Introduced: 1975 (Kato/Japan version), reintroduced 1998 (Chinese-made "Rail Baron" version)
This locomotive was originally manufactured for Con-Cor by Kato (Japan), a relationship that lasted until 1989 when Con-Cor and Kato parted ways. As part of the split, all of the tooling for Con-Cor branded models was returned from Japan to the USA. Starting in 1998, Con-Cor starting producing "in-house" versions of this model for sale under their new "Rail Baron Collection" label (and with most of the actual manufacturing taking place in China). Prototypically speaking, these models are based on GE's later four-truck "Veranda" version of the Gas-Turbine.
The chassis/mechanism is the same as the one used in the Kato-designed Con-Cor U50 (introduced in 1973). And I can't say that this Turbine shell works particularly well with the recycled chassis, as it tends to pull right off with very little effort (in fact, sometimes it pulls right off when you're not trying to pull it off at all).
Both versions are nice looking models (if you can get past the bloated handrails) and decent enough performers. The mechanism is a variation on the horizontally split-frame design that originated in the Con-Cor/Kato Alco PA model of the 1960s. So, a bit dated, but still respectable. Unfortunately, the middle trucks are a bit problematic. They don't provide any pick-up or propulsion, and being basically free-floating (IE, not attached to the chassis) about the only thing they're "good" for is occasionally derailing. Still, the eight-wheel drive and pickup does make for smooth operation at all speeds. Neither version runs as quietly as more modern diesel models, but the growliness (particularly in the Kato version) is not overly distracting.
The differences between the Kato Turbines and the later Rail Baron Tubines are minimal. First and foremost, the motor was upgraded from a standard 5-poler to a 5-pole skew-wound job. And the newer motor does provide for a slightly smoother and quieter ride, not to mention a much lower top-end speed. About the only other noteworthy change that I can detect between the two is blackened wheels on the Rail Baron version. Apart from some minor paint differences, the shells themselves appear to be identical. Just speculating, but the composition of the plastic used for the handrails on the tender may have changed in the switch from Japan to China. The handrails on my old Kato tender are extremely brittle and prone to breaking, whereas my Rail Baron's are sturdy and supple.
Early versions of the Kato-made models used wheelback wipers to conduct current from the wheels to the metal truck halves. Said wipers were prone to collecting a lot of dirt and needed to be cleaned fairly regularly. These wipers were dropped fairly early on by Kato, with the trucks being redesigned such that current flowed from the axles directly into the truck halves. Oddly enough, some of these very early Kato-made units actually used decals for some of their graphics (as opposed to being painted on).
Only the Union Pacific versions are even remotely prototypical. All the rest of Con-Cor's paint schemes are (as was there wont) complete fantasies. EG -
These models were discontinued circa 2005 as part of Con-Cor's "The Boss Is Retiring" downsizing effort. New DCC-Ready versions were announced at one point (scheduled for delivery in 2013), but at this point in history it seems unlikely that that project will ever come to fruition. Despite their various inadequacies, Con-Cor's Veranda Turbines remain in high demand on the secondary market (expect to pay $200 or more for a UP version, and slightly less for the fantasy livery schemes).