F-units, detail variation                                                  TT00041




11/17/1999  4:05 PM

Bill Kuebler

As these questions continue to arise, perhaps it's time to mention the book,  "NP Color Pictorial, Volume 3," by Four Ways West Publications, November 1998.  When I wrote it, I had you F-unit fans in mind, especially those of you who ask  such questions in the course of trying to accurately model NP Fs. Thus, the  book contains photos and tables intended to put to rest most of these  questions. There's too much info there to write here in the time I have  available, so I'll just mention some of it.    I'll be the first to say that not every detail or conceivable question about NP  F-units is covered in the book, but I think most of the important ones are  adequately covered. Also, attention is given to important "exceptions to the  rule(s)" regarding NP Fs. I did not cover such items as roof overhangs, the  modern vs. the older windshields, or the square-corner vs. round corner doors.  These items were industry standard on NP units, so I left them alone in hopes  that a good NP modeler would already be familiar, at the least, with EMD's  standard practices. Instead, I covered things some of which you're asking about  here. Covered items include: painting and lettering details, shown in  chronological order of changes; louvers (not industry standard on the NP!),  headlight arrangements (definitely not industry standard, and not the same on  various models, either, or even within a model group); horns, whistles, and  other appliances; and grilles (again, not always industry standard, by model  phase); plus several notable "exceptions" to all these, mostly thanks to  wrecks.    As for horns and whistles, I know of no instance on the NP (i.e., pre-merger)  where any F-3, 5, 7, or 9 cab unit had a multi-tone whistle other than a  Nathan. Blats, yes, on the pre-F-9s--all F-3s through 7s, in fact, originally  had these. These were the standard horns that EMD equipped pre-F-9 units with  unless something else was ordered by the purchasing road. When these horns were  replaced with a multi-tone one, it was almost always a Nathan P-3, and in any  case, a Nathan.    For what it's worth, I grew up in Fargo, on the mainlines of both GN and NP.  Not too many other places where close comparisons could be made between the two  roads or where their main lines were so close together. For me, the sound of a  whistle meant the difference between wasting my time and energy (i.e., riding  my bike at what must have been 90 m.p.h.) to see a two-million-ton GN ore train  pulled by a pair of units with half-burned out traction motors at a whopping  six miles per hour (their hotshots went twice that speed!), or wisely spending  time and, if necessary, great energy to see an NP 603 roar through town at  40-plus with throttle in a notch somewhere from six to eight. GN units had  something other than Nathans, I think Leslies (multi-tone; can't remember the  type and don't care at the moment); NP ones had Nathans. To put it mildly, the  GN-Leslies were God-awful (especially when the top tone was not sounding, which  seemed to happen a lot on the Billy Goat units) compared with the NP ones,  which were beautiful. It was like the difference between a elephant's screech  and one's favorite music.    For what it's worth, the GN's horns were surpassed in awfulness only by the Q's  E-units which showed up now and then on the Western Star. Those whistles made a  sound straight from hell, and after they left town each time, the poor Fargo  police would be out chasing all the dead people back into Sunset Gardens  Cemetery.    [You steam fans out there relax; the following comments do not displace the  immutable truth that steam is simply fantastic in all respects!]    One of the most beautiful post-steam-era sounds I ever heard in my life was  when NP No. 26 would leave Fargo at 1:42 a.m., if it was OT, which was almost  always. As the Fs accelerated and the train blew the whistle (yes, I know it  was a horn; 'scuse me.) for 1st St. by the river, and then for all the wig-wag  crossings in Moorhead, especially on a warm summer night, I was in heaven. One  memorable night in particular comes to mind. I slept by an open window (no air  conditioning) one hot, hot night in August 1965 (upper 90s that night), in pure  misery, stewing in my own sweat. I finally got to sleep about midnight, but as  No. 26 left town at 1:42, I woke up. With that symphony, my misery was almost  gone, the residual displeasure caused only by my being in bed rather than  trackside.    The NP was more than a mile from our house at the time, whereas the GN was only  a few blocks away. Nevertheless, no Empire Builder's Leslie/K-Mart multi-tone  ever did that for me. ("Attention K-Mart shoppers, blue light special in aisle  five, garden hoses and Leslie horns!") If I had ever heard an NP F-unit blow a  Leslie multi-, I probably would have died of a heart attack, even at that young  age.    An interesting thing about the NP's Nathans comes to mind. Whenever the  engineer would vary the amount of pull on the whistle cord, of course, the  three tones would not necessarily all sound. The further he pulled the cord,  the more tones sounded. And the order in which they sounded mattered, too, and  was quite consistent from one unit to the next. First was the middle tone, then  came the top and bottom tones. What was so neat was that he could use just one  or two tones for a crossing in town if he so desired. (NP Fargo Divn Special  Instructions prohibited whistling for the three downtown streets except in  emergencies.) That way, he could warn the foolish and errant pedestrian without  blowing all the elderly residents out of their beds in Dacotah Hotel, ensconced  above J.C. Penneys and alongside the NP. Even better, the one or two-tone sound  of the Nathan wasn't stupid. It sounded okay and acceptable for the intended  purpose. The GN's always sounded stupid when less than three tones sounded, and  barely acceptable when all tones sounded.    As for Leslie mulit-toned horns (like the GN ones) on NP Geeps, I never saw one  in real life (pre-BN) nor did I ever hear one that I know of, but I do have but  one or two color slides that may show this rare phenomenon. In any case, if it  ever happened pre-merger, it would have been quite unusual. The statements made  by others on this site regarding the original blat horns on NP GP-7s are  correct.    Also, in my book I did not use the Nathan model "P-3" designation. I simply  said "Nathan Air Chimes." Two reasons: this was what NP officers and men called  them, including shop personnel, and there may have been some instances when a  Nathan other than a P-3 was used. I ran into some contradicting evidence on  this point.    There's plenty of F-unit headlight info in the book, too, maybe more than one  would care to know. There were several different headlight configurations,  depending on model, and in some cases there was a unique situation on  individual units within a model group. For example, NP F-9A 7050A had a unique  (for an F-9) headlight arrangement, as did F-7 6511A and F-5 6506C (after  1966!).    By the way, I'm not a modeler. To those who are and who try to accurately  represent NP equipment in whatever scale, my hat's off to you. You do all of us  NP fans a great service. And, you're asking the right questions. Hope I've  returned the favor by helping you along in your endeavors.    End of soap box and NP commercial. (No book commercial, however; I've already  been paid my royalties.)  F3, F7, F9, details, modifications, sources  Compiler  C Frissell