GMD-1 Masterclass

GMD-1 Masterclass

By Jason Shron With thanks to: Dan Dell'Unto; Ken Goslett; Gord Hilderman; Steve Lucas; Dave Minshall; Mark Perry; Brian Schuff; and Graham Wood.

There have been numerous variations of the GMD-1 locomotive since its first delivery in 1958. This master class will give you a broad introduction to the interesting history and different versions of this unique Canadian workhorse.

  • Original models: 1000 and 1900
  • Northern Alberta's GMD-1 Locomotives
  • The first rebuilds: The 1100s
  • The second rebuilds: The 1600s
  • The third rebuilds: The 1400s
  • GMD-1 Spotting differences
  • GMD-1 Fun and interesting trivia!

A quartet of GMD-1 locomotives rumbles through Portage La Prairie, Manitoba in 1973. Photo courtesy Ken Goslett.


The first GMD-1 order was for 29 1000-series locomotives and 18 1900-series locomotives. The 1000-series featured an A1A-A1A wheel arrangement, with 40" drivers and a 33" idler wheelset in the middle. This spread the unit's 120 tons over six axles instead of four, making the locomotive ideal for the light rail used on CN branchlines in the Prairies. Units 1000-1028 were classified GR-12m. (G)eneral Motors (R)oad Switcher - (12)00 horsepower. The m is a means of distinguishing the order from other orders of 1200 horsepower roadswitchers. Strangely, CN did not distinguish between locomotive types. GR-12 also referred to Newfoundland narrow-gauge NF-110 and NF-210 locos, as well as the SW1200RS and some American (Central Vermont and Grand Trunk Western) SW1200 locomotives.

The 1000-series GMD-1 was intended mainly for freight service, with its 65 MPH gearing and lack of a steam generator or pass-through steam lines. However, they could be used with Steam Generator Cars as their cabs were equipped with steam generator controls and blowdown buttons. The initial order was followed by four more: 1029-1033 (GR-12s); 1034-1049 (GR-12t); 1050-1067 (GR-12w); 1068-1077 (GR-12z). All 78 1000-series GMD-1 locomotives were delivered between 1958 and 1960.


GMD-1 1907 steams up a storm at Spadina Yard in the 1960s. Photo courtesy John Mellow.

The 1900-series featured a more typical B-B arrangement with Flexicoil trucks. Classified GRG-12n, the 1900-series GMD-1 was geared for 83 MPH and had a Vapor OK-4625 steam generator in the short hood (hence the extra "G" in the class designation). The 1900s were intended for commuter and other short-run passenger services. There were 18 in total, 1900-1917, delivered in 1958 and 1959.


NAR GMD-1 locomotives 312 and 305 accelerate a mixed freight north of Edmonton, Alberta. Photo courtesy Mike Schafer.


Northern Alberta Railways, a regional railroad jointly owned by CN and CP, ordered five GMD-1 locomotives in 1959, numbered 301-305. NAR also purchased two units from CN in 1961: CN 1072 became NAR 311, and CN 1077 became NAR 312. The NAR units differed from CN's units in that they operated short-hood forward, a practice inherited from parent CP. They also retained their straight exhaust stacks whereas CN's units gained spark arrestors very early on (see GMD-1 Spotting Features below). Apart from these and some other small cosmetic differences, the NAR GMD-1 locomotives were mechanically identical to the CN 1000-series units and also featured an A1A-A1A wheel arrangement.

In 1979, NAR celebrated its 50th birthday and named its GMD-1 locomotives after people who had a significant role in the development of the region. The names appeared on the cab sides below the unit number. CN absorbed NAR in 1981 and quickly blacked out the unit numbers. All of the ex-NAR locomotives were eventually painted into CN colours with mixed results. See GMD-1 Fun and Interesting Trivia! below.


1163 was rebuilt from 1063 in 1986. Photo courtesy Brian Schuff.


With the rationalization of some branchlines and the upgrading of the rails on others, CN no longer needed so many lightweight, six-axle units. A rebuild program was started on the GMD-1 locomotives, utilizing Flexicoil trucks from retired GP9 engines. Apart from new trucks, the 1100s received new, 2000-gallon fuel tanks (double the size of their previous tanks) and improved, inboard sanding equipment to replace the truck-mounted sandboxes. They also received rebuilt steps, with three openings in the wells instead of two. I guess CN crews were tired of that first step being a doozy.

Not every unit was upgraded. In total, there were 46 locomotives upgraded to the 1100 series between 1983 and 1988. CN simply added 100 to the unit number, so 1063 became 1163 and so on. The last 1100-series GMD-1 in service was 1177, finally retired in 2006. Many 1100-series GMD-1 locomotives were later rebuilt and still remain in service today as 1400-series engines. As well, 1100s can be found on shortlines such as the Alberta Prairie Railway (1118) and the Southern Railway of British Columbia (1116, 1153, 1169, 1170 and 1172 renumbered 1201-1205 respectively).


The first three GMD-1 1600-series rebuilds repose in Regina in 1989. No, we don't know why the "1" is filled in either. Photo courtesy Ken Goslett.


In 1988 CN rebuilt 15 more GMD-1 locomotives for continued branchline use on the Prairies. Unlike the 1100s, this was a major rebuild performed by CN's Pointe St-Charles shops in Montreal. The batteries were removed from the short hood and replaced with a chemical toilet and access door; the batts were moved outboard beside the short hood and can be seen clearly in the photo above. The units received anticlimbers, ditch light brackets, straight exhaust stacks, upgraded sanding, snowplows, improved traction motors, and Wabco 26L brakes (replacing the old 6SL and 26L systems). The cabs were re-oriented to run short hood forward, and interior facilities were improved - they now had a fridge! The 1600-series units were called GMD-1A and received the class designation GR-612A.


A trio of 1600-series GMD-1 locomotives attempts to outrun a thunderstorm between Kendal and Montmartre, Saskatchewan in 1989. This is one of the most beautiful and iconic Canadian railway photos I have ever seen. Photo courtesy Jim Gilley.

Most importantly for railfans, the 1600-series GMD-1 locomotives received what would become the definitive GMD-1 paint scheme: red short hood and gorgeous striped long hood. These were instantly recognizable to railfans from a distance and came to symbolize Canadian branchline traffic in the 1990s.


1421 has a truck a changeout in October 2012. This is at CN's Walker Yard diesel shop in Edmonton, Alberta. Photo courtesy Graham Wood.


CN followed the 1600-series rebuilds in 1988 with the 1400-series rebuilds in 1989. The GMD-1B, classified GR-412B, is mechanically very similar to its 1600-series cousin. The main differences are the larger, 2000 gallon fuel tank and the 4-wheel, Flexicoil trucks. The 1400s also received a toilet, accessed from inside the cab. According to one CN engineer who has operated the GMD-1 locomotives since the dark ages, the addition of toilets was a reflection of the fact that railroading was no longer a boys-only club. The women engineers requested toilets in more units. Operation of the 1400s remained long-hood forward.

1400-1402 were rebuilt from 1917, 1916 and 1913 respectively, thus retaining their original Flexicoil trucks. The remaining 1400s done in 1989 (numbers 1403-1423) were rebuilt from 1000-series GMD-1 locomotives using the trucks from retired GP9 engines.

The 1400s and 1600s received upgraded power assemblies, effectively creating a 645C prime mover rather than its original 567C. The 1100s did not receive upgraded engines.


GMD-1 1438 simmers at Winnipeg's Symington Yard in January 2012. It looks great considering the paint job is 24 years old! Photo courtesy Mark Perry.

Between 1998 and 2000, all 15 1600-series GMD-1 locomotives were rebuilt to 1400s using the trucks and fuel tanks from retired 1100s. Just to add some interest for railfans, these were numbered 1430-1444. I'm sure someone can write a series of science fiction novels about the missing numbers 1424-1429. It could be called "Locomotives in Space" and feature a robot classed GMD-1 model 1600 that shouts, "Danger! Hunter Harrison! Danger!" Make of that what you will...

At the time of writing, 24 1400-series GMD-1B locomotives are still in service for CN.


This section of the Master Class features some of the major spotting differences between the different classes of GMD-1 locomotives. There are more differences from one GMD-1 to another than for almost any other class of locomotive. For that reason, Rapido's model of the GMD-1 includes a polybag filled with all sorts of extra details so you can customize your own model to match a specific photo. Even the grab irons moved around using the scientific methods of "pot luck" and "we felt like it."


GMD-1 #1059 in Winnipeg, 1970s. Photo courtesy Brian Schuff.

The most numerous GMD-1 locomotive was the 1000-series, with a total of 83 built (including the five for NAR). 1059 shows a typical arrangement for most of these units for most of their service life. The important details are the A-1-A trucks (1) and the small 1000-gallon fuel tank (2). All CN GMD-1 locomotives had their horn (3) moved to the long hood beside the bell, and in fact units 1050 and above were delivered with the horn in this location.

From unit 1034 onwards, all GMD-1 locomotives (with the exception of the first five NAR units) were delivered with spark arrestors (4) which remained until the 1600 and 1400 rebuilds. The radiators received a large shutter assembly (5) on most 1000-series units and some 1900s. These were mounted flush with each other or offset, with one cover set back a few inches behind the other. We haven't been able to figure out why, either.

From 1029 onwards, all GMD-1 locomotives had frame-mounted handrails (6) for safety. 1000-1028 and the 1900s received them from the early 1960s, with the exception of 1000 and 1001 which were stuck on Vancouver Island and didn't get their new handrails until 1969 or thereabouts. Our model only has frame-mounted handrails due to the cost of tooling an all-new shell and all-new frame when the hood-mounted handrails were used for such a short time period. There's a kitbashing project for you!

All GMD-1 locomotives had just two step openings (7), making that first step a biggie. The sandboxes were originally truck mounted (8), but in 1980 the inside sandboxes were removed. Maybe they were catching on 18" radius curves... With the 1100-series rebuilds, the GMD-1 locomotives received inboard sanding equipment with filler hatches on the hood.


1912 leads a passenger train past Spadina Yard in the 1960s. Photo courtesy John Mellow.

1912 shows a typical 1900-series GMD-1. The most significant details are the steam generator vents (1) on the short hood and the two-axle Flexicoil trucks (2). The steam generator details are not just on the roof - the short hood on the 1900-series unit is full of access doors. This means that we needed to make a new set of slides for the 1900-series body. The steam generators were removed in the early 1970s from units 1904-1917 as these were no longer needed for passenger duties. 1900-1903 retained their steam generators and were used in Winnipeg to switch passenger cars, often with passengers on board!

The steam generator details stayed on some units and were removed on others. Eventually, in the 1990s, all of the steam generators were removed and plates welded onto the short hood roof where the various vents had been.

The other major difference is the large, 1225-gallon water tank (3) with its prominent filler hatch (4) and the consequent small fuel tank (5) with a capacity of only 775 gallons.

From delivery until the 1990s, every GMD-1 was usually carrying one or two rerailers (6). The units were built with a rack in front of the cab where the rerailers were stored in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1970s they were moved below the frame (in various locations) and either a ladder, a set of stairs, or a series of grab irons were placed in their old location. We have tooled all of these parts - the ladder, the stairs, the grab irons, the rerailers above the frame, and the rerailer below the frame. We include them in the box when appropriate and we leave it to you to match photos and choose what you want to install and where. You can see the stairs on the photo below.

The photo of 1912 shows the lack of shutters above the radiator vents (7). I've seen the tops of the vents flush and with a slightly raised lip. Why CN couldn't be consistent is anyone's guess! The sandboxes on the 1900-series units (8) were larger than the 1000-series units (with smaller trucks there's more room!) and the total sand capacity was 27 cubic feet vs. 16 cubic feet for the 1000s.

And just to add to our headache as a manufacturer: units 1900-1912 had two stanchions on the handrail beside the short hood, whereas 1913-1917 had three. Our tooling only has two, so if you are modelling 1913-1917 you will need to add a stanchion if you really want to be anal retentive. I think that's going too far even for me, Mr. Anal Retentive.


1910 switches cars at mile 142 of the St-Laurent subdivision in Montreal in 1989. Photo by me (using a cheap point-and-shoot when I was only 14!).

The train in the photo above comprised a GMD-1, two reefers, and a transfer van. What an awesome train to model! The stairs where the rerailers used to be can be seen clearly here (10) .


1166 wears the rare CN North America scheme in the 1990. Photo courtesy Brian Schuff.

The 1100 rebuilds look very much like 1000-series engines above the frame. Below the frame you can see the Flexicoil trucks (1), the 2000-gallon fuel tank (2) and the extra step hole (3).

The sand is now loaded through the large filler hatch at the front (4) which has a step beside it for ease of servicing, as well as the small hatch on the short hood roof (5). Below the forward sand filler is an access hatch (6) only found on the 1100s. Finally, all CN GMD-1 locomotives began to receive all-weather windows on the driver's side in 1976. In fact, I'm pretty sure they all received them by the end of the year. Please prove me wrong!

This photo nicely illustrates the ladder (8) installed on many units where the rerailers used to be stored.


1607 unravels the mystery of the random locomotive number treatment. Photo courtesy Brian Schuff.

1600 really was the oddball for having one white number. The remaining 1600s (including the "600" in 1600) received gold numbers with a white outline. As you can see above, the gold faded fairly quickly and unevenly. This was done on purpose by CN to make modelling more difficult.

The most noticeable difference between the 1600 and its 1000-series cousins (apart from the paint scheme) is the fact that the straight exhaust stacks (1) are back for the first time since 1959, but they are far from identical to the originals. The 1600s and 1400s received internal spark arresting exhaust manifolds. So the spark arrestors are still there, but they're hiding!

The battery boxes (2) are very clearly visible in front of the cab, leaving room for the crapper in the short hood which is accessed by the neat little door (3). I would hate to have to go in the middle of a snowstorm. The handrails beside the short hood have been modified to clear the batts. The 1600 has finally received proper sand filler hatches (4) on both hoods.

Both ends were given snow ploughs (5) as well as anticlimbers (6). This was a major change, requiring new handrails above. However, this allowed plenty of room for ditch light brackets (7) and a spare knuckle to be stored at all times.

During the 1600 and 1400 rebuilds, both cab side windows received the all-weather treatment (8).


A trio of 1600s works CN #572 at Riceton, Saskatchewan in May 1997. Photo courtesy Mark Perry.


Mark is an extremely talented photographer, and few have captured the Prairies on film quite like he has. Here is a gorgeous pan shot of 1609 leading CN #551 at Valley River, Manitoba in December 1992. Photo courtesy Mark Perry.


1404 on an overcast day in Winnipeg. Photo courtesy Brian Schuff.

Since I've covered the 1100s and the 1600s, there isn't much left that is unique to the 1400s. The straight stacks (1) are the biggest difference from the 1100s. This view shows the step (2) beside the front sand filler hatch quite well, and crews no longer have to shove a piece of plywood in front of the radiator fan when needed as it now has built-in shudders (3). Like the 1600s, the anticlimber and snowplow (4) completely change the look of the frame at both ends.

The extra step (5) was added to 1403-1408 and 1417-22. Why those units? Your guess is as good as mine. Other spotting details are the Flexicoil truck (6) and large fuel tank (7). Beside the front truck was a common location for the hanging rerailer. Finally the battery box (8) can be seen behind the cab.


In this section of the Master Class you will learn exciting (excruciating?) tidbits of information that you probably didn't know about the GMD-1 and probably won't care about even after you learn them!


Builder's photo of the first GMD-1, 1958

The first order of GMD-1 locomotives had two unusual features compared to the rest of the fleet. They featured hood-mounted handrails (1) and straight exhaust stacks (2). They also featured large lift rings on the hood sides (3) and a cab-mounted horn (4). The large lift rings were removed in the early 1960s and replaced with standard lift rings on the roof, though we include the large ones in the box.

The cab-mounted horn was replaced while the GMD-1 locomotives were still being made, but we include them as well. Interestingly, NAR units kept their cab-mounted horns throughout their service lives.

If you wish to backdate your unit to 1958 with the hood-mounted handrails, you are pretty much on your own as we don't include the long handrail detail in the box. However, we do include the small handrail on the short hood (5) as many of the first order GMD-1 units kept these for a while.


1070 in Winnipeg in the early 1970s. Photo courtesy Brian Schuff.

Almost one person has noticed that we did not include any locomotives from class GR-12z, numbers 1068-1077. That's because, for whatever reason, GMD decided to install the exhaust stacks closer together, as you can see in the photo above. Of course, I forgot this when we announced NAR 311 and 312, so if you've ordered those your stacks are a few inches farther apart than they should be: 311 and 312 were former CN GR-12z units. Sorry about that! Thankfully during the 1100-series rebuilds the stacks were put in the correct locations for our model. Phew!


CN 1082 (former NAR 305) rests in Winnipeg in March 1981, three months after transfer to CN. Photo by Paul Smith courtesy

Speaking of Northern Alberta Railways, it's interesting to see how the NAR paint scheme was treated differently on three different units after transfer to CN on 1 January 1981. 1082 above shows the NAR scheme in all its glory, with only the number area blacked out for the new number placement. Even the name "Peter Pond," applied in 1979, is still there.


1081 photographed three days earlier in the same location. Photo by U. Zurcher courtesy

1081 was photographed the same week and it shows a marked contrast: a gorgeous new coat of CN paint, though the unit retained its straight stacks, bell on the short hood, cab-mounted horn, and large lift rings. Even the trucks have been painted! Bless.


1080 photographed in Winnipeg in December 1989. Photo courtesy Mark Perry.

I would love to see someone model 1080! Almost nine years after transferring to CN, 1080 is still in NAR colours. It appears that the NAR yellow has either faded off or was painted black years earlier and that is now fading off. It's also hard to tell if the original blue has just faded to black or if that was also repainted. Amazingly, Bishop Grouard's name looks like it was just applied last week. 1080 was rebuilt to 1180 the next year.


1063 is about to be used on the 1430 tramp yard assignment in North Regina yard in 1982 or 1983. Photo courtesy Graham Wood.

Long live the ugly green paint! For those of you a lot older than I am who love CN's 1950s (ugh!) colours, the GMD-1 is your nirvana. 1063 remained in green paint until 1982! This unit was later rebuilt to 1163 but then retrucked with 6-wheel trucks (off of 1602) in 1999 and once again became 1063. Other units to return to 6-axles were 1078 and 1082. These conversions (restorations?) took place in 2000.


1063 still in green paint, New Year's Eve 1981. Photo by Paul Smith courtesy


1040 still wears green paint when photographed in Saskatoon in 1980. Photo by R. Gallagher courtesy

1040 was another holdout for the ugly green scheme, alongside brothers 1026, 1032, 1045 and 1052. I guess when it comes to freight equipment, I can no longer refer to this scheme as "short lived." Though I will still refer to it as such for passenger equipment, especially for the FPA-4. When will a museum or short line paint those gorgeous FPA-4 engines in their stunning sergeant-striped scheme instead of boring old green? I mean, some of them only wore green paint for TWO YEARS! But I digress...


1023 in Saskatoon, April 1981.Photo by R. Gallagher courtesy

For those of you who like a bit of old and a bit of new, how about modelling 1023 in 1981? It has a black body with a green door, and the logo has a nice variety of green and red. Or if you really want to get crazy, how about going with a full-on green noodle logo?


1071 at Symington Yard in Winnipeg in 1980. Photo by Paul Smith courtesy

Many GMD-1 locomotives are still in service on short lines in Canada and the United States., and... Cuba?


51209 (formerly 1134) in service in Cuba. This unit was originally 1034, then rebuilt as 1134. It received the fuel tank and three-axle truck from 1603 (formerly 1026). In 1998 and was sold to Ferrocarriles Consolidados de Cuba. Confused? So am I. Photo courtesy Jose Martin.

Yes, the National Railway Company of Cuba is currently the world's second-largest owner of GMD-1 locomotives, with 20 on the roster. If the GMD-1 itself wasn't unique enough for you, these are an even more unique subclass: each has one six-wheel truck and one four-wheel truck. Mark Perry explains:

The 1100 series that were sold to Cuba were initially fitted with B-B trucks but these proved to be too heavy for the light Cuban railway infrastructure so the FCdeC bought a bunch of the A-1-A truck's from Canac (left over and sitting around after the 1100 series rebuild program) and fitted the front end of the GMD-1's with these used six axle trucks. While many retained the B-B truck under the cab, there many that were fitted with two A-1-A trucks as originally built, as well.

Whatever trucks they have, the Cuban GMD-1 looks awesome. We'll see if we are able to produce it in HO scale with a later run. We may run into gearing issues between the trucks. If we do produce it, the big question is: can we sell it in the USA, or will it be embargoed?


51209 (formerly 1134) in service in Cuba. Photo courtesy Jose Martin.

That's it for this GMD-1 Master Class. You now know more about the GMD-1 locomotive than most other humans on this planet, though I am told there is a school of dolphins that specializes in obscure locomotives so they probably know more than we do. I hope this Master Class has convinced you to order a dozen GMD-1 locomotives for your narrow-gauge 1930s Colorado short line.

I'll leave you with a handful of wonderful GMD-1 photos from the accomplished eye of photographer (and CN locomotive engineer) Mark Perry.


It's a dry cold, really! Spreader 50972 is pushed by three GMD-1 locomotives (two 1600s and probably a 1000) at Mile 4 of Rossburn Subdivision (just outside of Neepawa, Manitoba) in February 1990. Photo courtesy Mark Perry


CN #546 at is pulled by three 1600s at Oakburn, Manitoba in September 1990: a typical Prairie scene! Photo courtesy Mark Perry


CN #553 is pulled by 1606, 1078 and 1608 at MacNutt, Saskatchewan in April 1991. Someone has put 1608's hood cover on backwards! Photo courtesy Mark Perry


CN #549 at Fork River, Manitoba in July 1996. Mark explains: "The tiny village of Fork River was celebrating its 100 year birthday and decorations were put up all around the village. The previous week, the weekly #549 "Fork River Turn" that ran up the 10 mile Winnipegosis sub had caught the decorations on the cab of the train's GMD-1 and pulled them down. This week the village Local Government District brought out a front end loader to help keep the decorations up. That is my youngest son Keith watching from the sidelines!" Photo courtesy Mark Perry.

Copyright © 2023 Rapido Train, Inc. All rights reserved.