Saturday, 26 August 2017

SW1200RS Models: A Changing of the Guard.

This pair of CPR Branch Line Units is headed for the Bellows Falls yard.  The prototype 8160 was one of the "pups" that replaced steeple-cab electrics working out of Preston, Ontario on CP's former Electric Lines.
By Peter Mumby
Photos by George and Peter.

In my post of June 30, 2017, I referred to the SW1200RS as "the iconic Canadian small road switcher of the late 1950s produced by General Motors Diesel."  Essentially a GMD road variation on an EMD yard switcher theme, these units were based on a standard SW1200 design.  To accommodate higher speed requirements, 62:15 gearing allowed for 65 mph on the road, and flexicoil trucks were provided.  The 500 gallon yard switcher fuel tank was replaced with a 775 gallon version, and multiple unit connections were included.  A large headlight/number board fixture was designed to fit on one or both ends of the body, depending on the owner's specifications.  Built to replace the smaller steam locomotives that frequented Canada's many lightly-built branch lines,  the SW1200RS made its presence felt from coast to coast.

The first such unit was built for Canadian National, and rolled off the erecting shop floor in London, Ontario in September of 1955.  Between then and 1960, CNR took delivery of 192 similar units.  Most were numbered in the 1200s or 1300s.  They received the class designation of GR-12, as compared to GY-12 for comparable SW1200 yard switchers.  Early deliveries featured hood-mounted handrails, later replaced with a safer frame-mounted design.  Locomotives of this class were also later retrofitted with a pair of distinctive spark arrestors.  After a long and successful working life, some units became candidates for rebuilding in the late 1980s; those with replacement prime movers were renumbered into the 7300-7317 group.  Others went in to the 7100-7107 "Sweep" programme, or were renumbered as hump units.

Comparable Canadian Pacific units 8100-8171 were constructed between 1958 and 1960.  The major cosmetic difference between this group and their CN counterparts was that the CP "branch line units" lacked the large number board fixture on the cab end.  In the 1981-1985 era, a number of units were upgraded with newer engine components, and renumbered into the 1200 number series.  A small group of the 8100s were rebuilt as slugs or control units and numbered in the 1000 and 1100 series.  As on CN, most of the original SW200RS locomotives have now been retired.  Many found their way onto the used market and continue to work today for private operators.

With their only air intakes on the end of the long hood, prototype units running cab-ahead wouldn't operate at maximum efficiency.  During the 1990s, 8158 was stationed at Havelock and was the regular unit on the Peterborough road switcher.  This model of 8158 was built by Barry Storey.

My entire CN green and gold fleet has congregated on the White River Division.  Units 3142 and 3156 were built by Dan Kirlin.
As previously mentioned in the June 30 post,  Rapido Trains has announced the imminent release of a group of SW1200RS models.  It sounds as if this is going to become a very popular release, with orders exceeding Rapido's expectations.  But what about modellers who desired a version of this locomotive twenty or thirty years ago?  Were alternatives available, or did HO fans simply do without?  Limited run brass models have been available, but for most of us, an SW1200RS was a detail, paint and decal project.  The likely starting point was an Athearn blue box SW7 (Hobbytown also produced a suitable mechanism).  Kit K-21, an SW-1200 RS Conversion Kit, was made available by Juneco Scale Models.  (The wife of the founder of this product line was named "June," so when pronouncing the company name, think "June Co."). At this time, Juneco was producing wood kits for CN and CP cabooses in HO, along with a few other pieces of rolling stock.  At least one structure kit was offered, as well as an O scale car kit.  The main portion of the Juneco line, however, was made up of a large number of metal detail parts.  The K-21 kit included soft metal castings for the number boards, class lights, MU components, spark arrestors, and road switcher pilot, as well as Athearn handrail stanchions and wire for handrails.  Suggested optional extras were the C-53 CN winter hatch, and the B-10 chain for walkover protection.  For some reason, the fuel tank modification (C-54 or C-55) was not included in the kit, although this was an essential detail for either the CN or CP version of the locomotive.

Many of the Juneco detail parts are still available today, although K-21 and the rest of the kits have disappeared from the catalogue.  The only SW1200RS-specific parts I could locate on the Inter-Hobbies Distributors site were the C-53 CN winter hatch, the C-54 fuel tank modification, and the C-90 SW-1200 RS number boards.  Building an SW1200RS model, especially of the CP variety, would still be possible today, albeit a bit of a challenge.  Keep your eyes open for a K-21 kit at the train shows, and your task will be greatly simplified!

The Juneco K-21 kit contained an excellent set of instructions with lots of prototype data.  One plastic bag contained the four flexicoil side frames, with the other parts in a second bag.  Also shown is the fuel tank modification as a separate part.  I had none of these kits left in my inventory, but my friend Gord kindly loaned me one of his kits for photographic purposes.

This photo illustrates a few of the individual metal Juneco castings.
When George and I returned from the Rapido open house, I got to thinking about the SW1200RS models in my collection, all built using Juneco and Athearn parts.  After brushing off the cobwebs, I determined that I had built four myself, and acquired six more from other sources.  I also located one additional shell which has yet to be completed.  Once the Rapido models arrive, will I still be satisfied with these relics from the hobby's past?  For now, they'll go back on the display shelves, but we'll see what next year brings!

Here we have a comparison of the cab ends of the CN and CP variations of the locomotive.

Check out the front end of the two road's units.

CN 1331 demonstrates the look of the original body-mounted hand rails.

This incomplete shell from my collection replicates the look of the rebuilt 1200s.

The gathering of the clan.


  1. Really great write-up on the SW1200RS units, Peter! I learned a lot.

    I never really saw them in CN or CP service except for one CP unit I spotted in Moose Jaw.

  2. That was an enjoyable read. The more i look into Canadian modeling the more the bracnh line opps appeal to me. It seems like there is a good bunch of CP guys around doing prototype modeling.

    Any Suggestions for a 1930,1940 branch line that interchanges with a logging operation? That could be a dangerous question for me to ask though.

    1. Hi, Adrian;
      Do you like the notion of a mountain railroad with towering fir trees, rushing rivers and tall timber trestles? How about a "main line" which was actually a branch line of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway that interchanged with several coal and lumbering branches? Set this in 1940, and everything would be steam powered; by 1950 this had become CP's first fully dieselized division in this country. A group of 13 Baldwin road switchers acquired in 1949 had accomplished this objective. Shift ahead to 1955, and the remaining passenger trains would be powered by Budd RDCs. Steam power on the logging lines would last until about 1960. Steam on these lines took the form both of geared locomotives and rod-driven tank locos. I'm referring, of course, to CP's Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway on Vancouver Island. Author Robert D. Turner is the expert on British Columbia railways in general, and those of Vancouver Island in particular. If you can find a copy, read his book entitled "Vancouver Island Railroads" (Golden West Books, 1975.). Enjoy!

  3. Hi George! Fellow RRHS member Mike Sparks and I switch the Momentive Performance Materials (think GE Silicone Rubber) plant at Waterford NY with exCNR #1337, now SMS #1337. Nice little unit. Will Davis

    1. Hi Will:
      It has been awhile since I last saw you...great to hear from you and interesting to hear about 1337...thanks...George

  4. Would you know of any source of scale drawings for the SW1200RS? I would very much like to create a similar kit of parts to build these in O scale for Proto:48. My 3D printer is itching to make parts! LOL



  5. Hi Chris:
    I am not sure but will pass along your request to Peter...George

  6. Peter has nothing and suggests talking to OSR as they have three units in Ingersoll, Ont. They may have what you need or you could take measurements. I am thinking Rapido has a good set of plans...but will they share...George