The GP38-2 was, arguably, one of the most commonly found locomotives across the CR system. For a long time these were a huge hole in the N scale marketplace, but in the space of a year, two companies released models of the ubiquitous 38-2. This model from Proto 2000 / Walthers has some great high points, but also some surprising problems.
The Walthers GP38-2 represents one of the 119 geeps that Conrail purchased soon after its startup. These units differed from the group it inherited by the "later" EMD spotting features: "corrugated" radiator grills, an anticlimber and an 88" long short hood.
Conrail's units in this group were numbered 8163 through 8282. These units served through the end of Conrail.
For pictures of Conrail's GP38-2s in action, visit our GP38-2 Photo Gallery.
This model was created during Life-Like's transition from self ownership to the umbrella of Walthers. Like all models, one has to pick the point at which you call it "close enough for me", and these are no different. The model is, overall, extremely well done with a few strange flaws.
The majority of the moldwork is absolutely on-par with Atlas and Kato, the current leaders in tooling quality. The only notable molding / tooling issues are in the area of the fans. Instead of having the beautifully rendered EMD Q fans that Life-Like's GP60 model had, the GP38-2s have ones with much poorer detail, and painted slightly differently than the rest of the unit. They look somewhat out of place on the otherwise sharply tooled unit, and may or may not be a problem for you, but are something that should be seen in person prior to purchase. Additionally, the panel around the fans has two holes cast in it, presumably for mounting a winterization hatch, but that need to be filled in for a Conrail unit.
The model is lacking a molded in "sight glass" on the engineer's side of the hood. Walthers has printed one on using black paint, and while the effect is largely passable, it's a strange detail omission given the otherwise great quality of the model.
One of the outstanding features on these models is that they have the correct fuel tanks. Many manufacturers have cheated and only used a single sized fuel tank on their EMD models, but Walthers has stepped up their game by including the correct smaller fuel tank on these GP38-2s, as was correct for Conrail units. This is really great because it gives the units their signature "air down there" look.
The horns included on these models seem a little under-scale for Conrail's Leslie horns, which I feel are better represented by the three chime offerings from Atlas and Kato.
The painting on the model is outstanding. Some may take a minor issue with the shade of blue, but the subject of "correct" colors on a model is an extremely subjective issue, and the color that Walthers has used is not outside the realm of acceptability. Aside from the color, the printing work is very good, with sharply printed major items (like the logo) but also minor ones (such as gaskets around the class lamps and warning stickers). The only printing contention that can be made is that the stripes from the logo carry over onto the electrical box behind the cab. This does not appear to be a common practice, but is visible on some units from this number series.
Walthers has also taken the uncommon step of painting the grill areas a grimy black color to add depth. While some modelers may not be happy about this because it looks different than their other models, personally, I applaud it, as doing this myself is one of the first things I do when weathering a unit. This look can then be even improved on by doing your own drybrushing of Conrail Blue across the raised parts of the grills to give a good contrast effect.
The only really lacking issue with the painting of the model is the lack of the safety white paint on the ends of its handrails.
Quick Steps for a More Accurate Model Conrail
There are a few easy things that can be done to bring the stock models up to a more accurate appearance.
The first is painting the ends of the handrails around the step wells white. This is a quick project that will bring your model up to FRA spec!
As mentioned earlier, I feel that a quick drybrushing of CR blue on the various grills to give them some additional depth would also yield great results.
As far as detailing goes, the GP38-2 prototypes were pretty plain. The standard CR details of a cab signal box (the Sunrise Enterprises part is almost perfect, but hard to find) and a Sinclair style radio antenna would go a long way. Additionally, adding snow plows to the front and rear pilots would not be a bad idea either, as many of these units were so equipped. Styles vary from unit to unit, so make sure to look at photos.
One more step might be replacing the somewhat smallish horns with larger versions from either Atlas or Kato. Don't forget to drop some paint inside the bells though to simulate the "shower caps" that many CR horns wore to keep out snow and debris.