While this unit had a short career on Southern Pacific's narrow gauge Keeler Branch, it is a popular and well-known prototype amongst enthusiasts. The O scale brass model imported by Rich Yoder Models captures the look and feel of this unique GE switcher, and offers good performance and rich sound.
Rich Yoder Models "Little Giant"
Southern Pacific No. 1 in O, On30, and On3
by Trevor Marshall/photos by the author
Enthusiasts of narrow gauge modeling come in two types: those who follow prototype practice and those who prefer the fun, funky fantasy route. With this O scale model of Southern Pacific diesel No. 1, known as "Little Giant," it's quite possible that those two camps have found some common ground.
Furthermore, it's great to see a brass importer offer up a prototype-based, three-foot gauge subject from beyond the much-modeled Colorado lines. While many modelers enjoy the D&RGW and RGS (and with good reason), there are others looking for narrow gauge prototypes from beyond the Rocky Mountains. Now those (like me) who are fascinated by the Southern Pacific's legendary Keeler Branch have a well-executed, smooth-running model around with which to base a layout. This diesel would also be equally at home on a modern industrial line, a subject that narrow gauge modelers often overlook in favor of logging or mining lines populated by that trinity of geared steam power: the Shay, the Heisler and the Climax.
But enough of philosophy; onto some history, courtesy of a write-up by SP historian Joe Dale Morris that was posted on the Rich Yoder Models website: In the early 1950's the Southern Pacific had three 4-6-0's to hold down Keeler Branch assignments. Two of the three were in good condition, but the diesel had come to the Southern Pacific and the railroad realized that its Bakersfield Shops would at some point be unable to maintain and rebuild steam engines. The choices were: abandon the Keeler Branch, convert it to standard gauge, or dieselize it.
In 1953, SP turned to General Electric for a diesel to retire two of the three steamers (the third would remain as back-up power and to cover the line when the diesel was away for maintenance). The railroad ordered a 51-ton, end-cab design similar to GE models built for some customers in Latin America. They were equipped with a 450 h.p. Caterpillar V12 diesel.
SP No. 1 was delivered to the railroad in September of 1954, and on October 12th, it arrived aboard a standard gauge flat car at Owenyo, the site of the Keeler Branch's connection to the rest of the world. At a dedication ceremony four days later, the diesel was christened "Little Giant" a name chosen through a contest that generated more than 500 entries - using a cardboard bottle filled with "Owens Valley champagne" (otherwise known as talc, which the line hauled from a mine in Keeler).
The diesel's career on the SP was short-lived, however, just six years. In April 1960 the SP abandoned the Keeler Branch, and No. 1 was leased to the company that scrapped the line. Interestingly, in those six years the diesel wore three paint schemes, as the harsh desert climate was brutal on the paint. In addition to its as-delivered "Tiger Stripe" scheme with aluminum ends, No. 1 also wore a simplified black and orange scheme, and the SP's Lark Gray and Scarlet.
For a more complete history of the Keeler Branch, I highly recommend two recently published books from the Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society: Southern Pacific's Slim Princess in the Sunset 1940-1960 by Joe Dale Morris, and Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge Locomotives and Freight Equipment by Robert A. Bader. I reviewed both of these for RMC and they would make a great starting point for a layout.
Following the scrapping of the Keeler Branch, No. 1 was stored for about a year, then sold to a locomotive dealer in Texas, who in turn sold it to a mining company in northern Mexico. The engine was later converted to standard gauge by pushing its wheels out on its axles.
Like the prototype, this O scale model has sideframes set at the standard gauge width with the wheels tucked further in on the axles. And, like the prototype, this model looks like a GE 70-tonner that's had a safe dropped on its cab. (Remember when that happened to cartoon characters?) That said, it towers over the typical narrow gauge boxcar, making its multi-gauge utility obvious.
Detailing is up to the usual fine standards from this importer. I particularly like the nose-mounted classification lights, the louvered hood doors and the cab interior. Cab doors operate, with spring mechanisms to keep them shut. It's a nice touch if one wants to pose a crew member in the doorway or prop them open to allow fresh air into the cab on those hot desert days in the Owens Valley.
A few parts are provided for the modeler to install, including the number boards (with extra train symbol "X-1" displayed), front window wipers, and window glazing. I used Micro Kristal Klear to install the number boards and cyanoacrylate for the wipers. I have not yet installed the glazing, as I intend to cut my own window glass from microscope slide covers.
My model came in the as-delivered scheme. Paint is uniformly applied with crisp color separations. The lettering is also well done, although some SP fans will want to add a few extra pieces of data that can be spotted in prototype photos. As a mostly-black locomotive, this model will definitely benefit from weathering, and, as I've already noted, weathering definitely played a role in the prototype's six-year career on the SP.
I don't have an On3 layout myself, but my good friend Dave Burroughs has an excellent D&RGW layout, so I packed up Little Giant and took it to his place to put it through its paces. (It was the first time he could recall that a diesel had visited his layout, which he has been building for more than a quarter century.)
My model came gauged for On3, so it includes Kadee 803 couplers. They do project too far from the ends of the locomotive, but this allows the Kadee trip pin to clear the boiler tube pilot tucked between the footboards. I'm confident anybody working in On3 would be able to quickly and easily modify a pair of Kadee couplers to mount them further into the pockets, and that's what I'll do on my model.
One of the really strong suits of models from this importer is performance. Rich Yoder drive trains are designed to be smooth, and the drive in this model is no exception. We did, however, notice a bit of growl when running in reverse, although it was not excessive at realistic speeds and it may disappear with a bit more lubrication and running time. A good-sized motor is mounted vertically on the front truck, with reduction gears powering the second axle. A belt drive transfers power to the front-most axle.
The rear truck is unpowered. This is a concession to the prototype's low height and the model's detailed cab. There's just no room for a second motor. However, the Owens Valley, where the prototype worked, also strikes me as flat or at least in photos shows it that way. I foresee no issues with hauling a train on the level or escorting a few cars up a modest grade. On Dave's layout we pulled a decent string of cars weighted to NMRA standards on the level, and even on a short stretch of four percent grade we managed to haul three D&RGW boxcars. Based on this, I'd guess that the locomotive would perform just fine on a prototype-based SP Keeler Branch layout, providing one shoves short cuts up the elevated ore transfer at Owenyo. Modelers looking for mountain goats should stick to those geared steam engines. Everyone else, however, should be pleased.
Eight-wheel pickup is standard, and the model comes with directional lighting. A welcome addition for many will be the inclusion of a DCC decoder, factory set to address 01. We tested this using DecoderPro, the free software from JMRI, and the factory decoder appears to be an NCE D13SRJ, which features a number of motor control features such as Silent Running and Torque Compensation, plus four function outputs for lighting effects. For those with DCC, we increased the starting voltage CV to 10, then knocked the Mid Speed and Max Speed down to 48 and 96. A bit of momentum also helped, with the acceleration CV set to 20 and the deceleration CV set at 10. Obviously, Little Giant owners using DCC will want to make their own adjustments to suit their tastes.
Rich Yoder Models
7 Edgedale Court
Wyomissing, PA, 19610
Narrow Gauge GE 50-Tonner
It's nice to get a model that can immediately go onto a DCC-equipped layout, although I'd be tempted to replace or supplement the factory-supplied decoder with the GE Cummins Diesel Switcher TSU-750 sound decoder from Soundtraxx (part No. 827014). The TSU-750 decoders are only rated for three quarters of an amp (note to Soundtraxx: offering this sound set on your TSU-1000 platform would be most welcome!), but I've used the TSU-750 in other small diesels and it caused no trouble. In fact, Dave and I tested the Little Giant's motor and it poses no problem, as it drew just 200 milliamps with wheels slipping and less than 350 milliamps at a stall. When we looked inside the model, we discovered there's plenty of room for a TSU-750, a 1.06 diameter, high-bass speaker and even a bit more weight. As for those readers still using d.c., fear not, you won't even know the decoder is there.
Those working in On3, On30 or even O standard gauge will want to give this one a good look. While I would love to see more O scale equipment produced for the SP's Keeler Branch, I'm also intrigued by the possibilities of modeling a more modern narrow gauge operation or an industrial setting.
This GE 50-ton end cab locomotive is listed on the Rich Yoder website in On3, On30 and O, with a note on the site that other gauges are available. It's offered in unpainted brass, factory painted in Southern Pacific's Tiger Stripe and Lark Gray and Scarlet schemes, or factory painted in black. As this is a brass import, it's best to check with the manufacturer for details and availability. Congratulations to Rich Yoder Models for bringing a unique and well known narrow gauge prototype to market. Fans of the SP will want one for their mantle piece, crew lounge or library.