Review by Harry K. Wong/photos by the author
Building upon the roaring success of its 40-series locomotives launched in 1966, Electro-Motive Division of General Motors (EMD) sought to capitalize upon its new foundation in designing the next iteration of their product line. With the emphasis on increasing reliability, availability and ease of maintenance instead of brute increases in horsepower, it was clear that the goals for the next version were more evolutionary in scope. After three-plus years of rigorous testing with seven experimental EMD SD45Xs and 47 monstrous DDA40Xs trying out new designs and electrical components, EMD launched their new “Dash-2” series of locomotives in January 1972. Notable changes included modular electrical components that promised shorter downtime for repairs, new truck designs, and numerous other incremental improvements. Whether a four-axle GP or six-axle SD, turbocharged or naturally aspirated, each locomotive offered in EMD’s Dash-2 line retained the same maximum power output as its corresponding 40-series predecessor.
While the hot-selling turbocharged 16-cylinder, 3,000hp, six-motor SD40-2 dominated the main lines of North America by the late 1970s, its normally aspirated counterpart was the 2,000hp SD38-2. Equipped with a non-turbocharged version of the 16-cylinder 645E3 prime mover, the SD38-2 found its calling in lower speed duties as a heavy transfer drag engine, hump engine at large classification yards, or hauling mineral commodities such as iron ore or coal.
Despite the differences in horsepower output and corresponding radiator capacity, the SD38-2 shares the same overall frame length, truck centers and maximum possible fuel tank size as its more powerful brethren —the SD40-2 and SD45-2. At first glance, the SD40-2 and SD38-2 also share silhouettes that are nearly identical, both with large front and rear “porches” on the front and rear decks. However, the SD38-2 has an air filter box in place of the SD40-2’s large “turbo” exhaust, and two smaller exhaust ports over the engine compartment. Most visibly, the SD38-2 has only two radiator cooling fans due to its smaller radiator cores versus three radiator fans on the SD40-2 and SD45-2, each of which have succeedingly larger radiator sections needed to soak up the additional excess heat generated as a by-product of its higher horsepower ratings.
Between November 1972 and June 1979, 90 SD38-2s were built, with 76 delivered to U.S. customers, seven units to Canada, and seven more to overseas customers in Brazil and Venezuela. The first SD38-2s built — numbered 20 and 21 — were constructed for Yankeetown Dock Company, which employed the units to haul coal between nearby mines to its namesake port on the Ohio River for loading.
As EMD’s designs were refined during the decade-plus long production period of its Dash-2 line, the same changes were reflected in its SD38-2s built during each period. For example, later production SD38-2s beginning in 1977 were built according to the production specifications in effect at the time, with 88” short hoods instead of the earlier 81” nose, corrugated side radiator grilles replacing the original “chicken-wire” grid-style radiator screens on earlier units, an angled instead of a curved handrail behind the last radiator fan, and other subtle tweaks. ScaleTrains has carefully replicated these differences according to each prototype for its SD38-2 models.
Previously, HO modelers had to resort to expensive brass models or kitbashing their own SD38-2s. But now, ScaleTrains has just released the first ready-to-run plastic replicas of EMD’s SD38-2 locomotive in HO scale for their premium “Rivet Counter” line. As is customary of their Rivet Counter line of products, the ScaleTrains SD38-2 is offered in multiple versions, with details and lettering specific not just to each railroad, but to each road number for each railroad representing specific time periods and delivery groups…