Confessions of an Engine Illitererate

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by Pitchwife, Jul 20, 2005.

  1. Pitchwife

    Pitchwife Dreamer

    Hello, my name is Pitch and I'm an Engine Illitererate.
    I've been planning my layouts, two in fact, an HO and an N, for the last 4 years. I've been learning the lingo, the stratagy, methods, etc. and even adding to the conversation when there was something I knew that pertained to the subject at hand. But there is one area in which I am almost totally ignorant, Engines. :oops:
    Oh, I have figured out the configurations of steam engines, can recognize an F A&B unit when I see it (not any particulars though) and can even identify certain engines that are primarily used as switch engines (again, no particulars), but I can't tell a GP from an SD or a Dash 8. :( :(
    I like trains, but I like cool layouts even better. Is there anywhere that I might educate myself so I'm not a total idiot when someone starts talking locos and I haven't a clue as to what they are talking about, or, horror of horrors; asking me about one? Re: railfanning, I'm like a birdwatcher who can't tell a chickadee from a warbler, but still like watching birds.
    I suppose I could blame it on a mis-spent childhood. I have rarely lived closer than 40 miles from any operating railroad and even then I was preocupied with other things. We did take several cross country trips via train when I was very young. I remember thinking it was cool to sit in the front seat of the vistadome car and pretending that I was driving the train. Also, going through tunnels was pretty cool. :cool:
    Is there any redemption for me? :oops: :rolleyes: :oops: :rolleyes:
    They say confession is good for the soul. We shall see. :p
  2. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    Telling a GP from an SD: Count the wheels. GPs have four-wheel trucks, SDs have six.

    I'm no ace at telling specific models from each other, either--I can identify E and F units, and a few particular locomotives, but my knowledge is far from encyclopedic. I grew up in the diesel era surrounded by gray & red & dirt SP Geeps and SDs, but they aren't really that easy to tell apart.

    The best thing to do in a circle of foamers is listen and learn, and try to avoid sounding like an idiot--listen long enough, pay attention, and you'll (a) be able to join in eventually, and (b) start to realize that often the other guy doesn't know what he's talking about either, but would rather have his voice be heard and get it wrong than admit he doesn't know.
  3. trainworm

    trainworm Member

    best thing you can do is head out to the LHS or go online and get a copy of the Contemporary Diesels Spotters Guide by Louis A. Marie and Paul K. Withers. it covers all locomotives built since 1972. it has good pictures and descriptions of every locomotive type.
  4. Pitchwife

    Pitchwife Dreamer

    OK, I'm looking at a picture labled Dash 8-40B with four-wheel trucks, and another that is labled Dash 8-40C that has six-wheel trucks. Is that the distinction between a Dash 8-40B and a Dash 8-40C? Is one a GP and the other an SD? :confused: :confused: :confused: Do the same manufacturers build both styles? Now I'm even more confused. :D :D
  5. shortliner

    shortliner Member

    I have a "pocket-sized" book called "A field guide to trains (of North America)" by Gerald Foster. ISBN-0-395-70112-0 Price US$14.95. published by Houghton Mifflin Company of New York and Boston 1996. I don't know if it is still in print, but it has helped me out a time or two
    Shortliner(Jack)away up here in the Highlands
  6. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    Clark,All is not lost.. There are books that you can buy such as the Diesel Spotters guides,The Locomotive Encyclopedia and etc-you might want to try your library for these or similar books-that will help you identify different types of locomotives.Another way is to study pictures of locomotives on various railroad sites such as and there's tons of help for the locomotive identification challenged modelers..
    BTW..I have a whale of a time telling the difference between GEs!!! :oops:

    PS..Aparently the real railroaders is having the same problem identfying locomotives as the railroads is putting the locomotive model type under the number on the cab..Like this:


  7. Tileguy

    Tileguy Member

    Clark, many of us are in the same boat and eventually we'll figure it out, but until then, Who cares..........have fun go shoot some pictures and let the guys that know tell you what it is.after awhile you'll pick it up one model of loco at a time.(by the way. it ussually gives a loco type or model painted on near the cab somewhere.Its the only way i can tell the differance between a GP-38 and a GP-38-2 :D
  8. dmb3006

    dmb3006 Member

    You are in grave danger young Railroader.Engine-itus is about to take root in your body.The malady is progressive.There is no cure.If you come into a copy of the Diesel Spotters Guide you are indeed a lost man.Above all do not look at any book by Alvin Stauffer on locomotives.The Walters catalog could be your down fall.Seek employment as a Merchant Seaman.I fear it may already be to late for you.ABOVE ALL NEVER GO TO STEAM TOWN.Seek no information on the Union Pacific steam trip on July 23.Avoid all railroad crossing where you may see fast freight or Heaven forbid a Passenger train at high speed.Avoid all Herron or Pentex tapes DO NOT watch TRACKS AHEAD on PBS at the stage I fear you are in it would be FATAL
  9. yellowlynn

    yellowlynn Member


    Tileguy, the qestion for you is: you said the type or model of a loco was normally painted on, or near the cab. Is that on models, or prototype?

    Clark, I agree with tileguy, as I don't recognise one loco from another, Just run them and enjoy. I have a P2K E8/9, and a GP9. The only reason I know them is one was given to me for Christmas, and the other has sound. However, I doubt I would recognise them in someone elses stable. All the rest of mine I just play with and have fun. I don't really believe that knowing what each one is would make me enjoy them any more than I do.

    Lynn :confused: ;)
  10. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    You will find that over time you will get to know the engines that are important or of interest to you. I know my Canadian National/Canadian Pacific steamers in general, but still do not know many of the classifications assigned to the various phases of each type. I don't know diesels at all, as that is not what I am really interested in...

    Besides, you can always "write for help" as seen below... ;) :D


    Attached Files:

  11. Pitchwife

    Pitchwife Dreamer

    Whew! That is a relief. Whenever I see pictures (here, there & everywhere) there would be a caption reading something like, "...and here is a consolodation of two GP9s and an E8 pulling a load of...), and I couldn't tell one from the other. If they had different paint schemes I would figure that the two of one color were the two whichevers and the other one was what was left. :confused: :eek: :eek: :confused:

    I will now look to see the engine type written on the engines. I'm glad to know that even the pros don't know one from the other. :p :p

    dmb3006, I will take your advice and if I happen to see any kind of train will immediatly close my eyes and hope I did so before any further damage is done. :D :D :D

    I now know the answer to the question, "What kind of engine is that?" The correct answer is, "The kind that pulls trains!!!" :D :D :D :D
  12. trainworm

    trainworm Member

    a quick note:

    modern EMD locos
    GP: general purpose, 4 axles
    SD: special duty, 6 axles
    SW: switcher, 4 axles
    MP: road switcher, 4 axles

    the number in almost all newer EMD locos is just the model number. the -2 at the end means the locomotive has been upgraded with dash 2 electronics. if it has a T in it, like SD45T-2 or SD40T-2, it is a tunnel motor locomotive, the kind with the big air intake screens at walkway level on the rear. if it has AC in the name, like GP38AC, SD90MAC or MP15AC, it runs on AC power instead of DC. if the locomotive has a wide cab, it usually has the M letter in the name, like SD90MAC and SD70M.

    so, a SD90MAC is a six axle, series 90 locomotive, with a wide cab, that works on AC power. and a GP39-2 is a 4 axel, 39 series locomotive with dash 2 electronics.

    GE locomotives:
    B: 4 axle
    C: 6 axle

    with GE locomotives, the number in the name is the horsepower rating. then they have the - numbers at the end, like B23-7, C40-8 and C44-9. those numbers deisgnate different upgrades in electronics and other things that were made through the years. GE uses the W designation for widecab locomotives, and the AC designation for AC powered locomotives. then there is the older U series locomotives. the best way to tell the difference between the U series and the dash series of locomotives is that the -7, -8, and -9 series and the newer stuff have a radiator on the rear that overhangs the walkway, kinda looks like wings.

    so a C44-9W is a 6 axel locomotive, 4,400 horsepower, dash 9 components, with a wide cab. and a B23-7 is a 4 axel locomotive, 2300 horsepower, and dash 7 components, witrh a regular cab. a U23B is a U series, with 2300 hp, and 4 axles. then you have the really new stuff, like the ES44AC, it is an evolution series, 4400hp, ac power.

    both makers stopped using the M designation because every new locomotives they make now have a wide cab (SD70ACe, C60AC, ES44DC)

    and to confuse things even more, some railroads use different designations for the same GE locomotives. you might see a GE labled as a C40-8 or an 8-40C, or CW44AC as AC4400 (union Pacific also has a C44ACCTE the CTE is a special type of traction control electronics).

    i really dont know anything about Alcos or Baldwin diesels, but most of them are gone anyway.

    hope this didnt confuse y'all any more than necessary :D
  13. Tileguy

    Tileguy Member

    Yep, what he just said :D
    Lynn, its marked on the prototype near the cab ;)

    I was never into diesels much.Mostly Steam.
    I now know the differance between an RS a GP an SD and also an F an E and a PA
    I can tell an RS1 from an RS2 or 3 but have difficulty with F3's F7's F9's etc
    And E8 and E9's.
    And a U boat is a U boat dont ask me what number though :)
  14. zedob

    zedob Member


    To think someone got paid to come up with that one. Probably the same dope who wrote the safety card on airplanes that starts off with, "If you can't read this, please hand it to someone who can".
  15. yellowlynn

    yellowlynn Member


    OK Trainworm, I'm going to step into some deep doo-doo. I've got 2 locos that I'm pretty sure are RS somethings. One has 4 axles and the other has 6. Other than that they look identical (to me). If they're both RS' s, what does that mean?

    Lynn :confused: :confused:
  16. Ralph

    Ralph's for fun!

    Hi Pitch! I'm an engine illiterate for anything beyond an SD45. I'm frozen in time. But, it occurred to me that the Penn Central Railroad had one of the largest and most diverse fleets of locomotives ever and might be a resource for some illustrative pictures of various locomotives from various manufacturers (EMD, GE, Alco, etc). Your mission, if you decided to accept it, is to click on this link and take a gander at the Geeps, U boats, etc, to get a free idea of how they differ. I endorse the Diesel spotter guide books too though! :)

    Oh, the engines are all black though, no color coding help here! :)
  17. Pitchwife

    Pitchwife Dreamer

    Thanks TW. Your explanation is great, now all I have to do is decode it. :D :D

    One thing about this thread that has amazed me is the number of Engine Illiterates coming out of the closet. :eek: :eek: Now I don't feel like such an outsider. :) :) I can hold my head up and proudly proclaim, "I don't have the faintest idea." :D :D

    I understand now that you can't always ID an engine just by looking at it. Using TW's explinataion I can say, "well, it looks like a __, but it could be an __." and not have to worry about my accuracy. :thumb: :thumb:

    Thank you all for putting my mind at ease. I never thought that this thread would get the responces that it did. Thank you all for not only the knowldge that you have passed on, but those of you that have acknowledged a lack of information equal to my own. :thumb: :thumb: :thumb: :thumb:
  18. tillsbury

    tillsbury Member

    trainworm -- great answer.

    My solution -- buy one. I am hopeless with engines, although of the models I actually own I can identify the difference between different types of RS-2, and I'm getting the hang of GE critters by building them. An I know different F3's. Anything I haven't bought I ain't got a clue -- and it doesn't matter how much I read I still don't really take it in.

    Buy one of each and detail or paint them. Then you'll never forget. There aren't that many, to be fair...
  19. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Lynn, The 4 axle one is an RS, the 6 axle one is an RSD

  20. N Gauger

    N Gauger 1:20.3 Train Addict

    We the Unknowing, Led by the Undoing...
    Have done so much, with so little for so long...
    That we are now capable
    OF doing Everything....with nothing!!!!

    I agree with you - I lost track (pun intended) after Steam.. If I can't count axles & Double it - "It's just a deisel".....

    :) :) :) :) I cant remember all those letters & numbers!!!.. Except "AC" I know THAT one :D :D :D :D .... and SW for Switcher :)

    ............. and I'm the Admin!!!! :) :D :) :D Model railroading is too much fun for me to worry about individual engines :) If it works and it pulls well and it looks good.... That's all I care about :) :)

    BTW - It's a U-25B only reason I know it - iS I have one :) In G Gauge heheheheheh You cant miss it :)

    Here is where I go - to see what numbers mean what :) Click on Manufacturer names at left :)

    There are hundreds of engines here :) :)

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