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From the Jan. 2007 Issue of Classic Toy Trains

Getting started with Atlas O

Atlas O’s Trainman line GP15 outfit

During the frantic hours of setting up the Classic Toy Trains’
booth at the TCA Eastern Division’s semi-annual York, Pa., train meet, I was speeding past the Atlas O booth. I saw something out of the corner of my eye and turned so fast I almost got whiplash. I saw a box. A big box.  A big Atlas O train set box. I went into geek mode as Atlas O honcho Jim Weaver flashed me his “I’ve hooked him” grin. The box was purely conceptual, but it heralded a shift in the traditional way Atlas markets its O gauge products.
 
What I saw that day was Atlas O’s very first train set. Not to mix too many metaphors, but the New Jersey firm was thinking outside the set box when producing this Trainman- branded outfit. The set is midpriced
and scale sized, and it includes enough Atlas O track to get you going.

The locomotive

The GP15 is an interesting locomotive, in respect to the history of EMD design. Very broadly described, the GP15 is a switcher in a road-engine body.
Huh? As the second era of dieselization was progressing, many railroads were rebuilding older first-generation power – such as GP7s and GP9s – to perform duties once handed to dedicated switchers. Every Geep that was rebuilt was one less new locomotive that EMD sold, so in the 1970s the firm developed the GP15.
 
While the MP15DC switcher was just over 47 feet long, the GP15 measures nearly 55 feet in length. This allowed for better weight distribution, enhanced the traction of the locomotive at road speeds, and enabled EMD to install a Geep cab and toilet. To be financially competitive, the 1,500-horsepower locomotive was designed to use many trade-in parts from GP7s and GP9s, while offering a more efficient and more flexible machine.  More than 350 were sold between 1976 and 1983 to roads as diverse as the
Apalachicola Northern and the Frisco. Now, what that all means to you or me is that the locomotive looks at home shunting hopper cars around the local colliery or blasting through the basement with an intermodal express.

The model

Our sample Conrail locomotive came with just the basics: twin can-style motors, magnetic couplers, an operating horn, and directional lighting. Lionel TrainMaster Command Control and RailSounds are optional. While I expected a nice, clean GP15
body shell from the design crew at Atlas O, I was doubly impressed by the texture and add-on pieces that make the GP15 intriguing.
Starting with the pilot, you’ll find a snowplow and uncoupler bar. The die-cast metal coupler features a small uncoupler tab (similar to an old postwar Lionel coupler tab) and a “thumbtack” beneath the pilot.
 
The handrails on the pilots and the sides are all formed from wire. A chain provides safety protection on the drawbridge gap. Decks and gangways all have cast-in safety tread. The nose has latch and seam details as well as two grab irons on the engineer’s side. The number boards on either side of the headlight are painted, and a horn crowns the roof. There are no crew figures in the cab, but you’ll find add-on sunshades above each side window.
 
Hatches, hinges, and latches are crisp. The roof has seam and rivet detail, plus nubs that represent lift rings. The shell’s weak spot is the low-relief, cast-in diesel exhaust outlet. The best body details are just a bit farther behind, on the rear of the locomotive. The rooftop radiator screens are solid, but they are deeply cast. The air-intake screens, just below on the rear sides of the long
hood, are see-through pieces and they remind me of those on SD40 diesels.
 
Both sides of the angled end of the long hood have add-on wire grab irons, and there’s also a grab iron running the width of the roof. Setting the locomotive on its side, you’ll find a heavy, die-cast metal fuel tank that houses the horn speaker. The die-cast metal Blomberg trucks are a sight to behold. They are detailed, with crisp and clean tooling, and come with cast-in and add-on parts like sand lines.
 
While you’ve got the diesel on its side, you’ll note two power pickups roughly 71/2 inches apart on the trucks. The locomotive measures up to 1:48 scale, with a frame length of 52 scale feet (13 inches.) Besides Conrail, it is offered in Chessie System, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific road names.
 
On the test track

I like the way this GP15 operates. Though our sample locomotive did not have Train America speed-control (available on higher-level Atlas O diesels), we didn’t get mediocre engine response when we ran it.
 
Operating in conventional-control mode, the GP15s low-speed average was 15 scale mph. Using the pulsed power of a Lionel TrainMaster system in conventional-control mode, we eked out 9 scale mph. On the high end, we timed the GP15 at a brisk 133 scale mph. I can safely state that if you have lots of straight running, you can crank it up to run even faster!
 
Performance was smooth through all speed ranges, and voltages were low on both our Conrail model and a Norfolk Southern GP15 that we have in the workshop. That means no jackrabbit starts. The electronic reverse unit resets to forward when the locomotive is not in use, a convenient feature. Drawbar pull is the testosterone meter that O gaugers live by, and this economy model recorded a very healthy 2 pounds 13 ounces. The locomotive weighs 4 pounds. So despite the real
 
GP15 being a switcher in a road engine body, the model has the strength of a full-bore road engine. Locomotive lighting is directional, with red rear markers illuminated when the model is going forward.
 
The rolling stock

The rolling stock for Atlas O’s outfits comes from the regular Trainman catalog line, and it will vary from set to set. Our Conrail outfit included a Central Railroad of New Jersey plug-door boxcar, a Reading gondola, and a Conrail extended-vision caboose.
 
As I wrote in a review of the rolling stock in the February 2006 issue, the cars are first-rate products that combine scale size with attractive add-on details, such as ladders, brake wheels, and undercarriage hardware. The trucks and couplers are die-cast metal. I’ve operated these cars for nearly a year on my home layout without any trouble.
 
The extended-vision caboose is as nice as they come. In addition to its scale dimensions, it has interior illumination that is controlled through an on/off switch. The addition of the bright blue Conrail paint scheme really makes the car look like a million bucks. Our sample outfit included 12 sections of Atlas O curved track (O-36 size), a straight section, and a straight powerconnecting
(terminal joiner) section. While it is probably just a matter of perspective, the scale-sized gear seemed to fill up the track pretty quickly. A wise parent or grandparent giving one of these outfits as a gift might also want to toss in a few more track sections!
 
Also included are an Atlas O catalog, a track-planning book, and a guide to Atlas O track. All three items will provide very interesting – and essential – post-holiday reading for a newbie!
 
On the downside, the Atlas O Trainman set lacks a transformer. Ideal choices would be Model Rectifier Corp.’s 135-watt Pure Power transformer or Williams’ 150-watt unit, both of which offer enough power for future expansion without the need to step up right away to the top-of-the-line MTH Z-4000 or Lionel new ZW.
 
Beyond that, the Atlas O sets offer everything needed to get a three-rail dream going: a quality locomotive with
smooth performance, nicely outfitted rolling stock, and realistic track. –
Bob
 

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