From the Jan. 2007
Issue of Classic Toy Trains
with Atlas O
Atlas O’s Trainman line GP15 outfit
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
and scale sized, and it includes enough Atlas O track to get you
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
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.
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 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
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
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
(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
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