Low Hood Road Switchers


Introduced in 1968, the U23B represented General Electric’s entry into the medium horsepower locomotive field. Although the high horsepower race still continued among the builders, many roads required lower horsepower units for low tonnage and branchline trains. Intended to replace early cab units and road switchers the U23B was designed to compete against EMD’s GP38 and ALCo’s C-420. And compete it did.

Link to image of WP U23B 2260
Recently delivered U23B sits in the refueling area at Stockton in July 1972.
Frank Brehm Photo.

Western Pacific had sent a letter of intent to EMD for 15 GP38-2’s in May of 1971, with the units to be delivered in the fourth quarter of 1972. In November of 1971 the railroad withdrew the letter of intent with EMD and instead placed an order with GE for a like number of U23B’s with delivery to be in the second quarter of 1972. Built on the same frame as the firms other B series locomotives overall length was 60 feet, 2 inches. Developing 2,250 horsepower at 1,025 rpm, the turbocharged four-cycle 7FDL-12-diesel motor boasted 250 more horsepower than EMD’s GP38 using 4 fewer cylinders. Along with the Chesapeake & Ohio these where the only U23’s to ride on EMD’s standard 4 axle Blomberg trucks, rebuilt from a like number of trade-in F units.

Occupying number series 2251-2265 they were ballasted to 262,230 pounds, carried 3,250 gallons of fuel, were equipped with dynamic brakes and also had dual cab controls. Receiving power from a 5GT581F1R main generator the four 752E8 series traction motors produced 60,400 pounds of tractive effort at 10.8 miles per hour. As with all other WP locomotives the U23’s came equipped with 40” wheels and a gear ratio of 74:18 which resulted in a top speed of 70 mph.

From the time of delivery until the Union Pacific takeover in 1982 only two units were lost, that due to wreck damage. One unit, the 2256 was removed from the roster in November 1979 when it was wrecked at Devil’s Slide, Utah while working on the UP. Consequently purchased by the UP, it was stripped of usable parts and scrapped in July of 1981. The 2260 was damaged beyond repair at Deeth, Nevada in September of 1981 and scrapped on site. All of the remaining units were absorbed by merger into the UP system with renumbering planned for series 520-533.


Concerned about the escalating cost of maintaining it’s aging fleet of FT’s and the increasing tonnage of trains Western Pacific went shopping for new motive power in 1962. After testing General Electric’s new U25B demonstrators a conservative WP decided to wait on GE’s product until they had proved themselves in service on other roads. They instead turned to EMD and ordered ten high nosed GP30’s for delivery in 1963. EMD soon convinced WP that the GP30 would be out of the production catalog by the delivery date and for a modest increase in per unit cost would much rather deliver the newer GP35, which also boasted 250 more horsepower. WP agreed and the order was changed to reflect this new model but with a low short hood. Some things did not change though as Pyle-National Barrel type headlights were specified as was dual cab controls. The maximum size fuel tank of 2,600 gallons was called for and paint would continue to be Orange and Silver similar to the GP20’s. Shortly after placing the order aging FT’s 903A-903B, 907A-907D, 910A-910B were shipped east to EMD as trade-in material. Had EMD not delivered a small order to the Atlantic Coast Line, WP would have again been the first customer for a new EMD locomotive.

Link to image of WP GP35 3009
Awaiting delivery new WP GP35 basks in the late afternoon sun.
EMD Photo.

Rated at 2500 horsepower, turbocharged units 3001-3010 were delivered in November/December of 1963 with the first unit on the property being the 3002 arriving on November 25, 1963. This new model from EMD proved to be popular among all railroads but WP would not return for more until a year later when five additional units were ordered. This would eventually be trimmed to just two, the 3011-3012 with wreck damaged GP9 730 and GP20 2003 being used as trade-in credit. The final order for units 3013-3022 differed from the original units very minimally with the exception of white Scotchlite lettering on the cab and hood in place of black. With the horsepower race in full swing the GP35’s shortcomings soon surfaced in the way of electrical problems mainly in the generator and traction motor areas with commutator flashover occurring frequently. With each traction motor expected to generate 625 horsepower voltage overloading occurred with the D67 motors. Until the electrical problems were alleviated the units were de-rated during 1964 and 1965 to 2000 horsepower. In solving these problems WP eventually replaced all D67 traction motors with the D77 style as delivered on the GP40’s and simplified the control circuits. Until rebuilding all units kept the dual control stands with the exception of the 3012, which lost the fireman’s control stand in 1974 for use in a new engineers training school. Fuel savers came in play in 1977 and units so equipped were stenciled, EQUIPPED WITH FUEL SAVER, in orange on the cab sides.

Introducing the angular cab design that became an EMD standard until replaced by the wide cabs of today, the GP35 continued to house the traction motor blower duct outside of the main car body immediately behind the cab on the left side. Radiator cooling fans consisted of two 48” and one 36” fan. The dynamic brake was also equipped with a 48” fan. In placing the large headlight high on the cab the angle of the number boards had to be changed which caused the whole number board/headlight sheet metal to project farther out in front of the cab then on other production GP35’s. Until the introduction of solid green paint only one hood unit, the 3003, except for minor variations ever wore a totally different paint scheme than as delivered. The 3003 for many years wore the solid orange “Pumpkin II” paint.

Not possessing the in house capability to remanufacture locomotives in 1980 the WP contracted with Morrison-Knudsen of Boise, Idaho to completely remanufacture the remaining 18 GP35’s. The most visually obvious result of the re-building was the addition of low hood lights as found on the GP40’s, twin sealed beams in place of the “ashcan” headlights and a cab top mounted air conditioner. Not externally evident was the change to the new AAR “clean cab” concept and the installation of FRA mandated bulletproof glass for all cab windows. All units also lost their dual cab control feature with the removal of the second control stand on the fireman’s side. All major mechanical components were either rebuilt in kind with upgraded components or replaced entirely, as were the radiators and dynamic brake grids. Because most of the electrical problems had been resolved the electrical system was rebuilt in-kind with no major changes except for those required in the control circuits. When released to the railroad these units were basically a low end GP40 that promised years more service. Years that the WP would not see.

3051-3071 (751-771)

Delivered by General Electric as unit numbers 751-755 Western Pacific’s first U30B’s, later renumbered 3051-3055, share the same body styling around the radiator area as late U28B’s while 3056-3069 have the typical later U30B style radiator area. The last two U30B’s purchased, 3070-3071, are ex-U30, 33, 36B demonstrators that were de-rated by GE (from 3300 hp to 3000 hp), and the large radiator “wings” removed and replaced with standard U30B radiators. These two units also have the forward most filter grille in the lower position (just like the U23B’s), meaning it uses an oil bath filter. All of WP’s GE U30B’s rode on EMD Blomberg trucks with GE traction motors. A few reasons for this include a standardized parts inventory for one style truck for the diesel fleet and Blomberg’s rode better as well as smoother than the AAR-B type truck. They were also found to be easier on trackwork than the AAR-B style trucks.

Link to image of WP U30B 768
Brand new U30B 768 in Erie, Pennsylvania prior to beginning its delievery trip wet on May 17, 1969.
GE Photo.

WP’s EMD high horsepower products (GP35’s and GP40’s) and the GE’s were ballasted to nearly their axle loading capacity. WP’s bridges and track could withstand this as the railroad was very well engineered and constructed. In fact, some roads did not enjoy pooling power with the railroad since WP’s four-axle units were so heavy compared to most. The ex-demo U30B’s 3070-3071 differed from the other U30’s by having the horn mounted offset to the left side behind the cab. Another spotting feature shared with units 3051-3059 was an electrical cabinet mounted behind the cab on the left side, which was not found on units 3060-3069.

The GE’s suffered from frequent mechanical problems in later years, and fell out of favor with train crews because of that. In addition, they were slower in “loading” vs. EMD’s when the throttle was opened up. GE’s Cooper-Bessemer 4-stroke cycle FDL diesel engine was not nearly as reliable as EMD’s trusty 2-stroke cycle 645-series diesel engine. Electrical wiring and routing on GE units was also not as well placed as EMD products. Unit availability of the GE’s was rather poor vs. EMD’s and dead GE’s could be seen on the garden tracks in Stockton and Oroville regularly. Witness also the fact WP chose to rebuild the GP35’s and early GP40’s at Morrison-Knudsen, but not GE’s. After the merger UP sent the units to Omaha where they were stripped of usable parts and sold for scrap.

One unit survives today, the 3051. Retired by UP in 1983 it was donated in 1985 to the Feather River Rail Society and is now at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola, California.

EMD GP40 / GP40-2

Link to image of WP GP40 3508
EMD GP40 3508 awaits delivery to its new home on WP rails.
EMD Photo.

Introduced by EMD in 1965 the 40 series of locomotives using the new 645 motor proved very popular with railroads both large and small. Western Pacific was impressed enough to eventually have on the roster 59 GP40 and GP40-2 locomotives over a span of fourteen years and six orders. Many improvements were introduced with this series of locomotives, mainly in the electrical system after the many problems experienced by the GP35’s. Main generator output was now AC instead of DC. Control circuits had been re-designed and the D77 traction motors contained more copper windings. Externally all of the WP units are similar but there are differences.

The first and second orders, units 3501-3510 and 3511-3516 came with a Pyle-National bulb-reflector headlight front and rear, no low hood light, no pilot plow and roof fans with a circular motor shield in the center of the grill. Paint was the traditional orange and silver but with white Scotchlite lettering differing from the GP35 series, which sported black lettering. Problems soon surfaced in the electrical circuits of the first order. As these problems were identified EMD worked to provide solutions. By the time the second order was placed the circuits had been changed enough to eliminate many of the earlier problems. When rebuilt by Morrison-Knudsen in 1980 these units lost their original headlights to sealed beam units and gained a low nose light as found on later GP40 units. They also received electrical upgrades, cab air conditioning and New Image paint.

Link to image of WP GP40 3522
EMD 3522 was one of the first new locomotives to arrive in the new green paint.
EMD Photo.

Units of the third order 3517-3526 were the first new units to wear the new Perlman green paint scheme. Delivered with traditional sealed beam headlights the end had come for the large Pyle-National headlights. These units also had lights on the low nose, a small pilot plow, and the fans did not have the motor shield.

Units 3527-3544 comprised the fourth order and had large pilot plows, a dynamic brake housing that extended forward to the central air intake on both sides of the locomotive and the Perlman green paint. Many articles and listings suggest these units had “extended range dynamic braking”. That is not the case. The extended part of the dynamic brake housing was due to a cabling design change that rerouted the cables to the brake grids through the clean air compartment and not the engine room.

Link to image of WP GP40-2 3553
Brand new EMD GP40-2 at Cicero, Illinois on its trip west from EMD on April 16, 1980.
John Eagan, Jr. Photo.

WP received its first dash 2 type GP40’s with its fifth order of units numbered 3545-3549. Easily identifiable with the distinctive “vee” type radiator and central air intake screens this order to EMD also changed to an 88” low hood without signal lights. A full width anti-climber adorned the front pilot with a large pilot plow and these units also had cab air conditioning. Changed again the dynamic brake blister now had a short housing on the right side while the left side continued to extend to the central air intake. Paint was the “New Image” orange and green. These units became “slug” mothers on the Union Pacific.

Being the last new units delivered the sixth and final order for this type of locomotive; units 3550-3559 had the new “Q” type cooling fans, exhaust silencer hatch and a dynamic brake blister that was shorter yet on the right side with the whole housing moving 10” to the rear. Equipped with a large plow, low nose signal lights returned with this order and paint was “New Image”. The firecracker radio antenna was mounted on a plate above the dust blower bulge just behind the cab as on the previous order. As with all GP40’s, the horns were Nathan 5 chime of type M5R24.