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Union Pacific GP20s

By Don Strack (May 1998)

(This article is an updated and expanded version of text used in the book The GP20 and SD24, EMD's Turbocharged Duo (Withers Publishing Co., 1998, ISBN 1-881411-19-2)

When Union Pacific received its 30 GP20s in July and August 1960, the road had already proven the locomotive's design. During March 1959, UP had accepted delivery of an A-B-A set of prototype GP20s, as a continuation of the GP9 turbocharger program (begun by UP in 1956 on GP9s 261, 281, and 185B). UP sent three units, Phase-III GP9s 301, 305, and 308B, to EMD to be rebuilt to 2000 horsepower using EMD's then-new turbocharger. After being rebuilt, the locomotives were for all practical purposes pre-production GP20s, having been completed six months before the GP20 design was placed in production. Two months later, in May 1959, UP sent six more units, in two A-B-A sets (UP 300, 300B, 301B, 311, 313, and 320) to EMD to be rebuilt with the new turbocharger. However, these later six units did not receive the GP20-style of fuel tanks, air reservoirs, and walkway side frame modifications.

These nine examples of pre-production GP20s proved that the EMD version of a turbo supercharger, applied to EMD's own 16 cylinder 567 engine was more economical for the railroad than was UP's own efforts of applying either of two earlier designs, as UP had done in its own shops with 22 other GP9s, 12 units with an AiResearch design and 10 units with an Elliott design. Even after purchasing 30 of EMD's GP20s in 1960, numbered as UP 700-729, UP initiated a program to equip still more of its 300 series GP9s with EMD's turbocharger, completing a total of 63 units by 1965, including 30 GP9A units and 33 GP9B units, all in the 300-349B number series.

For a railroad so intent on upgrading its GP9s to 2000 horsepower machines, it seems strange that the UP only purchased 30 factory GP20s. The decision was likely based entirely on economics. The nation was in an economic down turn during 1959 to 1962, and traffic on the nation's railroads was in a slump. Only 260 GP20s were built between November 1959 and April 1962, with UP's 30 units being just over ten percent of that fleet. UP had dieselized somewhat later than most railroads, and instead of having sizable fleets of worn out FTs and ALCos to replace, UP's large fleet of 1954-built and 1957-built GP9s was still quite young. By the time additional mid-range horsepower locomotives were needed, EMD's new GP30 was available, which UP bought in large numbers--111 units with cabs and 40 units without. During the early 1960s, to fill the needs of a lower horsepower unit, UP simply turned to its GP9 turbocharging program.

When first delivered, Union Pacific's 30 GP20s carried the number series of UP 700-729. This number series had earlier been assigned to UP's 30-unit fleet of GP7s, delivered in February through October 1953. However, the GP7s had been renumbered to their later number series, UP 100-129, in October and November 1953 while working on the railroad's Utah and California divisions. The GP20s themselves were renumbered from 700-729 in December 1962 and January 1963 in anticipation of the delivery of 35 additional GP30s in February and March 1963, numbered as UP 700-734. These later 35 GP30s, along with UP GP30 number 735 (delivered in June 1963) and 40 GP30Bs numbered as UP 700B-739B, joined an already existing fleet of 76 GP30s, numbered as UP 800-875, delivered in July to September 1962.

UP's 30 GP20s began to leave the roster in 1977, when they were just 17 years old. By this time, the units had been in side-by-side service with the road's turbocharged GP9s as secondary road power, as branchline power, and as heavy switchers. In a pattern that has been repeated by UP many times, as new road power was being delivered (in this case new SD40-2s and C30-7s by the hundreds), the railroad bumped existing road power downward, forcing older units into retirement. Along with the GP20s, UP also retired 95 other units in 1977, including U50s, U50Cs, GP7s, GP9s and GP9Bs, SD24s and SD24Bs, and NW2, SW7, and SW9 switchers.

The first seven GP20s to be retired (UP 470, 471, 478, 479, 482, 488, and 497), were stricken from the roster in October and November 1977, and were immediately sold to Precision National at Mount Vernon, Illinois During 1978 and 1979, four more were retired and also sold to Precision. Of these 11 units, Precision rebuilt 10 into what it called a GP21, a unit with updated electrical controls and a 2000 horsepower, EMD 645, blower-equipped diesel engine. This rebuild effort was completed by ICG at its Paducah, Kentucky, shop. Six GP21s went to South East Coal at Ravenna, Kentucky, for its June 1979 start-up of operations. Numbered as SECX 2001-2006, the units were ex-UP 470, 488, 479, 471, 497, and 472, and operated over CSX tracks, with CSX crews, moving unit coal trains (in three train sets) from coal mines in Hazard County, Kentucky, to Southeast's coal preparation plant at Calla, Kentucky. South East Coal was forced into bankruptcy in October 1990 by the loss of a suit filed in 1984 by Kentucky Utilities for the overpricing of a 12-year coal hauling contract, and its five remaining GP21s to National Railway Equipment on 30 March 1991. The sixth GP21, SECX 2003, had been wrecked and stripped of usable parts, with the frame remaining stored at Polly, Kentucky. National Railway Equipment purchased South East Coal's five GP21s, three GP38-2s, and single GP38. The five GP21s were leased to the new regional Arizona & California Railroad for its start-up of operations on 9 May 1991.

Two other GP21s went to Illinois Terminal 2008 and 2009 in June1980, later becoming N&W, then NS 2008 and 2009. The last two GP21s went into Precision's lease fleet: the former UP 499 became Agrico 2010, and the former UP 473 became Precision National Leasing (PNL) 2007.

UP 483 was wrecked while still in service on UP. The unit was stripped of usable parts by UP and sold for scrap in April 1979 to Bargains Galore, a metal salvage dealer located in Portland, Oregon. Rather than being scrapped in Tacoma, Washington, like so many other UP units purchased by Bargains galore, UP 483 found its way to Diesel Electric Service in St. Paul, Minn., then to the Nebraska Western Technical College in Sidney, Nebraska, where it served as a training aid for the school's diesel mechanic program. The unit was later sold to Weber Industries in Council Bluffs, Iowa, as their 438 (not 483), then again to Wilson Railway, a dealer in Des Moines, Iowa, in February 1989. Wilson sold the unit to San Diego & Imperial Valley as their 1438, and in the last known sale of this much traveled unit, it was again sold to Missouri & Arkansas Northern, regaining its original number 483 in the process. One other former UP GP20 was rebuilt and remains in service today. UP 498 was sold to Morrison Knudsen in October 1979, rebuilt much like the Precision GP21s, and sold to Kyle Railways as their 103. The unit operated on Kyle's San Diego & Arizona Eastern, then on their San Joaquin Valley, also as number 103.

The remaining 18 UP GP20s were all scrapped. The first to go was UP 485, which was scrapped by UP at its Omaha, Nebraska, shops in October 1978. The others left the roster between September 1978 and February 1984, being purchased for their scrap value by many of the known names, including Naporano, Peaker, Bargains Galore, Southwest Railroad Car Parts, and Erman. The last GP20 to operate on UP was UP 487, retired in February 1984, and sold for scrap to Erman in August 1985.

The December 1982 merger of Union Pacific, Western Pacific, and Missouri Pacific brought the remaining nine of WP's original 10 GP20s to UP's roster. Of the nine units, however, only one actually operated on UP tracks. WP 2001, 2002, and 2004-2010 (WP 2003 was wrecked while still in service on WP) were moved to Salt Lake City in February 1983, just two months after the merger. The nine units remained stored in Salt Lake until June 1986, when the traction motors were removed from eight of the units, which were then moved for continued storage 35 miles north to Ogden, Utah. There the units sat, along with seven WP GP7s and a couple UP Centennials, until 1988, when they were finally sold to Precision National.

Prior to its sister units being moved to Ogden, in September 1984, WP 2009 was taken into Salt Lake shops and found to be repairable. The unit was reconditioned and sent to UP's North Platte shops to receive a coat of UP yellow and gray. The unit emerged as UP 488 (2nd) and was sent for service to its former territory in northern California. Within a few short weeks, its turbocharger failed, and the unit was sidelined awaiting repairs. In March 1985, the eight remaining WP GP20s were all formally retired, seven of them not having turned a wheel in UP service. WP 2008 had been retired in July 1983, and scrapped by Durbano in Ogden in November 1985. WP 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2010 were sold to Precision National in March 1988, and remained on Precision's property as late as June 1994. WP 2002 was sold to Relco in March 1988. Relco put the unit back into operating condition and leased it (as RE 2001) to Exxon Chemical in Opal, Wyoming. WP 2001, the first GP20 built, was donated by UP after its March 1985 retirement to the Feather River Rail Society for its museum in Portola, California, in June 1985. By 1995, it had been cosmetically restored.

UP GP20s, sorted by road number

Road Number Date Retired Date Sold Sold To Notes
470 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision GP21, SECX 2001, to NRE, to A&C 2001
471 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision GP21, SECX 2004, to NRE, to A&C 2004
472 Aug-78 Nov-78 Precision GP21, SECX 2006, to NRE, to A&C 2003
473 Apr-78 23-Jan-79 Precision GP21, PNL 2007
474 23-Nov-82 5-Feb-88 SWRRP scrapped
475 6-Mar-80 Nov-80 BG scrapped by Simon, Mar 1983
476 6-Mar-80 Apr-83 BG scrapped Apr 1983
477 May-79 Jan-80 Peaker scrapped in 1990
478 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision  
479 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision GP21, SECX 2003, wrecked
480 Sep-78 17-Oct-79 Precision GP21, IT 2009, to NW 2009
481 Feb-83 Nov-83 Erman  
482 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision GP21, IT 2008, to NW 2008
483 Aug-78 Apr-79 BG wrecked, rebuilt, ended up as M&NA 483
484 6-Mar-80 5-Jan-81 Precision  
485 Apr-78 Oct-78   scrapped by UP at Omaha, Oct 1978
486 Mar-81 15-Jun-81 Precision  
487 Feb-84 30-Aug-85 Erman scrapped
488 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision GP21, SECX 2002, to NRE, to A&C 2002
489 Sep-78 Feb-80 Naporano scrapped
490 6-Mar-80 May-80   scrapped by UP at Omaha, May 1980
491 Jul-82 Feb-83 GNT scrapped by Pielet, Aug 1988
492 Oct-79 25-Sep-80 Naporano scrapped
493 Dec-79 Aug-84   scrapped by UP at Pocatello, Aug 1984
494 23-Nov-82 Oct-83 Erman wrecked, scrapped
495 Nov-81 Feb-80 Naporano scrapped
496 Oct-79 Aug-80 BG scrapped by Simon
497 Oct-77 Nov-77 Precision GP21, SECX 2005
498 May-79 9-Oct-79 MK SD&AE 103, SJV 103
499 Apr-78 Jan-79 Precision GP21, Agrico 2010

UP GP20s, sorted by retirement date

Road Number Date Retired Date Sold Sold To Notes
470 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision GP21, SECX 2001, to NRE, to A&C 2001
471 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision GP21, SECX 2004, to NRE, to A&C 2004
478 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision  
479 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision GP21, SECX 2003, wrecked
482 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision GP21, IT 2008, to NW 2008
488 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision GP21, SECX 2002, to NRE, to A&C 2002
497 Oct-77 Nov-77 Precision GP21, SECX 2005
485 Apr-78 Oct-78   scrapped by UP at Omaha, Oct 1978
499 Apr-78 Jan-79 Precision GP21, Agrico 2010
473 Apr-78 23-Jan-79 Precision GP21, PNL 2007
472 Aug-78 Nov-78 Precision GP21, SECX 2006, to NRE, to A&C 2003
483 Aug-78 Apr-79 BG wrecked, rebuilt, ended up as M&NA 483
480 Sep-78 17-Oct-79 Precision GP21, IT 2009, to NW 2009
489 Sep-78 Feb-80 Naporano scrapped
498 May-79 9-Oct-79 MK SD&AE 103, SJV 103
477 May-79 Jan-80 Peaker scrapped in 1990
496 Oct-79 Aug-80 BG scrapped by Simon
492 Oct-79 25-Sep-80 Naporano scrapped
493 Dec-79 Aug-84   scrapped by UP at Pocatello, Aug 1984
490 6-Mar-80 May-80   scrapped by UP at Omaha, May 1980
475 6-Mar-80 Nov-80 BG scrapped by Simon, Mar 1983
484 6-Mar-80 5-Jan-81 Precision  
476 6-Mar-80 Apr-83 BG scrapped Apr 1983
486 Mar-81 15-Jun-81 Precision  
495 Nov-81 Feb-80 Naporano scrapped
491 Jul-82 Feb-83 GNT scrapped by Pielet, Aug 1988
494 23-Nov-82 Oct-83 Erman wrecked, scrapped
474 23-Nov-82 5-Feb-88 SWRRP scrapped
481 Feb-83 Nov-83 Erman  
487 Feb-84 30-Aug-85 Erman scrapped

UP GP20s, sorted by sale date

Road Number Date Retired Date Sold Sold To Notes
470 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision GP21, SECX 2001, to NRE, to A&C 2001
471 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision GP21, SECX 2004, to NRE, to A&C 2004
478 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision  
479 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision GP21, SECX 2003, wrecked
482 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision GP21, IT 2008, to NW 2008
488 Oct-77 Oct-77 Precision GP21, SECX 2002, to NRE, to A&C 2002
497 Oct-77 Nov-77 Precision GP21, SECX 2005
485 Apr-78 Oct-78   scrapped by UP at Omaha, Oct 1978
472 Aug-78 Nov-78 Precision GP21, SECX 2006, to NRE, to A&C 2003
499 Apr-78 Jan-79 Precision GP21, Agrico 2010
473 Apr-78 23-Jan-79 Precision GP21, PNL 2007
483 Aug-78 Apr-79 BG wrecked, rebuilt, ended up as M&NA 483
498 May-79 9-Oct-79 MK SD&AE 103, SJV 103
480 Sep-78 17-Oct-79 Precision GP21, IT 2009, to NW 2009
477 May-79 Jan-80 Peaker scrapped in 1990
489 Sep-78 Feb-80 Naporano scrapped
495 Nov-81 Feb-80 Naporano scrapped
490 6-Mar-80 May-80   scrapped by UP at Omaha, May 1980
496 Oct-79 Aug-80 BG scrapped by Simon
492 Oct-79 25-Sep-80 Naporano scrapped
475 6-Mar-80 Nov-80 BG scrapped by Simon, Mar 1983
484 6-Mar-80 5-Jan-81 Precision  
486 Mar-81 15-Jun-81 Precision  
491 Jul-82 Feb-83 GNT scrapped by Pielet, Aug 1988
476 6-Mar-80 Apr-83 BG scrapped Apr 1983
494 23-Nov-82 Oct-83 Erman wrecked, scrapped
481 Feb-83 Nov-83 Erman  
493 Dec-79 Aug-84   scrapped by UP at Pocatello, Aug 1984
487 Feb-84 30-Aug-85 Erman scrapped
474 23-Nov-82 5-Feb-88 SWRRP scrapped

GP20 Captions

UP 480 on point of an eastbound manifest through Henefer, Utah, about half way up the famous Wasatch grade. December 21, 1973. (Don Strack Photo)

UP 497 and GP30 869 add their muscle to the Atlantic City Unit West (ACUW) at Mount, Utah, as the train crosses between Salt Lake Valley and Utah Valley, to the south. July 7, 1973. (Don Strack Photo)

WP 2008 at Sacramento, California, in May 1974. (Don Strack Photo)

WP 2009 sits just outside of Salt Lake Shops on September 18, 1983, following its just completed rebuilding to get it back into service. WP 2009 was the only unit of the nine WP GP20s that came to UP by merger in 1982. All nine units were stored from early 1983, and all but 2009 never turned a wheel in revenue service after the merger. WP 2009 was sent to North Platte for its own coat of UP yellow and gray, returning to service in northern California as the second UP 488. (Don Strack Photo)

WP 2010 sits in storage at Salt Lake City in March 1984, the only WP GP20 to receive the newer orange nose version of WP's Perlman green paint scheme. The unit remained in storage at Salt Lake City until June 1986 when it, along with 16 other WP and UP units, was moved north to Ogden, away from the abuse caused by vandals in the Salt Lake yards. It was sold to Precision National in 1988. (Don Strack Photo)

UP 488, formerly WP 2009, at Salt Lake City, after its retirement from service in California. This was the second GP20 to carry UP's 488 number. The first was a GP20 delivered new to UP in 1960 and retired in October 1977. The first UP 488 was sold to Precision and rebuilt to a GP21. The second UP 488 was retired in March 1985 and sold for scrap the following November to St. Louis Auto Shredding. (Warren Johnson photo, Don Strack Collection)

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