Web Site of ToyTrains1
Train Reviews

I occasionally post reviews of my new model trains.   Click on the link to go directly to that review, or scroll through them -- they're in chronological order.


Date Locomotive Reviewed
02-Dec-2000 MTH Premier UP F-E-F Steam Locomotive
04-Dec-2000 MTH Premier C&O Greenbrier Steam Locomotive
17-Aug-2001 MTH Premier Great Northern R-2 Steam Locomotive
07-Sep-2001 MTH Premier AT&SF Texas Steam Locomotive
21-Sep-2001 MTH Premier PRR H10 Consolidation Steam Locomotive
27-Oct-2001 MTH Premier PRR Baldwin Sharknose Diesel Locomotives
14-Dec-2001 MTH Premier NKP Berkshire (FWRHS Special) Steam Locomotive
28-Dec-2001 MTH Premier SP GS-2 Daylight Steam Locomotive
08-Jan-2002 MTH Premier N&W Y6b Steam Locomotive
30-Jan-2002 MTH Premier Erie Triplex Steam Locomotive
14-Mar-2002 MTH Premier PRR Lima-Hamilton Transfer Diesel Locomotive
23-Sep-2002 MTH Railking R-36 World's Fair Subway Set
27-Nov-2002 MTH Tinplate Traditions #10 Standard Gauge Christmas Set
20-Dec-2002 MTH Premier PRR DD1 Electric Locomotives
24-Feb-2003 MTH Premier UP Challenger Steam Locomotive
26-Feb-2003 MTH Premier Virginian Triplex Steam Locomotive
08-Apr-2003 MTH Premier PRR Mountain Steam Locomotive
28-Apr-2003 MTH Premier PRR FF2 Electric Locomotive
04-Jun-2003 MTH Premier C&O Shay Steam Locomotive
02-Jul-2003 MTH Premier PRR S1 Steam Locomotive
28-Sep-2003 MTH Operating Watchman's Shanty
12-Nov-2003 MTH Premier C&O Allegheny Steam Locomotive
08-Dec-2003 MTH Rugged Rails 2-8-0 Consolidation Steam Locomotive
10-Dec-2003 MTH Premier NP Yellowstone Steam Locomotive
20-Jan-2004 MTH Premier PRR Decapod (2-10-0) Steam Locomotive
24-Feb-2004 MTH Premier PRR K4s Pacific (4-6-2) Steam Locomotive
28-Apr-2004 MTH Premier Erie Angus (0-8-8-0) Steam Locomotive
04-June-2004 MTH Premier PRR L5 Electric Locomotive
09-July-2004 MTH Premier NYC A-2 Berkshire (2-8-4) Steam Locomotive
07-Sep-2004 MTH Premier Santa Fe Hudson (4-6-4) Steam Locomotive
03-Dec-2004 MTH Tinplate Traditions 384E Standard Gauge Christmas Set
07-Dec-2004 MTH Premier Great Northern S-2 Northern (4-8-4) Steam Locomotive
10-Mar-2005 MTH Premier Reading T-1 Northern (4-8-4) Steam Locomotive
12-Mar-2005 MTH Premier PRR H3 Consolidation (2-8-0) Steam Locomotive
13-Jul-2005 MTH Premier PRR BB1 Electric Locomotive
26-Jul-2005 MTH Premier PRR J1 Texas (2-10-4) Steam Locomotive
09-Oct-2005 MTH Premier R-1 Subway Set
09-Oct-2005 MTH RailKing Lo-V Subway Set
23-Dec-2005 MTH Tinplate Traditions 263E Steam Locomotive
23-Dec-2005 MTH Premier PRR D16d American (4-4-0) Steam Locomotive
05-Mar-2006 MTH Premier NYC #999 American (4-4-0) Steam Locomotive
15-Aug-2006 MTH Premier PRR A5 Four-Coupled (0-4-0) Steam Locomotive
27-Dec-2006 MTH Premier Heavyweight RPO Cars
10-Jan-2007 MTH Premier Heavyweight Baggage/Coach Cars
01-Feb-2007 MTH Premier Heavyweight Combine/Diner Cars
10-Feb-2007 MTH Premier PRR FF1 Electric Locomotive
10-Jul-2007 MTH Premier CNJ Boxcab Diesel Locomotive
10-Jul-2007 MTH Premier PRR L1s Mikado (2-8-2) Steam Locomotive
07-Aug-2007 MTH Premier PRR B28 Six-Coupled (0-6-0) Steam Locomotive
19-Aug-2007 MTH Premier GN Z-6 Challenger (4-6-6-4) Steam Locomotive
21-Apr-2008 MTH Premier SP Cab Forward (4-8-8-2) Steam Locomotive
22-Apr-2008 MTH Premier 19th Century Woodsided Passenger Cars

02-Dec-2000 -- MTH Premier UP F-E-F Steam Locomotive

Quite a day at the train store! Having packed up the Atlantic, I wandered around to see if anything else new might catch my fancy. As I wandered past the display case of locomotives, something caught my eye. "Hmmm," I say to myself, "I don't recall seeing that before." Sitting in the case was a UP FEF, #844 (photos on the linked page). I looked at it, then looked at it again. Blackened drivers, dull rods, beautiful valve gear, loads of added details and piping, elephant ears, painted valve handles -- "say, this is a really attractive locomotive!" Big too -- at first blush, looked bigger than the GS4 or the Greenbrier. The tender is Big Boy sized, but with yet more detail. The dealer notes that I've found something -- "We just got that in the other day -- only one I have left -- would you like to look at it?" Need he have asked? So it comes out of the display case and into my hands. Heavy sucker! Even more attractive up close and personal. And it was whispering to me (must be one of the new PS2 features)! "Take me home, take me home!"

::sigh:: So I did. Soundwise, see the Atlantic review -- same superlative sounds. Whistle -- I have videotapes of the 844 and it sure sounds like what's on them! Heavy PUFF!ing smoke like the Atlantic -- but even heavier (two stacks with an overall larger opening, don't'cha know). Twice around the layout, pulling the 35 car train that the Lionel Challenger's been pulling (with not a hint of complaint or slippage) and bingo! the smoke alarms go off. A non-train friend was over, and was entranced by it running -- he noted, all by his lonesome, the synchronization of the CHUFF!s and PUFF!s with the wheel rotation. (You know, I think they may have something here!) Felt adventurous, and gave it the rest of the Big Boy train -- 48 cars -- and it pulled them without protest or slip. This is one powerful engine. Set it to creeping ahead with the long train, and released a coupler part way down the line -- and it kept creeping. Nifty stuff!

Two new toys in one day, both of them perfect in all regards, both with new guts that make them run and sound better than almost all of my other locomotives. Today was a GOOD day!

(The day I get the bill for this good day, that will be a BAD day!!)

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04-Dec-2000 -- MTH Premier C&O Greenbrier Steam Locomotive

I am very happy with my Greenbrier (photos on the linked page). It pulls its assigned load (the full MTH C&O heavyweight passenger set) with no complaints. It runs about my layout with no problem, traversing all of my turnouts and S-curves without a hint of jumping the track. I've ridden behind the prototype 614 and have had a chance to examine it up close and personal, and the model is a very good representation of the prototype.

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17-Aug-2001 -- MTH Premier Great Northern R-2 Steam Locomotive

I went to The Model Railroad Shop this evening, figuring that I'd pick up the new Lionel catalog, see what I wanted to order, and perhaps get a couple of magazines. When I got there, I was told that they had a new toy for me. When I asked what, I was told that it was THAT big (full arms outstretched), had 16(!) drivers, and was green. It turned out to be the subject locomotive. Initial impression: WOW! This one has the most detail yet!

The first thing you notice when you unpack the locomotive is a wiggly plastic tube sticking out of the back of the locomotive. Then you note that the tender is an oil tender. The guy at the shop looks at me, I look at him, and we say at the same moment, "oil pipe!" And so it is -- there's a projection on the tender that this oil pipe slips onto. It's not a big deal, but it sure adds to the realism of the model. So does the squared-off, very long firebox (if I didn't know better, I'd say it was a Belpaire design).

The added-on details are too numerous to list. Suffice it to say that it even has the throttle linkage coming out of the cab and running down the side of the boiler, with a shift linkage about halfway down. The backhead detail is complete, with the gauge faces painted as on the PRR Q2. This one also has a first -- a hinged stack cover that flips closed when the locomotive is not in use. It has add-on piping all over, including a few on the top of the boiler that neither I nor anyone at the shop have the faintest idea as to what function they performed in real life.

On the test track, its performance was flawless -- rich deep sound, double-chuff going in and out of sync, with the characteristic PS2 CHUFF! and PUFF! perfectly timed. The whistle is good, as is the bell (the bell itself is located at the front of the boiler, just above the pilot platform). The smoke is the usual PS2, dense and thick as I like it. It has the enhanced shut-down sounds that were first heard on the Q2, and the neutral sounds are quite something else!

This locomotive has, IMHO, the highest level of detail ever on an MTH Premier steamer, outdoing even the PRR Q2. In fact, I would rate it as fully equivalent to the Lionel JLC Challenger in terms of detail, at many hundreds of dollars less. In size, it's just slightly shorter than the PRR Q2, due in part to the massive Q2 tender vs. the R-2 (photos on the linked page) oil tender. It runs very, very well. In terms of sound (ARE YOU LISTENING MTH?), the whistle is a disappointment -- it's the same bloody whistle as in the Premier Niagara and the Premier Dreyfuss Hudson. C'mon guys -- I can believe that the two NYC steamers had the same whistle, but also on the GN R-2? What were you thinking? I hope that once DCS is out, you will have a DIFFERENT, MORE APPROPRIATE WHISTLE available for download for this locomotive!!!

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07-Sep-2001 -- MTH Premier AT&SF Texas Steam Locomotive

First impression: the Texas (photos on the linked page) tender is the largest that I have. It is bigger than the monster on the Q2, and is even a bit longer than the streamlined one on the T1. Locomotive and tender combined make for one heck of a sight with 50 scale cars behind it!

I've now had this bruiser on the rails. The CHUFF! and PUFF! of PS2 is perfectly in keeping with the high standard set by the Q2 and the R-2 (though of course there is no double-chuff as there is with those locomotives). There's more than enough smoke to satisfy even a smoke lover like me! The whistle is a new one, and is both quite good and quite different from others that I've heard. The bell is loud and clear. The locomotive is set at a factory default of 2 chuffs per driver revolution. It's a puller! I have the usual freight consist of about 45 scale cars behind it, and it pulls them along with no apparent effort.

The fit and finish are excellent. There's lots of add-on detail, and a very well finished cab interior (see photo). There are also two steam pipes on top of the boiler that I've not seen on other steamers, but have seen on photos of the ATSF prototype. The pilot hosts pumps, as did the prototype. The top of the tender has two added on details that are either pipes or railings, that came protected with their own individual pieces of foam. It's a classy looking piece! On the stack is a cast-in stack lifter detail that is so realistic, my dealer tried to actually lift it before realizing that it's cast-in and not functional.

Construction is first rate, though I do agree with the comment up above with regard to the size of the screw heads at the back of the cab -- c'mon guys, you can use smaller screws on a scale locomotive! The axles on the tender pass through what I assume are bronze fittings -- a little dab of oil on each and the tender is one of most free rolling that I have seen, even with it's size and weight. Pickup rollers are only on the locomotive and not the tender.

In summary, it's one very good looking and very well operating locomotive -- a nice addition to the fleet, as well as my first ten drivered locomotive.

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21-Sep-2001 -- MTH Premier PRR H10 Consolidation Steam Locomotive

I just brought the H10 Consolidation (photos on the linked page) home from the dealer. WOW! For now, here are some impressions. There's a very thin wire coming out of the cab to the bell bracket. As you move this wire, the bell moves back and forth -- in other words, a working bell cord! It also has a similar thin wire going to the whistle -- the whistle cord. Those are just a couple of examples of the level of detailing on this small locomotive. We tried it out in the store (of course), and it occasioned very favorable comments. The whistle is a banshee whistle, quite appropriate for this type of locomotive. The sound is very, very good! Smoke, of course, is what we've come to expect from PS2. With the three red markers, and the backup light (with the lighted number boards), watching this one backing up in the dark is a treat! Not only is the Consolidation gorgeous, it has pulling power that is belied by its size. I have a video of it in action on my web site that will amaze!

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27-Oct-2001 -- MTH Premier PRR Baldwin Sharknose Diesel Locomotives

I picked up my Sharks (photos on the linked page) yesterday, and got them up and running today. Though I usually prefer steam and hate diesels, well, they ARE PRR, so I suppose I can be excused!

These are well-executed models. Paint and finish are perfect (I've always been a sucker for the five stripe livery). The opening front doors in the nose of the A unit (with a working door handle that actually latches) are a great touch, as are the other openable spring-loaded doors. Both the A and B units are powered (two motors each) and both have smoke units. These are my first PS2 diesels, and though they don't PUFF! smoke as the steamers do, the smoke output is more than satisfactory (cough, cough). The sound is excellent -- good diesel sounds (is that an oxymoron?), excellent horn and bell, and the freight yard sounds are 'cute'.

I hooked them up to the PRR wreck train (which, with a gon with a heavy molded junk load, a heavyweight passenger car, and a very heavy crane is quite a load), and they haul it as though it wasn't there. The train looks great as it prowls the layout looking for a wreck to repair. Actually, the crane boom has quite an overhang on 42" diameter curves, and managed to snag and derail a tanker before I could stop it -- the wreck train creating its own wreck! I'm glad to say that all is well, and that after things got unsnagged, it was back to operation (with an elevated boom to avoid neighboring obstructions).

In short, these are beautiful locomotives -- they run very well, sound great, and look fantastic. It may seem strange that I like a diesel, but for these, I'm willing to make an exception! Besides, put them next to the T1 and you can see the family resemblance!

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14-Dec-2001 -- MTH Premier NKP Berkshire (FWRHS Special) Steam Locomotive

The man in the brown truck (Mr. OOPS!) just stopped by with a good sized box for me -- an MTH box taped with MTH tape. Attached to the box was an envelope marked "Important Documents Enclosed!" in such a way as to make it impossible to miss it. Containing my enthusiasm, I opened it first (!) Inside is a letter (sure to become a cherished collector's piece) from our own Rich Melvin (yea!!) and a brochure about the NKP 765. Gee, I bet I know what's in the box now!

Opening the shipping box reveals a classy purple box (in the obligatory plastic bag) containing one (1) NKP #779 Berkshire (photos on the linked page) with PS2! Opening the box reveals -- styrofoam! (Fooled you, didn't I?) Opening the styrofoam reveals a lovingly wrapped -- something? -- swaddled like a new-born babe. Undoing the swaddling (after carefully lifting with the purple ribbons) finally reveals the prize -- a beautifully detailed Nickel Plate Berkshire, #779. I will post more later, after I've had a chance to go over it (including the obligatory photos and movie on my web site), but here are a few first impressions to whet your whistle.

It has more detail than the PS1 765 -- and Lord knows, that was well detailed. It has a completely new backhead with at least ten times the detailing of the previous one. The sound is superb -- the synchronized CHUFF! and PUFF! of PS2 in all its glory. The whistle is -- well, you'll hear it in the movie this evening -- suffice it to say, it has to be one of the best put into a PS2 locomotive to date.

And do you know the best part of all? By getting this exquisite model locomotive, I've done a small part to help with the restoration of the 765 (and you'd better believe that when it's running again, I'll be on one of the trips!)

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28-Dec-2001 -- MTH Premier SP GS-2 Daylight Steam Locomotive

HOLY TOLEDO! We tried out the GS-2 (photos are on the linked page) at the store (of course). First impressions:

With the Premier GS-4 and GS-2 sitting next to each other, here are some of the differences:

GS-4

GS-2

Number boards amidships

Number boards at front

Dual headlight/mars light

Single headlight

Curved grab bar on smokebox door

Straight grab bar on smokebox door

Most add-ons (rails, etc.) silver

Most add-ons black

Cast in hatches, doors. windows, etc.

Operating hatches, doors, windows, etc.

Shiny drivers and drive rods

Blackened drivers, dull drive rods

Builders plates silver on gray

Builders plates gold on black

Plain backhead

Highly detailed backhead with picked-out handles

It runs like a dream! Very smooth operation, very smooth starts, creeps along at a snail's pace if you want it to, hauls my Coast Daylight (8 heavy cars) with no effort at all, has the synchronized CHUFF! n'PUFF! that makes PS2 so fascinating, and has a whistle that improves greatly on the original in the GS-4, which in and of itself was no slouch! The overall sound effects are excellent. As has been true of each of the PS2 locomotives that I've gotten over the last year, it's a great looking, great sounding, and great running addition to the layout.

As I said up above, the GS-2 does in fact use the same casting as the earlier GS-4, so the all-weather cab makes sense from that point of view, if not from a strictly prototypical rationale (does anyone happen to know if any of the six GS-2s ever got rebuilt later in life with the vestibule cab?). The "GS-4" marking on the cab, however, is an inexcusable slip up, and they should be ashamed of themselves!

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08-Jan-2002 -- MTH Premier N&W Y6b Steam Locomotive

WOW!  What adjectives do I use to describe a locomotive like this, a hulking brute designed to haul long, heavy coal trains through the mountains? Whichever ones they are, they apply to this model, in spades!

Where to start? It comes securely packed, with two velcro straps keeping the articulated trucks from moving during shipment. It's a heavy sucker! Appearance is top notch, with picked out valve handles, a thin cord leading from the cab to the whistle, curtains at the rear of the cab, sliding vents on the roof, cab windows that slide open and shut, opening hatches on the tender, full backhead detail with valve faces, firebox glow, darkened drivers, dull drive rods, etc., etc. The builders plate, though tiny, is very clearly legible -- "Norfolk & Western Ry. Y6b Built 1948 No, 366 Roanoke Shop".One look at the cylinders fore and aft tells you that this is a true Mallet, a compound articulated locomotive. It is a low-slung and heavy, and exudes power.

Operationally, it's superb. Very good sound, clear double chuffing, wonderful synchronized CHUFF! n'PUFF!, full regulated speed control, excellent slow speed operation, and a whistle that sounds like it's off the videotape "Hooters on the Blue Ridge." Each of these Premier steamers keeps getting better than the one before. This is clearly yet another high point in modeling.  You can see photos of this model on the 2-8-8-2 Articulated Steam Locomotives page.

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30-Jan-2002 -- MTH Premier Erie Triplex Steam Locomotive

Jumping Jehosaphat!!  I just picked up the Triplex from the Model Railroad Shop. As Ralph Cramden would have said, "hamanamamanamamana!!!" What a beast!

First impressions: It's a pale blue, as in Russian Iron. It has the most detail of any Premier locomotive to date. It has twin sets of double domes. It has sliding roof hatches. It has an opening hatch on the tender. The tender steam exhaust does the same CHUFF! n'PUFF! as the main smoke unit (only to a lesser extent, of course). All three sets of drivers are powered. It comes packed on a heavy cardboard board, to which it's held by several Velcro straps. The locomotive and tender are a single unit, as were the Climax and Shay. The marker lights look quite antique, in keeping with a locomotive built in the early part of the 20th century. Sound is excellent, with three sets of cylinders clearly evident. Thin cords (brass wire) run from the cab to the whistle and bell. It's got enough foam packing to choke a horse! It runs very smoothly, with marvelous low speed creep. The valve gearing is extraordinary!

Slight omission from the instruction manual, corrected here! The tender smoke unit is filled, like the main one, via the stack, but for the smaller tender unit only add about 10 drops of smoke fluid at a time.

Every time I look at this one, I discover something new! In the fourth photo on the 2-8-8-8-2 page, you can see one of the details that I missed the first time around -- there's a flip-down gangway at the rear of the locomotive cab that bridges the gap between the locomotive and tender!

The sounds are excellent -- crisp and clean, with great cylinder hissing and chuffing. With six cylinders, there is a LOT of chuffing! The freight yard sounds are interesting, with the locomotive being greased with the alemite gun, taking on water, and another steam powered train racing past, whistle blowing.

As I said previously, I haven't even lubed it yet, but a few times around the layout show it to be a very powerful puller, very smooth, with great slow speed creep and very responsive to the throttle. With the two smoke units, it isn't that long before the familiar haze develops!  Photos of this model are on the 2-8-8-8-2 Triplex Articulated Steam Locomotives page and videos of it in action are on the Multimedia page.

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14-Mar-2002 -- MTH Premier PRR Lima-Hamilton Transfer Diesel Locomotive

Not that I buy diesels, but the transfer diesel:

How's that for a mini-mini review?  You can see photos of this model on the Baldwin Diesel Locomotives page.

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23-Sep-2002 -- MTH Railking R-36 World's Fair Subway Set

I picked up this set at Island Trains' new store in Holmdel, NJ after seeing it on the counter. Though I've been trying to stick with the Premier line, this was just too attractive to pass up -- I remember riding on these baby-blue trains when going to the World's Fair and what a thrill it was (I was quite young at the time). After unpacking the set and putting it on the track, I powered it and added it to DCS with no fuss at all. The sounds started up smoothly and the set slowly began to creep down the track as I increased the speed notch by notch. Once I verified its perfect operation, I lubed up the cars (this is my 33rd or 34th (I've lost track) MTH train that's been perfect out of the box).

This set appears to be nigh unto flawless. The fit and finish are excellent. It's equipped with a Protocoupler on the front of the powered unit and all of the rest of the couplers in the set are operating magnetic couplers, unlike the dummy couplers seen in the first RK subway set. The detail work is very good, with red highlights on the trucks and all the proper signage; even the black rubber that holds the windows in place has been outlined. The station announcements appear to be mostly correct, though I haven't dug out my old map to verify it. They're by the same person who's done most of the subway announcements and he does sound like a subway conductor though they're much clearer than you would actually hear on the subway! In DCS automatic mode, it's a real kick to watch it stop, make the announcements, start up again, go a ways, stop, and repeat it all over again. When you reach the World's Fair, the train starts to run backward and again make the proper announcements on its way back to Manhattan. The sound is good; the bell and horn are the same as in the R-32 Premier subway cars, which you would expect, the subway being the subway.  You can see photos of this set on the Subways page.

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27-Nov-2002 -- MTH Tinplate Traditions #10 Standard Gauge Christmas Set

This set represents my first venture into Standard Gauge trains.  The Tinplate Traditions Standard Gauge Christmas set consists of a #10 electric locomotive in red with a green roof; it's named Christmas Express and is equipped with the full PS2 electronics package (and yes, this means that the light bulb headlights are directional). It includes three lighted passenger cars with operating doors and window inserts, also in red and green and named Comet, Blitzen, and Dancer (the observation car). The set also includes eight pieces of 42” diameter Standard Gauge track, a lighted lockon, a wiring harness, a Z-750 transformer, and an instruction book. I can’t be quite sure, but I suspect that this may be the first complete, ready-to-run Standard Gauge set in just about 65 years or so. The set itself is a reproduction (in novel Christmas colors) of sets cataloged around 75 years ago. The set comes packaged in a heavy set box; when you open it you’re presented with four polystyrene boxes, each of which contains one train (car or locomotive) carefully wrapped in soft fabric, with the obligatory ribbon for removal. Removing the four boxes and a cardboard insert reveals a blow molded plastic tray that contains the rest of the set components.

The first thing I did was add straight track so that I had a decent sized loop on the floor of the library (the auxiliary layout). I then hooked the lighted lockon with the wiring harness to Variable 2 on my TIU (the auxiliary layout TIU is now maxed out at four loops). I then unpacked the cars. The fit and finish are superb – the shiny enamel paint is very carefully applied and has a very smooth, rich finish. There isn’t a flaw to be seen. I placed the cars and the locomotive on the track, set Variable 2 to fixed mode, and turned up the power from my ZW. The distinctive PS2 "click" was heard (the locomotive saying "hey, I’m alive and I know that DCS is controlling me"). I added the locomotive to the remote, hit startup, and the sounds of an electric locomotive were heard. Loud sounds – I suspect that this large locomotive has a larger speaker than we’re used to dealing with in O-gauge. Hitting the horn button gave a very distinctive, loud horn, and dialing in a few scale mph resulted in the train starting to creep forward. I have to tell you, Standard Gauge tinplate trains look very funny creeping along at only a few scale mph – I quickly jacked it up to about 35 scale mph, turned off the lights, got down on the floor (bad back and all), and regressed to my childhood.  The sounds are excellent, with the passenger station sounds specially designed for the Christmas Express – they should delight kids of all ages!  And I agree with one of the elves – this train should hold lots of toys!

In short, this set is superb! It comes with everything you need to run a Standard Gauge train (this is my first), it is built very well, it looks great, and it runs like a dream!  You can see photos of the set on the Bipolar Electric Locomotives page, and a video of the set in action on the Multimedia page.

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20-Dec-2002 -- MTH Premier PRR DD1 Electric Locomotives

Lo and behold, upon arriving at the train store to pick up more additions to the "pipeline on wheels" train, what should have come in but the DD1s!!  They are a nifty pair of little locomotives!  The detailing is excellent and they run very well.  In trying it out at the store, the one surprise was the banshee steam whistle!  Having seen the real ones at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, these models look to be right on the money!  There are photos on the Boxcab Electric Locomotives page.

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24-Feb-2003 -- MTH Premier UP Challenger Steam Locomotive

Having the Lionel JLC Challenger, I did not order one of the new PS2 Challengers when MTH announced them.  However, one presented itself to me at a price that I could not refuse (how many times have you heard that before?), and so, even though it’s in the gray scheme  and I would have preferred black, it’s now downstairs on the layout.  I thought I’d share some thoughts about it, even though it’s now been out for a few months.

I should start by saying that I don’t particularly like elephant ears on locomotives – I have them on the NYC Niagara and the UP F-E-F – perhaps it comes from my general dislike of streamlined steam (with a very few exceptions) and the fact that the ears look somewhat like streamlining.  This locomotive has them ::sigh::.  They’re attached to the boiler with three screws each – the screws are obvious when you look down on the front of the boiler and MTH should have come up with a better method of attachment (the F-E-F does not have such screws).  In comparison to the JLC Challenger, the PS2 Challenger lacks some added detail such as additional piping, opening hatches, sliding windows, etc.  Given the list price of this locomotive, one might have hoped for a higher level of detail, such as is seen on other of the newer Premier steam locomotives.  I know that it was made using the prior tooling, but still one could have hoped.  Given what I paid for it, however, I am NOT complaining.

 It’s in operation that this locomotive really shines.  I have it pulling the train made up of the 41 Atlas reefers with other scale freight cars as well (including a half-dozen die-cast hoppers) – more than 50 cars in all – and it hauls the entire thing with nary a complaint and with every indication that it could haul many more (since it’s now chasing its own caboose, more cars are not in the cards).  This was very welcome given the relatively poor pulling performance of the JLC Challenger (30-35 cars max as I recall).  Slow speed operation with DCS is superb, with very smooth operation down as low as 2 smph; at the 5-10 smph that I like to run this train at (the better to watch all the billboard cars slowly go by) it’s very very smooth and steady.  The sounds are quite good though I think the whistle could have used a little more ‘oomph.’  It comes with passenger station announcements, which are pretty good.  Unlike the JLC Challenger, with whose smoke unit I had to tinker to get even somewhat decent smoke output, this one smokes like the proverbial chimney (as do all the PS2 steamers).  Set to 4 chuffs per revolution with DCS, running slowly it’s a pretty decent approximation of the prototype in both sight and sound.  All in all I like it and, given it can pull the long, heavy trains that I favor, it will see lots of use on the layout.  Photographs are available on the Challenger Steam Locomotives page.

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26-Feb-2003 -- MTH Premier Virginian Triplex Steam Locomotive

Uncle Triplex (the Erie) has been feeling rather lonely, being the only member of his family on my layout.  I resolved to make the old feller feel better and invited one of his relatives.  Cousin Triplex (the Virginian) arrived today.  It runs flawlessly, it looks great, it sounds great (great new whistle), the tender smoke unit smokes like the proverbial chimney, and it hauls the entire loooooong freight with no complaint.  It looks every bit as good as the Erie -- every bit as striking in basic black as in Russian Iron.  It has the same hauling power as the Erie -- more than enough to pull just about anything that I, or anyone, might throw at it.  The sounds are excellent, a tad better than the excellent ones already in the Erie.  The whistle is new, striking, and very pleasing to the ear.  (A friend wants me to transplant the VGN sound set into his Erie, and I'll probably oblige him.)  All in all, it's a wonderful model and a great toy to play with! PS2 locomotive #25 is, like the two dozen before it, a keeper!

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08-Apr-2003 -- MTH Premier PRR Mountain Steam Locomotive

I picked up my new MTH Premier M1b Mountain today and have been examining and running it. In appearance and operation it is up to the standard set by the Virginian Triplex if not more so.

The detail level is exquisite. Most of the details are added-on rather than cast-in and their three-dimensional quality adds a great deal to the overall appearance of the locomotive.  The scale coupler in the front pilot represents the drop-coupler on the Mountain and so (drum roll, please) – it drops! It’s spring loaded so that it stays either in the up or down position.  A dummy knuckle coupler is included if you want to double-head the Mountain with another locomotive and MTH has remembered to include a separate mounting plate for it as it, of course, wouldn’t work with the spring-loading plate used by the scale coupler. The cab figures are totally new and are very high-quality – the engineer has his arm out, as though on the throttle.  Fit and finish are superb; the paint job is exquisite.  There is a very fine wire, painted black, to simulate the whistle cord. The valve linkages and rods are darkened. The vent at the top of the cab operates so the crew can get some air on those hot days! The cab windows slide open and closed.

The tender is enormous! It has six opening hatches. Beneath them on one side is the conventional-mode smoke on/off switch; on the other side are the charging port (5 volt system) and the conventional-mode volume control pot. The tender includes the trainphone antenna (protected in transit by two large foam blocks) and a doghouse complete with another high-quality figure.

In operation the locomotive is very smooth even down at 2 smph. The first thing I did, of course, was set the chuff rate to 4! The sounds a very full and deep, due, I would guess, to the size and heft of the tender that contains the speaker. The whistle is multi-chime and sounds very much like what I’ve heard on tapes of PRR freight locomotives. It has (natural for a freight locomotive) freight-yard sounds. I have it pulling the same 50+ Atlas scale reefers that the Virginian Triplex has been hauling on the layout; though it gave an initial slip or two, once going it hauls them with no trouble, and that’s a LOT of cars for a locomotive with all of eight drivers (and a lot less traction tires than a Triplex)!

In short, MTH has yet another winner on its hands!

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28-Apr-2003 -- MTH Premier PRR FF2 Electric Locomotive

During my visit to the TCA meet at York (the train mecca of the world), I had a chance to see an actual production sample of the FF2 and was told (by Mike Wolf himself) that they had been shipped to dealers.  That was this past Friday.  When I got home today, I found a message from my dealer letting me know that mine had arrived. Naturally, I let nothing stand in the way and ran off to pick it up.

This is a heavy locomotive -- the entire body is die-cast. It comes packed on a metal base onto which it fits exactly, preventing any damage to the locomotive in transit (the Virginian Triplex came packed on two smaller metal plates -- this goes it one better yet). Everyone at the store was impressed by the detail, especially the red high-voltage cables on the roof, all of which are separately applied. The pantographs are very good. We put it on the test track to check it out and all seemed well (in conventional mode), so back into the box it went and it came home.

On the layout it became DCS locomotive #27. The first thing you notice is that, as with most electric locomotives, the sounds are very 'mild' compared with a diesel, let alone a steamer. They sound about right judging by the electric locomotives that I've heard over the years. The ancillary sounds are quite good. The horn sounds like, well, what would you call it, a frustrated gander at mating time? ;) Very much like the horn on the scale GG1, which is probably an approximation of the real thing. At the front, the markers are green and at the rear they're red. The headlights are directional and it has protocouplers both front and rear.

In operation, the first thing you notice is the power -- this locomotive trotted off with 51 scale Atlas reefers (and the requisite scale PRR caboose, of course) as though there were no load at all -- it hauls like a big steamer! In no time flat it was up past 30 smph and just racing around the layout. It has speed control, of course -- when I released it from the train it just kept going at the set speed with no change -- I, of course, stopped it before it slammed into its own caboose!

For someone who likes PRR, needs a locomotive to perform heavy hauling duties, and doesn't like smoke (shock! and horror!), this locomotive fits the bill, in spades! It's a real beauty!  Photographs of this model appear on the Boxcab & Steeplecab Electric Locomotives page.

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04-Jun-2003 -- MTH Premier C&O Shay Steam Locomotive

I picked up the new MTH Premier C&O Shay this afternoon and have been playing with it since I got it home (after trying it out at the store, of course).  This is the first PS2 locomotive that I’ve gotten where I already have a PS1 version of the same locomotive, so it’s interesting to see what kind of changes have been made to the detailing by comparing them side-by-side.

 First off, all of the excellent detailing of the PS1 model has been carried over to the new one. The first thing you notice when comparing them is the bell and whistle ‘cords’ running out from the cab.  Little things to be sure, but very noticeable, as are the levers that have been added to the bell and whistle.  There are now cab windows and they slide back and forth.  The engineer and fireman figures are much higher quality now – the engineer has his hand out, as though on the throttle.  There is greater detail on the valve handles and they’re picked out in red.  The formerly molded-in cab roof hatch can now open and close as it’s a separate piece.  The fit and finish on this piece is excellent; the paint and decoration is very smoothly applied.

 When you fire it up, you immediately notice the difference in the sound – it’s substantially fuller and richer than PS1.  The whistle is excellent, with a deep throaty sound that echoed through the train store when I tried it out on the test track and brought people running over to see what was sounding off.  The bell is excellent.  The chuff is very good, as is the labored chuff.  The synchronized Chuff! n’Puff! makes for a vast improvement over the fan driven PS1 unit.  With DCS, I set the chuff rate to 6, which sounds very good at the slow speeds at which I operate.  It’s nice to be able to distinguish each chuff and see each corresponding puff from the stack.

 In operation, it’s very, very smooth, even down at 2 scale mph.  As with the previous Shay, it’s fascinating to see everything moving and hear the ruckus it makes even at very slow speeds.  As to pulling power – I expect that it will be the same as or better than the previous model.  That one, as you may recall, hauled twelve loaded log cars, which might not seem that much, except when you remember that it was going up a 45 degree slope!! :eek:

 All in all, it’s yet one more winner in a long string of MTH Premier steamer winners!  Photos of this model appear on the Geared Steam Locomotives page.

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02-Jul-2003 -- MTH Premier PRR S1 Steam Locomotive

I’ve been running the new MTH Premier PRR S1 on the layout for the last some minutes.  Here are some first impressions of this enormous powerhouse.

 It’s huge!  From the tip of the nose to the end of the tender (not including the coupler) it’s a full 36” long corresponding to 144 scale feet in length. Given that the tender is a bit more separated from the locomotive in the model (to make O72 curves) that’s right on the money as the original was 140 feet from stem to stern. The paint job is flawless – the silver stripes running down the length are perfect. It’s a very heavy locomotive – though I haven’t weighed it, it must be in excess of twenty pounds. The backhead is fully detailed, with red valves and white dial faces (with black  needles) on the gauges. It has two excellent cab figures. The roof hatch slides open to give an excellent view of the backhead. The tender is huge on its own, with a flawless application of paint and decoration. The deck is red oxide. The hatch covers open to reveal the conventional mode smoke and volume controls and the PS2 charging jack. I’ve compared this to the photos of the prototype in “Pennsy Power” by Al Staufer and it looks at though MTH has nailed it.

 The locomotive is equipped with a large headlight (per the prototype) set in what I can only call the nosecone. It has lighted recessed green markers, firebox glow, cab illumination, red markers on the tender, as well as a functioning tender backup light.  Smoke volume from the twin stack is somewhere on the far side of ample – this may be the first locomotive that I run with the smoke volume set to medium instead of high.

 Putting it on the test track at the dealer showed it to run very well in conventional mode, with good slow-speed operation and responsiveness to the controls. Here at home with DCS it shines! Slow speed operation down at even 2 smph is very smooth. The synchronized CHUFF! and PUFF! are superb as always with PS2, especially when you set the chuff rate to 4. The double-chuff of this duplex locomotive is very apparent and goes in and out of synch as you vary the speed. It runs very smoothly and with the sound off runs very quietly as well (even before lubrication).  As to pulling power – it’s currently hauling 57 Atlas reefers and I suspect that I could manage 57 more with no difficulty. It runs on my O72 loop, though I have to say that I suspect it will look MUCH better when I run it on the O-128 curves we have when we set up the club layout at the Greenberg show.

 The sound set is excellent – good chuffing, great whistle and bell, and well-executed passenger station announcements that tell us we’re on train #42, The Trailblazer, from Chicago arriving at Englewood on the way to Pittsburgh.  This matches the nameplate at the front of the locomotive.

 I’d say that MTH has hit a homerun with this enormous locomotive, but that would be an understatement. This one is out of the ballpark – it’s honking huge, it’s gorgeous, its execution is perfect, and it runs like a dream, with DCS or without.  Photographs appear on the 6-4-4-6 Pennsylvania Steam Locomotives page.

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28-Sep-2003 -- MTH Operating Watchman's Shanty

I've had a Lionel gateman on my layout for many years; it’s one of the first accessories I ever got so I'm quite fond of it.  It’s an epitome of toy trains – the gateman himself is 2-5/8" tall which would make him (in O-scale) a ten-and-a-half foot tall giant. The house, while standing 4" tall on its base (16 ft), which is reasonable, is way out of proportion in length and width. As my layout has gotten more and more scale over the years, the gateman has seemed more and more out of place. More to the point, given that I operate very long trains, the gateman has been inoperable due to its construction.

I use insulated track sections to control my lineside accessories. When a train occupies an insulated block, the wheels complete the circuit and activate the accessory. With a long train, the accessory stays on more than it's off while the train is in operation. The gateman uses a simple solenoid to control the action. Unfortunately, when a solenoid is on more than it's off, it tends to heat up and bad things happen. So, for a while now, the gateman has been turned off. For these reasons, my interest was piqued when MTH announced an operating watchman's shanty. From the look of it in the catalog, it appeared roughly scale. How it would operate was anyone's guess, but I went ahead and ordered one.

It arrived a few days ago and I’ve installed it. I am very pleased!  The shanty itself is the same 4" tall on its base, but the other dimensions of the building are in proportion to the height. The watchman himself is 1-1/2" tall, making him a reasonable 6 ft tall. The shanty is illuminated. Hooking it up, as I discovered, was more involved than with the old one, where the one wire from the insulated track was enough to trip the solenoid. It was, however, no big deal.

The MTH operating watchman's shanty uses a motor that slowly moves the watchman the desired distance and then stops, in much the way a tortoise switch motor works. This makes it ideal for my application, since the watchman comes out when the train reaches the insulated block, stays out (with nothing overheating) while the train passes, and then the motor runs in reverse and the man goes back inside once the train has left the block. Unfortunately, this kind of activity requires either a relay, when used with an insulated rail such as I use, an ITAD, or the included switch if you want to trip the accessory manually.

Fortunately, I have long experience in using my insulated rails (which are very easy to make using the Ross track that I use) with relays and rectifiers to accomplish the activation of trackside accessories, and I always have a few relay/rectifier combinations soldered together waiting to go. So, while I couldn’t just do a wire-for-wire swap from the old gateman to the new watchman, it wasn't that difficult to get it working. The initial action (man coming out) is triggered by the relay normally-open contact and the second action (man going in) is triggered by the relay normally-closed contact.

It works extremely well!  As the train reaches the insulated block, the door slowly opens (unlike the immediate spring action of the old one) and the watchman emerges. He slowly walks forward and then turns to face the oncoming train. As the train departs the block, he slowly walks back into the shanty, turning as he goes, and the door slowly closes (again, more realistic than the old spring action).

All in all, I'm very happy with this new toy.  It has a more scale look to it, in keeping with the layout, and I can run it without fear of damaging it because it's on more than it's off. This one is a keeper!  Here are a few photos. The first is an ambient light shot showing the interior illumination.

The second shows the shanty using a flash.

The third shows the man emerging as the train hits the insulated block.

The fourth shows the man having turned to face the oncoming train.

The last shows the main heading back into the shanty and the door closing.

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12-Nov-2003 -- MTH Premier C&O Allegheny Steam Locomotive

I picked up the new Premier Allegheny at the train store today and I've been running it on the layout for a bit. Here are some first impressions, in no particular order. I'll post some photographs and perhaps a short video in the next day or two.

This is my 30th PS2 locomotive (the DCS remote keeps great track of them all) and the 30th that's perfect out of the box. It's a super locomotive and I can tell that I'm going to be running it quite a bit.  You can see photos of it on the 2-6-6-6 Articulated Steam Locomotives page.

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08-Dec-2003 -- MTH Rugged Rails 2-8-0 Consolidation Steam Locomotive

I received the MTH Railroad Club locomotive today.  It's a Rugged Rails 2-8-0 Consolidation painted in the club colors of purple and silver and, I'm told by MTH, is identical to the Rugged Rails consolidation that was cataloged in the 2003 Vol. II catalog at $199 list (the club version was $179).  The first surprise was when I opened the box and discovered what was so heavy!  This little locomotive is die-cast and has good weight to it.  For a very low-end locomotive, the detailing is adequate -- for example, there's a backhead with cast-in detail.  As you can see in the photographs below, the fit and finish are excellent.  The first photo shows the locomotive and tender together.

The second is a close-up of the locomotive and the third is a close-up of the tender.  The tender is plastic and has a cast-in coal load that looks OK.

Now, with so inexpensive a locomotive, you'd expect, what, a motor to make it run and perhaps a whistle and bell?  Nope!  This little puppy has the full PS2 package, and I do mean the full package including synchronized PUFF! n'CHUFF! with fully settable chuff rate with DCS and tons of smoke (as you can see in the following picture)

It has the full sound package, a very good bell and whistle, full DCS remote control, a remotely fired coil coupler, speed control, and the whole nine yards.  I've already had it on the track (yes, that's the real smoke up above, no simulated smoke from this photographer) and it runs extremely well, creeping along at very slow speeds or racing down the straightaway.

 When someone complains to you that to get all of the nifty new electronic features in modern O-gauge (the kind that kids love) you have to spend an arm and a leg, just smile and politely point out this little gem.  It runs extremely well, it has the entire panoply of electronic wizardry (just about the same as in the >$1,000 hulking behemoths), and it's very inexpensive by today's standards.

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10-Dec-2003 -- MTH Premier NP Yellowstone Steam Locomotive

It seems that this week it's raining trains! Two days ago, I got the small MTH club locomotive. Today, at the other end of the scale, my extremely large MTH Premier Northern Pacific Yellowstone (2-8-8-4) arrived. This is a PS2 reissue of the PS1 DM&IR Yellowstone that came out a number of years ago. It was reissued in both the DM&IR and the NP paint schemes; since I already have the previous DM&IR release, I ordered this one in the NP paint scheme, knowing full well that the true prototype NP Yellowstone looked quite different than the DM&IR Yellowstone, of which this is a model. 

This is a humongous locomotive, ranking up there with the Big Boy and the Allegheny as one of the biggest ever built. Sitting on the rails, the sweep of the locomotive is awesome. From the front deck to the rear, it's full of all of the detail that I've come to expect from the MTH Premier line. Detail is considerably improved from the first issue of the model.  One example is the sliding roof hatch on the cab, complete with a screen under it. The cab itself has doors that open and are sprung so that when you release them they close by themselves. The cab also has sliding windows and excellent engineer and fireman figures. There's lots of added-on detail as well as picked-out red valve handles, a fully detailed backhead with white gauge faces and black needles, firebox glow, etc.

The tender is a different model from the DM&IR. That one was a large centipede tender; this one is a smaller model with two six-wheel trucks complete with safety chains. It, of course, has a real coal load and the tender hatches open to reveal the charging jack, conventional volume adjustment, conventional smoke switch, etc.

Operationally, the locomotive is a gem. Given the season, the train store was quite crowded. When I put this on the test track, fired it up, and sounded the whistle, people came running to gawk at this behemoth. The whistle reminds me of a steamboat, deep and multi-faceted. The varied endings, depending on how long you hold the whistle button, are some of the best that I've heard in any model. Needless to say, it walks away with my 40+ car train made up of heavy Atlas reefers.

This is my thirty-second PS2 locomotive, the thirty-second one perfect out of the box, and is one of the very best models to date. MTH has brought out yet another winner!

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20-Jan-2004 -- MTH Premier PRR Decapod (2-10-0) Steam Locomotive

I picked up my MTH Premier PRR Decapod (2-10-0) today.  From the moment I opened the box, I knew this one would be different. Rather than the usual Styrofoam box with a lid, this packaging was more like a clamshell. Opening it revealed the locomotive and tender, carefully wrapped, and standing upright (rather than lying on the side as is usual). Unwrapping the tender first revealed an absolutely humongous piece of die-cast elegance. Short of the monster tender of the Premier S1, this is the largest PRR tender that MTH has done. The fit and finish are flawless, from the trucks to the trainphone antenna. There are six opening hatches which reveal the conventional mode smoke switch and volume pot, as well as the charging jack. Unlike the large tender that came with the Mountain, which had riveted sides, this one is smooth sided.

 Unwrapping the locomotive brought another surprise -- the locomotive is shorter than the tender! It is chock full of added-on detail -- piping, lines, handrails, etc., down to the picked-out-in-red valve handles. The roof of the cab has a sliding ventilation hatch. The backhead is fully detailed, including red valve handles and white-faced gauges.  As with the tender, fit and finish are flawless. There is lots of detail down around the drivers.

 Putting it on the track at the Model Railroad Shop, it immediately fired up and did a few back-and-forths on the test track with no problem, so back into the box it went and the two of us came home. It immediately went onto the layout, replacing the NP Yellowstone at the head of 50-odd Atlas reefers. It added to DCS with no problem (my 33rd PS2 locomotive and the 33rd perfect out of the box); as always, I changed the chuff rate to 4, the smoke volume to max, and set the ACC RATE and DEC RATE to 10 each. Starting it up and setting it in motion, it began hauling that very heavy train with absolutely no hesitation at all. The whistle is exactly what I would expect on a PRR freight locomotive, a PRR banshee. The bell is deep and mellow and the chuffing is very rich. Needless to say, the smoke volume is prodigious and the PUFF! is timed exactly to the CHUFF!.

 When you look at this model, it screams "P Company!" at you. More than that, when you compare it to photos of the prototype, you see that it's a great model. Yet another winner from MTH! You can see photos of the model on the 2-10-0 Decapod Steam Locomotives page.

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24-Feb-2004 -- MTH Premier PRR K4s Pacific (4-6-2) Steam Locomotive

My dealer called to let me know that my MTH Premier PRR K4s (4-6-2) had arrived today so I dashed over to pick it up.  As with the Decapod, the K4s comes in a clamshell Styrofoam package (with a heavy foam pad at the nose of the locomotive for protection) and is standing upright in the packaging.  Unwrapping the tender first showed several surprises (though with the way detail has been added to the Premier line locomotives of late I shouldn't have been surprised).  Safety chains have been added to the trucks.  The water hatches on the tender open to reveal the charging jack and the conventional mode volume pot.  The coal pile is mounded rather than flat and MTH has switched over to a much smaller size of real coal, lending an even more authentic appearance.  The fit and finish are flawless.

Unwrapping the locomotive showed major improvements over the first PS1 K4s issued some years ago (which I have as well).  It is chock full of added-on detail -- piping, lines, handrails, etc., down to the picked-out-in-red valve handles. The roof of the cab has a sliding ventilation hatch -- on the previous model it was cast-in.  The windows are outlined in red and slide back-and-forth.  The backhead is fully detailed, including red valve handles and white-faced gauges.  The fireman and engineer figures are the new, very realistic ones.  Curtains have been added to the back of the cab.  As with the tender, fit and finish are flawless. There is lots of detail down around the drivers.

Putting it on the test track at the Model Railroad Shop, it immediately fired up and did a few back-and-forths on the test track with no problem.  The bell is very crisp and clean and the whistle is a multichime as you'd expect on a passenger locomotive.  We noted, to our surprise, that it came from the factory programmed for 4 chuffs per revolution.  When I got home, it immediately went onto the layout and was added to DCS.  Making my usual settings I set it going fore and back to loosen its legs.  The stack bark is crisp and clean and the volume of smoke should keep anyone and everyone satisfied! 

This is a model of #1361, perhaps the most famous of the PRR's K4s locomotives.  It's a model with the modern pilot including a functioning scale drop coupler (the PS1 model was a model of an older prototype with a slotted pilot).  MTH has included a dummy knuckle coupler if you want to double-head the K4s, including a replacement coupler mounting plate.  They have also included a shorter drawbar; if you run the K4s on O-54 or wider diameter track, using the shorter drawbar gives a more realistic separation between the locomotive and tender.  You can see photos of this wonderful model on the 4-6-2 Pacific Steam Locomotives page here on the web site.

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28-Apr-2004 -- MTH Premier Erie Angus (0-8-8-0) Steam Locomotive

This is a STRANGE looking locomotive!  Nifty, but strange.  As you can see in the photographs on the Angus page, it's a model of an articulated duplex (true Mallet) camelback locomotive, wheel arrangement 0-8-8-0.  As a switch engine, it was a behemoth; on the scale of the more common articulateds that we're used to (think Challenger, Big Boy, etc.), it's quite small.  Leave it to the Erie to come up with something this strange; they are, after all, the ones who also gave us the Triplex!

On to the model.  The workmanship is excellent.  The fit and finish are superb.  The details that have been added to this model are both overwhelming and subtle -- when I had it on the test track at the store, it was pointed out to me (since I hadn't noticed it) that the interior of the cab was detailed as well as the backhead (I've tried to capture that in the photos below).  It comes in MTH's new clamshell packaging, sitting upright, with additional heavy foam to protect the detail at the front end.  As a switcher, it has both fore and aft Protocouplers.  The tender is well detailed, with opening water hatch and safety chains on the trucks.  Speaking of opening hatches, the two hatches on the cab also open! That was totally unexpected and a very pleasant surprise!

Operation is very smooth, with the locomotive creeping along very smoothly at 2 smph.  The sound is very good, with excellent double chuffing -- with synchronized puffing of smoke, of course.  The whistle is excellent and is one that I haven't heard in a PS2 locomotive before.  I have it hauling 50-odd Atlas reefers -- not a light load -- and an Erie caboose and it just drags them along as if they're lightweights.  As you watch this one move, you want to run it slowly to appreciate all of the rods and valve gear going through their motion.

I did have one minor problem with this one -- out of the box, it was clear that the batteries weren't working properly.  Opening the tender at the store showed that one of the AA NiCad batteries had jarred loose in shipping, even with the velcro strap holding them in the battery holder.  It was a very quick fix to reseat the battery and to snug the strap more tightly to prevent it from dislodging again -- not that I plan on shipping this anywhere!

All in all, this one was worth waiting for.  It's a totally unusual locomotive, a great model, runs very well, and it's a great match for Uncle Triplex!

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04-June-2004 -- MTH Premier PRR L5 Electric Locomotive

I picked up the MTH Premier model of the PRR L5 electric locomotive today.  This is a jackshaft locomotive that dates from the early 20's.  The model has a die-cast body and is quite heavy.  Opening the box at the dealer revealed the new clamshell styrofoam packaging.  Opening that and removing the locomotive revealed a surprise -- the locomotive is secured to a steel mounting bracket with four screws!  It is necessary to remove the screws (and plastic spacers) to remove the locomotive from its protective base.  This is an excellent way to package a locomotive this heavy as it completely eliminates the possibility of the locomotive shifting during shipping.  Well done MTH!  There was also lots of foam inserted to protect all of the various handrails on this locomotive.

Putting it on the test track, it immediately added to DCS (yes, at long last the Model Railroad Shop has DCS installed) and fired up.  The sound is strong, loud, and quite similar to the sound set in the DD1, which you would expect since this is roughly two DD1's welded end to end.  It has the steam whistle fired by the steam generator and a passenger sound set which attracted a lot of attention when I triggered it at the store.

Fit and finish are superb, as is usually the case with MTH Premier locomotives in my experience.  As illustrated in photographs of the prototype in "Pennsy Power" by Al Staufer, the drivers have gold striping on them (as did the prewar K4s), a very nice touch.  There is a lot of cast-in detail as well as added detail such as the bell wire (two bells, two wires), handrails, etc.  The doors at either end actually have small door handles and open!  It runs very smoothly and quietly, creeping along at 2 smph.  The motion of the jackshaft is wonderful to watch!

After getting it home and adding it to DCS (it is my three-dozenth PS2 locomotive), it easily walked away with the 50-odd Atlas reefers that I have on my O-72 loop -- this is a powerful beast.  As you can see in the photographs on the Boxcab & Steeplecab Electric Locomotives page, it is a prehistoric-looking beast, but to my eyes it's a beauty!

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09-July-2004 -- MTH Premier NYC A-2 Berkshire (2-8-4) Steam Locomotive

Having heard that these were shipping, I called my dealer and was told that it had just arrived, so of course off I went to pick it up.  The New York Central A-2 Berkshire (2-8-4) comes in a clamshell Styrofoam package (with a heavy foam pad at the nose of the locomotive for protection) and is standing upright in the packaging, as has been the case with all recent Premier offerings.  The tender is huge and is only slightly smaller than the locomotive itself.  Unwrapping the tender showed the usual touches, such as safety chains on the trucks and opening hatches.  The fit and finish are flawless.  The tender has its own builders plate for Lima and is lettered for the P&LE/New York Central System.

Unwrapping the locomotive -- well, I don't know where to start.  The fit and finish are superb.  The color is an olive-drab green/brown that is very striking.  Everywhere you look there is detail, from the bell mounted down low next to the drivers, to the also low-mounted generator, to the power reverse gear, to the picked-out-in-red valve handles, this is an absolutely superb model!  Even the end of the air hose at the pilot has been picked out in red.  The doors to the cab can open and are spring loaded.  The roof hatches slide open and closed.  The cab figures are excellent.  There is a very crisp Alco builders plate (I don't know how they make such small printing so sharp but they do!)  The marker lights on the smokebox are yellow and really catch your eye.

Putting it on the test track at the Model Railroad Shop, it immediately fired up and did a few back-and-forths on the test track with no problem.  The bell is very crisp and clean and the whistle, while similar to previous NYC models (as you'd expect) is a new one and very rich and full.  We noted that it came from the factory programmed for 4 chuffs per revolution.  When I got home, it immediately went onto the layout and was added to DCS.  Making my usual settings I set it going fore and back to loosen its legs.  The stack bark is crisp and clean and the volume of smoke is impressive, even for an MTH Premier model!  It easily runs away with 50+ Atlas reefers, which is no small load!

In short, this is a very impressive model that compares very favorably with photographs of the prototype in "Steam Power of the New York Central System Volume 1" by Al Staufer.  Photos of this locomotive can be seen on the 2-8-4 Berkshire Steam Locomotives page.

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07-Sep-2004 -- MTH Premier Santa Fe Hudson (4-6-4) Steam Locomotive

This is a somewhat different review than I've ever done before but then again, this is a somewhat different locomotive than I've ever gotten my greedy paws onto before! I had no plans to get another Santa Fe locomotive, let alone another Hudson and certainly not a special-issue one. However, fate has placed one across my path and for the last few days I've been playing with it. As I said above, it's a somewhat different locomotive -- it comes from the factory ready to run on 2-rail track! What's that you say, how can you, ToyTrains1, possibly run a 2-rail locomotive on your 3-rail layout? Read on!

This is the Santa Fe Hudson #3464, the third Premier special issue for MTH this year (it's in the folder with the Great Northern S-2) and is in the dressed-up passenger livery. This is the first one available in 2-rail or 3-rail with the new Protoscale 3-2 feature that allows you to switch between 2 or 3 rail track. For me, it's eye opening. As you've probably seen from the photos (I know that most everyone looks at the photos first and the text second), the wheels and drivers are the big difference. This 2-rail locomotive has very attractive, very narrow drivers and wheels with a flange that's almost nonexistent to someone from the world of 3-rail. In order to run this beauty on my layout, I had to convert it from 2-rail to 3-rail operation. The steps are laid out in the manual and couldn't be simpler. As shown in the photo essay below, you first invert the locomotive, where you find two mounting studs for the pickup rollers.

Onto these studs you place the plastic insulating mounts -- you just press them on.

You then screw on the pickup rollers with one screw each.

You now have, looking at the bottom, what appears to be a 3-rail locomotive with very narrow wheels and drivers that have practically no flange. You gingerly (remember, 3-rail Dave here) place it on the track, making sure 3 or 4 times that it's sitting properly. You open one of the tender hatches and find that a clearly labeled switch is in the 2-rail position.

You throw the switch to the 3-rail position. That's it!!

The locomotive is now, in theory, ready to run in 3-rail mode. Ah, but does it run and if so, how well does it?

When I powered the track, the locomotive clicked, exactly as its 3-rail brethren do, letting me know that it was under DCS control. I told DCS to add a locomotive and it immediately did so, changing the address to #41, the first free address. I told it to startup and it did, with the PS2 sounds that we expect in the world of 3-rail. Smoke began to billow out of the stack. I gingerly advanced the locomotive to 1 smph, fully expecting it to fall off the track (I have Ross track and the locomotive has such teensy tiny flanges, don't'cha know). To my surprise, it began to creep forward, cylinder cocks hissing and smoke puffing in perfect synch, with absolutely no evidence of any predilection to leave the rails. It took the O-72 curves with no problem at all. It took the Ross turnout, straight and diverging, forward and backward, with no problem at all. In short, it runs like a 3-rail locomotive on my 3-rail layout. It also trips all of the insulated rail operating accessories exactly the way a 3-rail locomotive does even though the wheels on either side are insulated from one another. In short, it runs exactly as I'd expect a 3-rail model locomotive to run.

I'll come back to operation in a bit, but let's talk about looks since that's the major obvious difference between the 2-rail and 3-rail models. This is a superb model! First off, many of the photos below were taken outdoors with the locomotive sitting on one of my hirail modules. In some of them, at least to me, it approaches the prototypical. I really hate to say it, but the 2-rail drivers and wheels look better than what we're used to in the 3-rail world! Take a look at the pilot truck and compare it to what we're used to -- this is an improvement! The fit and finish, as with all MTH Premier steamers in my experience, is flawless. There are fine cords (brass wire painted black) running to the whistle and the bell. There is added-on detail just about everywhere as you can see in the photos. In the previous PS2 model of the Santa Fe Texas, the smokestack had a stack lifter that looked so real you tried to raise it, only to discover that it was part of the casting. This new Hudson also has a stack lifter -- only this one works, as you can see in the photos. It's a really neat touch! The backhead, as expected, is fully detailed with firebox glow. Also as we've come to expect, the cab windows are glazed and slide open and shut, as do the two ventilation hatches on the cab roof.

The tender is large and very heavy. All of the hatches open and, as you can see, conceal a variety of switches. One controls 2-rail or 3-rail operation. For 2-rail operation, one controls polarity. The volume and smoke controls are also under the hatches. Both are potentiometers and can be set across the range from off to full. Yes, MTH has given conventional operators (those not using DCS) the ability to vary the smoke output. As is usually the case, both of these switches are overridden in DCS operation. The charging jack is also under a tender hatch. The tender has a backup light.

The locomotive operates very smoothly. With the sound off, mechanical sound from the locomotive as it creeps forward and back is barely audible. The sound package itself is very good, with passenger station announcements for the California Limited (makes sense given that this is a model of a passenger locomotive). The whistle and bell sound quite good, though methinks I've heard this whistle before! ;) Operation under DCS is very smooth at 2 smph. It comes from the factory set to a prototypical 4 chuffs per revolution. There is one operational characteristic of the very attractive narrow drivers that needs to be mentioned. Due to the width of the drivers (or more properly the lack thereof) there are no traction tires on the model. As a result, the pulling power will be less than we're used to with 3-rail models.

Now, here are a few interesting notes. The instruction manual says that this locomotive can run on O-42 track as the 3-rail model or on 40" radius track as the 2-rail model (that's O-80 for us 3-railers). Wise guy that I am, having already established that the 2-rail model runs fine on 3-rail O-72 track, I tried it on track 2 which has O-54 curves including an S-curve. This model took those curves flawlessly, though I was holding my breath while it was doing so, finger firmly planted on E-Stop! The instruction book says that this runs fine with AC or DC, 2-rail or 3-rail. Well, I've tested it on 3-rail with AC. I have no way of testing it with DC on 2-rail, but given how it performs on my layout I have no doubt that it will do every bit as well with those other operating conditions. To satisfy my curiosity, I did establish that the wheels on either side are insulated from one another. Examining the locomotive shows some other things that we don't see in 3-rail. On the tender, one truck has the left hand wheels are insulated from the axles. The right-hand wheels are contiguous with the axles and there's an electrical pickup on the axles. On the other truck it's reversed -- it's the left hand wheels that are contiguous with the axles with the right hand wheels insulated and again there's a pickup on the axles. Just goes to show that with only 2-rails, you have to be a bit more ingenious about how you pick up your power! On the other hand, as I said above, insulated rail operating accessories work just fine, so clearly in 3-rail operation both sides are contiguous. For those of you who would consider getting a 2-rail model to run on a 3-rail layout, make note that this locomotive (unlike the 3-rail model) does not come with a coupler on the tender! It comes predrilled for a Kadee scale coupler so a 2-rail modeler can add that, or whichever kind of scale coupler mates with his equipment. For 3-rail operation, you need to order and install a Protocoupler.

In short, this is a beautiful model of a beautiful prototype. It looks great, it operates well, and it just goes to show that, while I'd never try running it on tubular track, at least with Ross (and Gargraves) track, a tiny-flanged model can still run without coming off the track.

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03-Dec-2004 -- MTH Tinplate Traditions 384E Standard Gauge Christmas Set

Today I received the MTH Tinplate Traditions 384E Standard Gauge Christmas set and I put it onto the track with the previous #10 Christmas set. Ah, the pleasures of a steamer, and a Standard Gauge one at that!

The set consists of the 384E steam locomotive (2-4-0) and tender equipped with PS2, a coach car (Dasher), and an observation car (Prancer). The colors are an exact match to the previous #10 set and are smoothly applied.  Fit and finish is flawless.  Given that this is a tinplate set with a tinplate tender, the sound is quite good (you can judge for yourself, I'll post a short video of it in action later this evening).  I have to admit that I'm a sucker for those elegant red-painted spoked drivers!  The set also includes a circle of standard gauge track, a Z-1000 transformer (which consists of a 100 watt brick and the now universal Z-controller), a lockon, and wires.  In short, it's a ready-to-run Standard Gauge set.  I have to comment on the PFA.  It has a Christmas theme, of course, as the previous #10 Christmas set did, but Santa and the elves come off much better this time around, IMHO.  It's fun to listen to and will bring a smile to the face of even the most grinchy curmudgeon out there!

I'm going to run this in lash-up with the #10 (which has the latch couplers fore and aft) trailing, pulling all six of the cars (three in the #10 set, one add-on, and two in this new set).  The add-on car that goes with this set should show up shortly to make seven and Andy Edleman has promised that they will bring out the additional add-on car so that all eight of the reindeer are represented.  With a total of eight of these cars, it will take both locomotives to haul the load!

In short, MTH has produced yet another winner.  I can't help but believe that the availability of ready-to-run Standard Gauge sets will help to bring more people into this aspect of our hobby.  As you know, I'm a confirmed O-gauge junkie, but there is just something about these large enameled tinplate toys that I find irresistible!

You didn't think I'd post a review without photos, did you? Here's the locomotive:

Here's the tender:

Here they are together:

Here's the Dasher coach:

Here's the Prancer observation car:

And finally, here's the locomotive CHUFF!ing away!

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07-Dec-2004 -- MTH Premier Great Northern S-2 Northern (4-8-4) Steam Locomotive

Today I received a treat -- the MTH Premier Great Northern S-2 Northern (4-8-4) steam locomotive.  This is the one that was first announced in the special introductions folder and then appeared in the 2005 Vol. 1 catalog.  It is, of course, "the little green monster" not to be confused with its big brother, the Great Northern R-2 (2-8-8-4) affectionately known at "the big green monster". This is my first 3-rail locomotive equipped with MTH's new Protoscale 3-2 system that allows it to run on either 3-rail or 2-rail track (I discussed this in some depth in my review of the 2-rail MTH Premier Santa Fe Hudson).  This is the 3-rail version with the large-flanged drivers and traction tires (now called hi-rail wheels).

It comes carefully wrapped in the now-standard clamshell styrofoam cradle with additional padding in the key areas.  Unwrapping it reveals an engine exquisite in its detail.  The fit and finish are perfect.  Detail is everywhere you look, from the pumps hanging off the smokebox door to the added piping to the picked-out-in-red valve handles to the bell cord to the valves in the cab.  The green color is a nice match to the previous R-2, so you can well believe that they're siblings! As with the R-2, the tender is an oil model and is very well done.  The opening hatches conceal a number of the controls.  Even the oil-filler has been put to use; when you open it, you reveal the charging jack.  Looking at the underside of the locomotive, you see the differences wrought by Protoscale 3-2.  There are pickups on the axles of the truck wheels and those axles themselves are insulated from the wheels on one side (this is used when running in 2-rail mode).

Putting the model on the track and firing it up, you get nicely resonant PS2 startup sounds. From the factory, the chuff rate is set to the prototypical 4, though you can change it to what you want using DCS. Starting it up (this is PS2 locomotive #50), you get the expected cylinder cock hissing and then the CHUFF!ing, all synchronized with the PUFF!ing of the smoke, which is its usual voluminous MTH self. The bell and whistle sounds are crisp and clean, though I do wish MTH would broaden its repertoire of whistles -- this one has been used a number of times before and while it's a great whistle, variety is, as they say, the spice of life.  As to pulling power, I don't have enough track to challenge it -- 40 Atlas reefers (a heavy load) was no challenge to it at all.

In short, my fiftieth PS2 locomotive carries on in the tradition of the 49 that came before it -- perfect out of the box, great looking, great sounding, and great running. The color makes it one of the more unusual locomotives that I have and I'm sure that it will see lots of running time, both on my layout and at shows.

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10-Mar-2005 -- MTH Premier Reading T-1 Northern (4-8-4) Steam Locomotive

At the Greenberg train show this past weekend, my dealer brought me two new toys.  One was the MTH Premier PRR H3 Consolidation, which will be reviewed separately.  The other was the MTH Premier Reading T-1 Northern (4-8-4).  This has been a much-anticipated model as one hasn't been made for many years.   We had the pleasure of running a production sample at the World's Greatest Hobby show in Edison, NJ this past December (you can see photos and videos on the CJDCS Web Site).  At the time it drew raves (and I ordered one, which I had not planned on doing) -- well, the actual production model is better still.

Taking it out of the box reveals a very sleek, very smooth beauty of a modern steam locomotive.  The satin-finish paint is flawlessly applied and the gold READING livery really stands out.  As a model of a modern steamer, there isn't nearly as much external detail as on something like the H3 Consolidation and that's as it should be -- modern steamers were, for the most part, quite plain compared to their counterparts of a half-century earlier.  One of the first surprises about this locomotive became apparent upon examining the sand dome -- the four filler covers open!  They are attached to the locomotive with tiny chains so that they don't quickly become misplaced.  The windows of the cab have the arched shape that was characteristic for this locomotive and have sliding glazed windows.  Both fireman and engineer figures are included and are quite realistic.  As you can see in the photos, there is quite a bit of detail work toward the front-end of the locomotive, with valve handles picked out in red, piping, etc.  The front face of the locomotive compares very favorably with photographs of the prototype.  The tender is long and lean and features a real coal load, safety chains on the trucks, opening hatches, and, in short, everything we've come to expect from MTH Premier steamers.  Needless to say, there's a fully detailed backhead with firebox glow.

Perhaps it was hubris, but I took it out of its box, put it on the track, and proceeded to use it for a DCS demo at the show.  It immediately added to the remote and I started it up.  The locomotive came alive with lights and sound.  The chuff is deep and rich (set to 4 chuffs per revolution, of course) and I'm assured that the whistle is the correct one for a Reading freight locomotive -- it's certainly unique and is the first time that I've heard this particular whistle in an MTH locomotive.  It smokes, if anything, even more than the usual Premier steamer, so much so that if it were to be knighted it would be know as Sir Smokes-A-Lot!   On its first trip around the layout it immediately attracted attention and all through the afternoon had little kids following it around the perimeter of the layout.  It runs very smoothly and, with the sound off, very quietly, like the well-oiled machine that it is.  And this, of course, was without the benefit of a preliminary lube job!  All told, it ran for about 6 hours at the show with nary a complaint.  This locomotive is equipped with the Protoscale 3-2 feature and has all of the necessary circuitry so that it could run on 2-rail track by removing the third rail pickup rollers and throwing a few switches.

In short, my fifty-first PS2 locomotive continues in the tradition of the fifty that have come before it.  Perfect out of the box, beautifully crafted, highly detailed, and runs like a dream. 

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12-Mar-2005 -- MTH PRR H3 Consolidation (2-8-0) Steam Locomotive

As mentioned in the above review of the Reading T-1, I also got the MTH Premier PRR H3 Consolidation (2-8-0) this past weekend and used it as part of the DCS Demo.  Steve (smd4 on the OGR Forum) did an excellent review of the locomotive and rather than just repeat what he had to say, here's his review.

Okay, everyone, folks have been clamoring for a review of the somewhat infamous new MTH Premier H3 2-8-0, and I guess I’ll be the one to provide it.

This engine is the first scale 19th century engine produced for three-rail O gauge, and I am going to go on record that it’s a home run. But I am also going to point out the flaws, like it or not.

I have the pin-striped version, and it is absolutely gorgeous. The paint is applied flawlessly, and looks to either be a dark green locomotive enamel, or a slightly less-dark shade of black. The cab roof appears to be in fact painted black, and one can see the difference in color between the cab side and roof—under very bright lighting conditions. The pinstriping is immaculate, made up of shades of red, white, and imitation gold. And the shade of graphite and oil on the smokebox looks like…graphite and oil. The smokebox front opens, but there’s nothing in there.

The details are something that really sets this engine apart. I am happy to report that the boiler belly is fully modeled, so that we have a round boiler. Several of the details are below the running board, and unfortunately, get lost in the shadows. Those who wish to study their model, however, will be rewarded with several details seldom modeled—such as the linkage from the cab to the cylinder cocks and the exhaust line from the air compressor. Also underneath is the reverse reach rod to the valve gear.

Every pipe on the engine is a separately applied piece. Even details such as the throttle pipe from the cab to the steam dome are represented. The detail on the steam dome really stands out. Old engine such as this didn’t have self-contained pop valves like we’re used to. Back in the day, at least one of the safety valves was manually operated from the cab, while the other used a system of springs, levers and counterweights to hold operating boiler pressure in, or releasing it when the pressure overcame the springs and weights. Both types are represented on the model. One is manually operated by a lever from the cab, and the other relies on the system of linkages and springs. These linkages are finely modeled, and present a very lacy and delicate appearance. Also on the steam dome is a Pennsy single-chime whistle, with the lever on the top.

The cab has simplified detail, but since this is a “deckless” engine, with the boiler extending to the back of the cab, there’s not much room for detail. There are two gauges on top of the boiler, and two steam lines emanating from them to the injectors. The cab is lighted, with the lamp housed between the two gauges. The cab interior is painted green, and, in a detail seldom modeled, the cab roof is molded with tongue-and-groove siding, both inside the cab, and on the underside outside the cab. The firebox is NOT lighted, because, I believe, the prototype firebox door does not have holes, and any light would be impossible to see. There are four sliding window panes per side--a neat feature.

The rest of the boiler details are fantastic as well. The bell has two arms, with tiny wire pulls to the cab. Interestingly, the bell interior is painted red! How’s that for attention to detail?

The headlight number boards are lighted, and the detail on the front of the engine is all there, including two separately applied cleanout plugs up top, and a cinder cleanout plug on the bottom of the smokebox—another seldom modeled feature of early steam power.

As I’ve noted before, the cylinders are placed a few scale inches too high, but this was done to accommodate the pilot truck swing on tight radii. The oil lines extending from under the boiler jacket to the steam chests are also present. And as a final bit of well-thought-out detailing, the rocker arms on the engine (the valve gear), actually move back-and forth as the engine moves! To my knowledge, this is the first time this has been done since Lionel did it with their 0-6-0 switcher before WWII.

Now…the tender. It is beautifully made, with two operating tool boxes, and a water filler hatch that opens. Tiny chains connect the archbar trucks to the tender frame, and underneath, there is a separate brake cylinder and air tank. On top, there are separately-applied controls on the water legs, and a real coal load.

Without doubt, the tender is too large, and is not modeled on any specific prototype, contrary to some Forum members’ beliefs. While engines of this class certainly had large tenders on occasion, the large tenders shown in some photographs differ from the MTH model, either in wheelbase or details such as the coal bunker. The absolute fidelity of the engine really begs for a similarly-proportioned companion, but, as I’ve said before, beggars can’t be choosers. The tender is what it is, and I cannot change it (yet). The H3 tender is actually very close in size to the RailKing "General" tender. Personally, I find it too bad that the proportions of the tender had to suffer to cram a sound system or something else in there. But hey—I’m a visual guy.

The engine operates very nicely. My engine has a very, very slight catch as the wheels revolve, which I expect to smooth out over time. In fact, it really isn’t noticeable to me except when I make the engine crawl, but I thought I should bring it up. Keep in mind that this engine has a very small flywheel that is ineffective, so your engine will skid to a stop if you cut the power. Easy on that throttle!

I have the sound set to four chuffs per revolution, which provides a satisfying rhythm, even at higher speeds. And don’t expect this scale beauty to fly off the tracks any time soon—the top end is probably around 40 or 50 scale mph—about right for the real thing.

The sound system is a little different from what I’ve heard before with PS-2. The chuffs have a very distinct, higher-pitched sound, and the impression I get is that I really am standing next to a moving steam engine. There appear to be four distinct chuffs per rev, and I think I can detect a bit of rod clank on one of them! So, the sounds are a bit like this: CHUFF chuff chuff clank-chuff, CHUFF chuff chuff clank-chuff. The whistle is a single-chime, matching the modeled whistle. The period of shortest blast seems a bit shorter than other engines I have, which is great. Holding the whistle button down for more than 3 seconds will sometimes produce a very evacative "quilling" sequence. The bell is the same-sounding bell as on my other engines.

For reasons beyond my knowledge, the sound sequence begins with a steam generator winding up. On an engine without a generator, and with an oil headlamp. Go figure. The station sounds, as Mike C. pointed out, are for the 1939 World’s Fair—unfortunate for those of us who planned to use this model of a 19th century engine on a model railroad based, um, in the 19th century.

Overall, I really like the sound package, especially the chuffs and the whistle. I’m sure others will chime in about the chuff tone as not being as “robust” as the Lionel system, but there is some quality to the MTH chuff that definitely seems “close,” as if the microphone was placed in the stack.

So, overall, on a scale of 1 – 100, I’d have to give this engine a 93. It loses most of its points in the oversized tender (but hey—that’s still an A-). The engine looks absolutely stunning in her Victorian finery poised next to my Second-Empire brick station, and looks perfect pulling the RailKing 19th century cars. You can’t go wrong with this engine, especially if you are modeling the Golden Age of railroading in the US.

Thanks, MTH, for taking a chance. This engine will not leave the rails of my layout.

Unfortunately, I just got my H3 this past Friday and Steve beat me to the punch so I don't have all that much to add to his excellent review except to say that it's all that he describes. The workmanship is superb, the detailing is exquisite, and it runs exceptionally well -- it was used as part of our DCS demo at the Greenberg show this past weekend and you can see photos and video of it in action on our CJDCS web site. I don't think anyone has gotten across just how tiny it is -- from scale coupler on the pilot to operating ProtoCoupler on the tender, it's only 16" long!  One of the interesting details is the opening lid on the sand dome; it's tethered to the locomotive by a tiny chain so it doesn't get lost.

It ran for a number of hours at the show without a lube job and showed no problems. The one operating characteristic that I'm not overly fond of is the sound level -- it's quite low compared to other locomotives. I realize that it's a small tender which means a smaller speaker, but I would have hoped for more volume. On the home layout it's not a problem at all, but in a show setting its sound was drowned out every time one of the larger steamers came into the vicinity. I've discussed this with MTH and they're going to see if it's perhaps a peculiarity of the personality file that can be fixed with a revised file.

I will take exception with Steve in two areas ;) -- I don't think the tender is oversized at all, to my eye it looks fine. And, this was run for hours at a show, handled a great deal (including handing it to people who wanted to see it up close), and all of the decoration including that on the drivers is none the worse for wear. All in all, it's a real beauty!

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13-Jul-2005 -- MTH PRR BB1 Electric Locomotive

The MTH Premier PRR BB1 "Rats" finally arrived today. After dinner, I unpacked them and took a moment to look them over. As with the previous die-cast MTH Premier PRR electrics, they appear flawless. The fit and finish is superb. I did have one short moment of shock when I unpacked the lead unit and found what appeared to be a broken casting! I quickly discovered that the top plate is removable (held in place by magnets) and conceals the charging port and conventional mode volume pot. The trailing unit has the same plate though there's nothing under it (see photo). They come well packed, with dark foam to protect the delicate handrails at the front of each unit. At first you don't notice the foam, but it's best to remove it before you take photographs!

On a small unit such as this, the pantographs seem enormous when extended. I pulled out Staufer's Pennsy Power books and confirmed that they looked every bit as enormous on the prototype. Given the very small size of these units, MTH wasn't able to incorporate the nifty new "bouncing pantographs" feature that's in the new Premier GG1 -- these pantographs are manually operated. That being said, they are functional -- there's a switch on the bottom of the lead unit that chooses between pantograph or third rail pickup roller (see photo). The lead unit can be run alone as a B1, or it can be hitched to the trailing unit with the umbilical and drawbar to be run as a BB1. Each unit has an operating Protocoupler on its front -- when run as the BB1, you have Protocouplers front and rear. Contrary to what was said in the MTH newsletter that was sent out a while ago, an additional Protocoupler so that you can run the lead unit as a B1 switcher with Protocouplers front and rear was NOT included in the box. I've emailed MTH asking about that discrepancy.

Me being me, I admired it for a very short time before it went downstairs and got put on the layout. Powering the track brought the distinctive PS2 click that says "I know you have DCS, I'm waiting." It added immediately to DCS (at position 53!) and came alive when I hit the startup button. The sounds are typical for an electric locomotive -- i.e., the low motor whine. The whistle is the same PRR banshee that's been used before in the DD1 -- I do wish MTH would get a little more variety in the whistles, even if it is prototypical!

Slow speed operation with DCS is almost like watching a video in slow motion as it ever so slowly creeps along. It is very responsive to the DCS throttle. Despite the small size of these units and their relatively light weight (compared to, say, a GG1) they have tremendous pulling power -- they rather easily started and pulled a trains with FIFTY AtlasO reefers, which is not an inconsequential load. I have no doubt that, when I have the room to do so, they will easily haul a dozen of the MTH PRR heavyweight passenger cars which, of course, is the job that they had for so many years in real life.

All in all, I'd say that MTH has yet another hit with yet another die-cast model of an unusual electric locomotive. Let's see -- I now have the BB1, the DD1, the FF2, and the GG1. For a confirmed steam addict like me, that's saying a lot!   Photographs of this model can be seen on the Boxcab Electrics page.

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26-Jul-2005 -- MTH Premier PRR J1 Texas (2-10-4) Steam Locomotive

The MTH Premier PRR J1 2-10-4 Texas finally arrived today. Guess what? The shipping box is heavy -- this is obviously a weighty model. Needless to say, within about three minutes of Mr. UPS handing it to me, it was downstairs and being unpacked. It comes in MTH's standard polyfoam packaging (with the lid, not the clamshell version that I prefer). There are a number of foam spacers inserted around the tender and locomotive in the box to protect detail parts. The first thing that hits you when you get it unpacked is the size of the tender. It is massive -- long and heavy -- and sits low on two four-axle trucks. The tender alone is 13.25" long (not including the coupler). Being a Premier steamer, it has a full load of real coal. It also sports the trainphone antenna, six opening hatches, and a doghouse complete with a very realistic brakeman figure. The satin paint job is flawless and the lettering is very sharp. Under the opening hatches are the ProtoScale 3/2 switch, the polarity switch (when running in 2-rail mode), and the conventional mode sound volume and smoke volume pots. The charging jack is located on the underside. The rear of the tender sports a pair of marker lights, the backup light, and a pair of very readable (with a magnifying glass, sigh, my eyes are getting old) plates containing various information about the tender. There is also quite a bit of added-on piping and railing.

The 2-10-4 Texas-type locomotive is massive and conveys an impression of brute force barely contained. The detailing is superb, from the scale drop coupler on the pilot (it comes with a dummy knuckle coupler and mounting plate if you want to double-head the locomotive) to the detail of the backhead. There's lots of added-on railing and piping with valve handled picked-out in red. The windows of the cab are glazed and slide back and forth. The frames of the windows themselves are painted red. The fully detailed backhead sports a panoply of gagues, their faces painted including the needles on the gauges. The running gear is darkened as are the driver rims, which are features that I like. The top of the cab sports a vent that slides open.

The locomotive easily added to position #54 in my DCS remote. On startup, the usual sounds (generator whining on, pumps clanking, etc.) were heard. At 2 smph it began moving out, just a tad herky-jerky (I haven't lubricated it yet). At 3 smph it smoothed out. This was true in both forward and reverse. It came from the factory set to four chuffs per revolution of the drivers, so I didn't have to set that with DCS. I hooked it up to a consist made up of sixteen (!) MTH Premier heavyweight passenger cars, a very heavy load. At 2 smph it began to start the train but I noted some wheel slippage. At 3 smph it did better, though the wheels did slip a little, and at 5 smph it just took off with the entire train. I let it go around the layout a few times to get its legs under it and it responded beautifully to the commands that I gave it with DCS. The smoke output is very heavy and it's a smooth runner, even with such a heavy load.

The sounds are what I've come to expect from PS2, good chuff (with the synchronized puffing of course), good incidental sounds, and the same blasted whistle that I have in a lot of other PRR locomotives! C'mon guys! They say variety is the spice of life and I don't care if it IS prototypical, give us some variety in the whistle sounds! That being said, the whistle is quite loud and no one at the model RR crossing is going to miss hearing it!

Back when the ATSF Texas came out, I was rather critical of the model (and MTH) for the manner in which the drivers were mounted in the chassis, precluding any light from showing under the boiler. I put the ATSF next to the PRR and compared them. The PRR clearly has a totally new boiler casting (and I happen to think it's a nicer casting). However, the similarity in the chassis is great, including the mounting of the drivers. Somehow though, it doesn't stick out nearly as much on the PRR as on the ATSF. I pulled out my Pennsy Power books by Al Staufer and looked at all of the photos of the PRR J1. The prototype didn't have light showing through under the boiler either, so while I still don't particularly care for the Texas chassis, the look matches reality.

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09-Oct-2005 -- MTH Premier R-1 Subway Set

It's October and it's raining!  For the first time in what seems like forever, we’ve had a steady downpour here in New Jersey.  Not just the drops outside either, but it's raining trains!    Over the last couple of weeks, both the MTH Premier R-1 subway sets and the MTH RailKing Lo-V subway sets arrived.  They are both great models in their own right; reviewing them together allows us to compare similar Premier and RailKing offerings.  First, the R-1's.

 These have to be the best subway models that MTH has made to date.  As expected, the fit and finish are flawless.  When you unpack them, you find that these are heavy cars!  With the four car main set and the two car add-on set, you can tell that the twin motors in the power car are just about maxed out.  At the front, you have a mustachioed motorman and a selectable express or local sign (switch is on the bottom).  The power car has front and rear Protocouplers.  There's a dark shield inside to hide the motors and electronics, but along the periphery are seats and passengers, so that dark shield is not very noticeable.  The signage is very sharp and clear -- this is the A train heading to Washington Heights.

 The interior detailing on these cars is really something!  The floors are painted red, as was the prototype.  The seats are painted to appear to be rattan (and do I ever remember those old rattan seats),  There are painted passengers in each car.  There are even poles for the SRO crowd!    The lighting level is high enough so you can see the interior detail while not so high as to be glaring.  Unlike the previous Premier line subway set, the R-32's, the doors do not open.  However, I think that the trade-off for the highly detailed interior is well worth it.

 In operation, they are very responsive throughout the throttle range, though as I mentioned above you can tell that the power car wouldn't appreciate any more than the five cars it's hauling.  The set added to DCS with no problem (at number 55).  As with all PS2 engines, low speed operation is very smooth, with the sound of the traction motors picking up as you increase the speed.  The horn is quite strange sounding, as is the bell, and is probably in keeping with the prototype -- it's certainly nothing that I've heard in any other MTH subway set.  Station sounds are right on the money (yes, I know, the R-1's predated the public address system, but it's still neat).  Photos are available on the Subways page.

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09-Oct-2005 -- MTH RailKing Lo-V Subway Set

 These are a model of an older car than the R-1, which you can tell just by looking at them (marker lanterns on subway cars?!?!).  Though these are RailKing, they measure out to be just about scale in size.  When unpacking them, I noted that, in heft, they're not much lighter than the R-1's which makes sense since they're a model of a smaller car.  There's lots and lots of rivet detail all over them and the signage lettering is very crisp and clean.  The first car has a dark shield to hide the motors and electronics.  Here we begin to note the differences between RailKing and Premier -- the interior of these cars is quite plain, with just the seats and poles, no painting or passengers.  The marker lamps are painted, not illuminated.

 In action, this set mirrors the R-1's.  They added to DCS (#56) with no problem and operation is as smooth as I've come to expect.  The horn and bell are the same as on the R-1.  Again, the station sounds are good even though these old timers didn't have a PA system (if they didn't include them, you know that people would be kvetching from here to heaven about it).  As with the R-1's, you can tell that the six car set is about all the twin motors in the power car can handle.

 One interesting note is that the cars in the two car add-on set do not have the marker lamps fore and aft while all four cars in the main set do.  I've looked at photos of the prototype and they came both ways.  I've ordered them with two of the main set cars sandwiching one of the add-on cars -- two sets of three if you will.  I don't know if that's prototypical or not, but it looks good.  Photos are available on the Subways page.

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23-Dec-2005 -- MTH Tinplate Traditions 263E Steam Locomtive

My modern reproduction of the classic tinplate Baby Blue Comet -- the 263E -- arrived today. The more I look at these reproductions of classic tinplate trains (both O-Gauge and Standard Gauge), the more I fall in love with them. There is something about them that just isn't present in other, more modern trains. That's not to say that the 263E isn't modern under its tinplate shell! It sports a powerful modern can motor and full PS2 electronics with operating sound and smoke, a far cry from its predecesor of just about 70 years ago.

The locomotive and tender come swathed in wrapping cloth, with each piece held by a red ribbon tied into a bow (I kid thee not). Unwrapping them reveals an absolutely perfect enamel paint job, with both shades of blue cleanly applied. Detail level is very good, with lots of added nickel trim as well as embossed detail as you can see in the photos. Placing it carefully on the track and powering it up, it added itself to my remote as PS2 engine #57. The sounds are crisp and clean, with the sound set being that used for the die-cast Blue Comet, a very appropriate choice with a great whistle. Operation is very smooth and it hauls its assigned consist of four identically painted tinplate passenger cars with no fuss. Passenger station announcements are, of course, for the Blue Comet. It even sports the red bulb under the cab to simulate the firebox glow that was found on the original. Smoke output is what you'd expect from MTH -- lots of it, PUFF!ing with the CHUFF!ing of the locomotive. It even has a remote controlled coupler -- the appropriate box coupler. In short, it's all you could ask for in a tinplate locomotive. At the price (I paid $379), I think it gives great value!

So, I now have two PS2 Blue Comets -- one the die-cast locomotive (converted from PS1) with heavyweight passenger cars on the main layout and the other the tinplate locomotive with tinplate passenger cars on the auxilliary layout. I'm going to have a hard time deciding which my favorite is! Then again, this is New Jersey, so you can't have too many Blue Comets!   Here are some photos.  The first shows the locomotive and tender broadside.

The next shows the locomotive.

The third shows the tender.

The last photo shows the 'face' of the locomotive.  I think it looks happy! 

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23-Dec-2005 -- MTH Premier PRR D16D American (4-4-0) Steam Locomtive

I'm going to start off this review with a description of what this locomotive isn't rather than what it is. The locomotive that was shown in the 2005 Vol.1 catalog was a PRR class D6 4-4-0 American locomotive with 71" drivers. The locomotive that was manufactured and which has now been delivered is actually a PRR class D16d 4-4-0 American locomotive with 80" drivers. That's a substantially different model that has a uniquely different appearance. Fortunately, this difference was made known before they were shipped so it wasn't a complete shock. It's one more instance, however, where one has to take the catalog illustration as exactly that, an illustration that is only a representation of the final product. In this case, as has been the case in each instance in the past where the delivered product deviated from the catalog illustration, I believe that MTH has delivered a product even nicer than what was originally pictured.

This is the second Premier model of a late-19th/early-20th century PRR locomotive, the first being the class H3 2-8-0 Consolidation. I should note that though this locomotive comes in both 2-Rail and 3-Rail models and both can run in my 3-Rail environment, as is usually the case I purchased the 3-Rail model with the oversized flanges rather than the 2-Rail model with the scale wheels (which probably looks even more spectacular). I unpacked the tender first, looked at it, and said "hmm, you look familiar." Without unpacking the locomotive, I took the tender downstairs and sure enough, the tender is the same one that was part of the H3 Consolidation. However, it has really benefitted from the installation of old-style backup and marker lamps (an instance where MTH was able to change the existing tooling to benefit the model). Decoration of the tender, with all of the added-on and cast-in detail, pinstriping, etc., is first rate. The tender hatches open to reveal the various switches that control the Proto 3-2 feature. There are even safety chains for the trucks. As with most Premier coal tenders, the coal pile is made up of individual chunks of coal. Out of the box, the tether wire is quite long and makes a very noticeable loop when connected to the locomotive; when I have the inclination, I'll open the tender and withdraw a large portion of it, which will make the tether much less noticeable.

Unpacking the locomotive reveals a little gem. The H3 Consolidation was an impressive model; this D16d American is even more so. The fit and finish are flawless. Decoration is impeccable, down to the various pinstripes around the cab number and the gold stripes on the drivers. The drivers are huge (1-11/16" in diameter, working out to just about 81 scale inches) and really stand out on this model. Another thing that stands out is that the piston rod enters the steam cylinder off-center (see photo). While this design was driven by the need to have the locomotive, with its large 3-rail flanges on the pony truck, make it through tight radius curves, it is visually jarring and detracts from the overall appearance of the locomotive. Other than that, it's a pretty little engine. All of the details that I've come to expect on Premier models are there -- whistle and bell lanyards, picked out valves, full backhead detail (speaking of which, the firebox protrudes well into the cab -- the engineers must have been very skinny guys to fit alongside the firebox, much akin to a camelback), opening cab hatch, etc. As with the tender, the locomotive has an old-style headlight and marker lights, giving the locomotive an attractive face. It has a slat pilot, in keeping with locomotives of this vintage.

In operation, it's everything that could have been asked for. It immediately added to DCS as engine #58. Slow speed operation is smooth at 2-3 smph and watching it creep along with those large drivers is a visual treat. One complaint about the previous H3 Consolidation was that the sound volume was very low, even taking into account the small tender. That problem has been resolved with this D16d American. The sound volume is quite adequate. Whistle is the Pennsy banshee, as expected, and passenger sounds are quite good, for the train from New York via Philadelphia to Chicago. All sounds are crisp and clean. Pulling power for such a small engine is more than adequate -- it hauled six heavyweight passenger cars without a problem. Smoke is its usual MTH voluminous self. With the drivers so large, the synchronized CHUFF! and PUFF! is very evident and just plain fun to watch, especially at slow speeds. Thus far, there have been no smoke rings, which is something I've come to expect from high stacked models. Note that the minimum rated track diameter is O-42. It's small enough that it might well run on O-31 but I have no way of testing that (the upcoming passenger cars to match this locomotive are also rated for O-42).

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05-Mar-2006 -- MTH Premier NYC #999 American (4-4-0) Steam Locomtive

This Premier model of the NYC&HRRR #999 4-4-0 American is the third Premier model of a late-19th/early-20th century steam locomotive, the first being the PRR class H3 2-8-0 Consolidation and the second being the PRR class D16d 4-4-0 American. As with those locomotives, the #999 is a smaller model than we're generally used to. It's also very highly detailed, in keeping with MTH's trend toward adding more detail with every passing model.

The locomotive comes in the standard polystyrene cradle with the locomotive and tender on their sides (I prefer the clamshell packaging with the locomotive and tender standing upright). Unwrapping the tender first, with a sense of déjà vu, I said "hmm, you look familiar." Without unpacking the locomotive, I took the tender downstairs and sure enough, the tender casting is the same one that was part of the H3 Consolidation and the D16d American and, as with the latter, has the old-style marker lamps. However, it very clearly has new and very classy trucks which appear to be appropriate for the period, down to their spoked and pinstriped wheels. Since this is a ProtoScale 3-2 locomotive, the tender axles are insulated so that it can be used on 2-rail track and incorporate wiper pickups on each truck. This adds a little rolling resistance to the tender. The trucks include the safety chains that we've come to expect. Decoration of the tender, with all of the added-on and cast-in detail, pinstriping, lettering, etc., is first rate. The tender hatches open to reveal the various switches that control the Proto 3-2 feature. As with most Premier coal tenders, the coal pile is made up of individual chunks of coal.

When I first unpacked the locomotive at the store, I wasn't the only one whose breath was taken away. It's a little gem that sparkles under the lights. The first thing that really grabs you is the size of the drivers! The prototype had 86" drivers which made it a very impressive machine in its day (and right up to the present time for that matter) and they are very well replicated on the model, down to their fenders and the fact that they protrude through the walkways that run down the sides of the boiler. The second thing that grabs you is the color. Though made of Russian Iron like the Triplex and the 0-8-8-0 camelback, MTH has chosen a paint that is much more gray this time, rather than the sky blue that they used on the previous locomotives and it really stands out, even more so since it's high gloss. The prevalence of shiny brass add-on details also catches your eye. In my review of the PRR D16d, I noted how the piston rod enters the steam cylinder off center. It does so on this model as well, but isn't nearly as noticeable as it was on the previous model. The cylinder caps are shiny brass as is the tank under the boiler. The firebox protrudes further to the rear of the cab than in the prototype, a concession to motor placement, meaning that the engineer and fireman figures are skinny models! The interior of the cab roof simulates slatted wood construction and is painted a light green. There are dual lanyards running to the bell and a lanyard to the whistle. The headlamp and marker lights are the old-style that are correct for this period and everywhere you look there is added-on and highlighted detail. On the very sharply pointed cow-catcher, there's red-painted drawbar for use if the locomotive were pushing a car with the link-and-pin coupler typical of the period. This drawbar is a separately added detail rather than just a painted cast-in detail and can be raised and lowered.

For the operational review, I should note that this is my second #999 locomotive. The first had a slight mechanical bind that probably wouldn't be significant enough for anyone else to deal with it, but I like new engines out of the box to be perfect and though I could probably have easily fixed it myself, I'm loathe to open new locomotives and so it went back to the dealer and was exchanged for another. Testing the new one at the store showed that it had no such problem, so I'm chalking the first one up to a fluke.

In operation, it shows that it's not only a gem in looks but a gem in running as well. It immediately added to DCS as engine #59. Slow speed operation is smooth at 2-3 smph and watching it creep along with those enormous drivers is a visual treat. One of the things that you can really notice with drivers of this size is the four chuffs per revolution of the drivers as, with drivers of this circumference, there's a good gap between chuffs at low speed. One complaint about the previous H3 Consolidation was that the sound volume was very low, even taking into account the small tender. That problem was resolved with the D16d American and, as expected, on the #999 the sound volume is quite adequate though, again, given the small size of the tender, it's not the tooth-rattling volume you get from something like a Premier Yellowstone! The whistle is a new one that I have not heard before (hallelujah that MTH didn't reuse the tired old NYC whistle found on so many of their NYC models) and it really quite good as is the bell. The sound set has been specially recorded for the #999 and deals with it breaking the world's speed record. It's quite good! All sounds are crisp and clean. Pulling power for such a small engine is more than adequate -- it hauled five heavyweight passenger cars without a problem. Smoke is its usual MTH voluminous self. With the drivers so large, the synchronized CHUFF! and PUFF! is very evident and just plain fun to watch, especially at slow speeds. The long narrow stack, as I've come to expect, puffs out the occasional smoke ring! Note that the minimum rated track diameter is O-42. It's small enough that it might well run on O-31 but I have no way of testing that.

All in all, this little gem is a total joy to look at and to operate.
 

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15-Aug-2006 -- MTH Premier PRR A5 Four-Coupled (0-4-0) Steam Locomtive

This has to be one of the smallest model locomotives that I own as it replicates one of the smallest real locomotives.  The 0-4-0 Four Coupled A5 was a switch engine, used to move cars around in yards throughout the Pennsylvania Railroad.  With only four small drivers and no pilot or pony trucks, it was clearly not intended for mainline service.  The model arrived on a Friday and I was able to pick it up after setting up to do a DCS demonstration at a train show.  Opening the box at the train store revealed the usual styrofoam packaging.  Unwrapping the tender first, we saw a beautiful slope-back tender, full of detail: safety chains on the trucks, opening hatch and filler covers, a real coal load, operating backup light, operating marker lights, clearly readable builders plate, etc.  It's petite but the detail is all there.  Next taking out the locomotive, you're first struck by how very small it is.  Having stood next to an actual one at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, I can tell you that the model is quite accurate in that regard -- they were tiny engines.  The next thing that you notice is the valve gear and crossheads -- they're quite complex and very well done.  The fit and finish, as I've come to expect from MTH Premier locomotives, is flawless.  There's a host of detail, both cast-in and added-on, too much to go over here.  Suffice it to say that the lanyards to the bell and whistle, red-painted valve handles, fully detailed backhead, opening windows, etc., are all there.  Placing it on the test track and powering-up, we heard the characteristic locomotive sounds start up and the smoke started wafting out the stack.  It happily chugged forward and back on the test track a few times before we packed it up and I headed home.  Once home, I verified that it worked properly with DCS, set it up as locomotive #60, let it go once around the track, and then lubricated it and repacked it for use at the train show the next two days.

At a train show, the trains run constantly with just an occasional break while you swap out one locomotive or train for another.  They get more use in a single day than a train running at home might get in several months (depending on how often you run your trains).  So, taking a brand new locomotive to a train show can be somewhat problematic as things may come to light under such heavy usage that you wouldn't see at home for quite a while.  I'm pleased to say that nothing untoward happened with the new A5.  It performed like a trooper (you can see photos and videos of it in action on the hirail modular layout on the Great Train Expo page on the CJDCS web site).  While the sound level is fine in a store or at home, however, I don't recommend it for a show environment -- with the smaller speaker in the smaller tender, the locomotive sound tends to be drowned out by the cacophony present in a large hall, especially when you have other, very large locomotives running on the same layout.  That being said, the sounds are good, with the expected banshee whistle and a clean bell sound.  It runs very smoothly at slow speed and fast alike.  As a switch engine, it has two remotely operated Protocouplers both fore and aft.  The locomotive is equipped with the Protoscale 3/2 feature which would allow you to run this on 2-rail O-gauge track simply by removing the pickup rollers and throwing a few switches.  It ran long and hard, pulling a string of half-a-dozen reefers with nary a complaint.  When it wasn't running, it was being handled and admired by lots of show goers.  Most were surprised by the very small size and impressed by the level of detail.

In further testing at home, I found that while the locomotive is specified for O-31 or larger curves, it runs just fine, forward and back, on my remaining O-27 curve, not too much of a surprise given its small size.  It seems of late that most of the locomotives I've been getting have been quite small (the A5, the 999, the D16d) as opposed to the articulated behemoths that I tend to favor.  While it's tiny, it's good company for the rest of my PRR steam fleet and it can get into places on my layout that the behemoths dare not tread!  In short, yet another winner from MTH!

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27-Dec-2006 -- MTH Premier Heavyweight RPO Cars

Thanks to my friend Bob, I now have one of the new MTH PRR heavyweight RPO cars to add to my long heavyweight passenger consist. It's a real beauty that's loaded with detail. I took a few photos to show it off. Here's an overall shot.

The next photo shows the mailbag hook on the door.

The next shows how the hook rotates out as though to catch a mailbag!

The fourth photo shows the middle door detail including the added-on bar.

The next shows the loading door detail.

Here's the detail at the end of the car. One of the folks at my local hobby shop tells me that the bars at the end of the car are part of the torsion control system for the diaphragms.

The RPO car has new six-wheel sprung trucks which are quite neat!

This photo shows the interior detail including sorting pigeonholes. It's a really neat touch!

This car is certainly a welcome addition to the consist! Speaking of consists, the RPO car was brought out in a number of different road names including the CNJ Blue Comet. Since I happen to have that set, I ordered the RPO car for it. Here it is in overview; it's a perfect match for my previous seven car consist.

Hmm. Something looks different from the PRR version. Let's look at that door with the mailbag hook.

Yup, it's different all right! The PRR has the porthole window and this one has vertical rectangular windows. And, all the doors are like that -- here's the large loading door.

It's really, really nice to see MTH taking the time to change the details between road names. Even the trucks are painted blue to match the previously issued cars.  Now, all I have to do is take the time to open them up and add the people so they match the rest of my peopled consists and I'll be all set to send them out on the mainline for a spin. Uhm, that is, once I build the new display case to get some of the Atlas reefers off the layout!  Railroader's work is never done ....

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10-Jan-2007 -- MTH Premier Heavyweight Baggage/Coach Cars

MTH has followed up on the Blue Comet heavyweight RPO car by releasing a two-car heavyweight add-on set with a baggage car and a coach. As with the RPO, they have the new six-wheel sprung trucks, painted blue. At the ends of the cars are the silver torsion bars that work with the diaphragms, as they were on the RPO. The baggage car has the rectangular windows in the doors that the RPO had; the baggage car issued in 1998 had porthole windows. The 1998 car was called "Bernard" while the new car is properly labeled as "Barnard". The coach has the same features plus, as you'll see in the photo below, some very welcome added interior detail! :) The first photo shows "Barnard".

The second photo shows the coach, "Brorsen".

The final photo shows the interior detail of "Brorsen." Yep, PEOPLE! And I didn't have to put them in, either!

With these two cars, I now have a ten car consist for my PS2-converted CNJ heavy Pacific to haul. It makes for a very nice train indeed!

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10-Jan-2007 -- MTH Premier Heavyweight Combine/Diner Cars

MTH has now released the second two-car heavyweight add-on set for the Blue Comet. It contains a combine car and a dining car. As with the recently released RPO and baggage/coach cars, they have the new six-wheel sprung trucks, painted blue. At the ends of the cars are the silver torsion bars that work with the diaphragms. The combine car is named Encke and has the rectangular windows in the doors that the RPO and new baggage car have whereas the original combine car from about ten years ago had a porthole window. The original dining car was called "Giacabini" (which was a typo much as "Bernard" was) while the new car is properly labeled as "Giacobini".  (I have to say, having Bernard/Barnard and Giacabini/Giacobini in the same consist looks a tad funny.)  Both cars come fully equipped with passengers and staff, as you'll see in the photos.  Speaking of which, the first shows the combine car, Encke.

The next photo shows the dining car, Giacobini.

The next photo shows interior detail on Giacobini; note the attendant in the kitchen.

In the dining portion of the car, we have plenty of customers!

The combine, Encke, is also well peopled.

With the addition of these two cars, I'm now up to twelve cars for my PS2-converted CNJ heavy Pacific to haul and I think that's all the load that I will put on that one small locomotive! 

Postscript: while shooting a video with all twelve cars in the consist, I noticed another new detail that MTH has added on the five new cars shown above.  Look at the following photo:

See that small foot stirrup at the bottom end of those two new cars?  That's an added-on metal detail piece that was not present in the initial run of seven cars from ten years ago.  Yet another nice touch!


10-Feb-2007 -- MTH Premier PRR FF1 Electric Locomtive

"Big Liz", as she was known, comes packed sitting upright in a clamshell polystyrene box that firmly cradles it. Unwrapping it reveals a very large die-cast body with lots and lots of cast-in rivets as well as other detail. (You can see photos of her on my Boxcab Electric Locomotives page.)  The two large pantographs on top can actually be used to pick up power from an overhead catenary by simply throwing a switch. The pantographs, by the way, are automatically operating and the rear pantograph will raise itself (the front one will lower itself) when you're going forward and vice-versa. This automatic operation can be controlled by a switch or by DCS. The pantograph that's down goes up before the other comes down so that if you're using catenary, power pickup (and DCS control) are not interrupted. The fit and finish are flawless. Big Liz was referred to as a "double mogul" due to the 2-6 6-2 wheel configuration and you can see why just by looking at her. There are two spring-loaded drivers that are each connected to three main drive wheels by siderods. Placing it on the track, it immediately added to DCS as my 64th PS2 locomotive. Starting it up gives the usual electric locomotive sounds. As you start it moving, you can hear the motors revving up. The horn is the same as on the GG1 and FF2 and the bell sound is very good. Big Liz is equipped with a sound set that's been recorded just for this locomotive and makes mention of her tendency to rip out draft gear on heavy trains.

The headlights are directional. Each end is equipped with a working ProtoCoupler that fires via DCS so Big Liz can be used up front or as a pusher (as it was in real life). She has very good pulling power, easily hauling twelve scale heavyweight cars (which is a very heavy load). The number boards on the sides of the locomotive are illuminated. The top of the locomotive lifts off (it's held in place by four small magnets and its own die-cast weight) to reveal the controls -- pantograph on/off switch, center rail pickup/pantograph switch, volume control (for conventional operation), and charging port.

She's a beautiful locomotive that looks great and runs well and is a very nice addition to my roster of PRR die-cast electrics.

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10-Jul-2007 -- MTH Premier CNJ Boxcab Diesel Locomotive

The Central Railroad of New Jersey (Jersey Central, CNJ) put into service in 1925 the very first diesel locomotive, a 60 ton, 300 horsepower boxcab unit from Ingersoll-Rand/GE/Alco (photos are on my Boxcab Diesel Locomotives page). This is a model of that very first diesel, No. 1000, preserved to this day at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore. I've seen the prototype at the museum (photos are on my B&O Railroad Museum page) and this is an excellent model of it. The model's die-cast body makes it a lot heavier than its small size would lead you to expect. There is a lot of cast-in detail such as rivets and ladders as well as added-on detail such as handrails, grab bars, coupler lift bars, windshield wipers, hoses, bell and whistle, etc. The paint is flawlessly applied as is the CNJ lettering and decoration. The trucks are equipped with safety chains. As this was a switching locomotive, it's equipped with ProtoCouplers fore and aft. While these stick out quite a bit, given that the trucks are essentially at the ends of the body, this was the necessary engineering compromise in order to provide dual remote controlled couplers. Given the small size and the need to pack the motor and electronics into it, that it has no smoke unit is not a surprise (it was not advertised as having one), nor is the lack of opening doors. It is equipped with a mustachioed engineer figure at each end. On the track, it added to DCS and started up immediately with a typical diesel sound set. Sounds are loud and clear. Slow speed operation is excellent, moving down the track smoothly both forward and reverse at only 2 scale mph. It easily hauled ten Atlas reefers, quite a load for such a small locomotive. I'm sure that it could haul more but I wasn't tempted to try throwing traction tires on a new locomotive. While I am no fan of diesels, much preferring steam, this die-cast model of the very first diesel (and CNJ no less) takes its proud place in my collection, where I'm sure it will have lots of use moving cars around in the yard.

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10-Jul-2007 -- MTH Premier PRR L1s Mikado (2-8-2) Steam Locomotive

This MTH Premier model of the Pennsylvania Railroad's workhorse L1s Mikado steam locomotive arrived in the new clamshell-style styrofoam packaging (photos are on my Mikado Steam Locomotives page). Opening it at the store revealed a newly-tooled gem of a model, loaded with detail. The short tender with a doghouse (with a brakeman in the doghouse) drew immediate praise. It ran well on the test track so back into the packaging it went for the short journey home. Unwrapping it at home, I had the chance to completely examine it. The fit and finish is flawless, as I've come to expect from MTH Premier models. As I usually do with MTH Premier steam locomotives models, I got out my Pennsy Power books by Al Staufer and compared the model to the photos of the prototype. As it happens this locomotive, #520, is preserved at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg and I have a photo of the prototype. This is a great model! All of the small and big detail that you'd expect is there, from the red-painted valve handles to the whistle lanyard to the characteristic air cylinder on the front deck. (There is one goof -- the builders plate says that this is a model L1sa whereas in reality they were all L1s.) Just looking at the face of this locomotive, you know it's Pennsy. There is full backhead detail as well as added-on simulated cab curtains. The tender is equipped with a real coal load, safety chains, and opening hatches that reveal a number of controls. This locomotive is equipped with the new wireless tether wherein the electrical connections between the locomotive and the tender are made via the drawbar. This is my first locomotive so equipped and I was curious to see how it would work. Placing it on the track, I found that making the connection was quite easy -- when you insert the drawbar into the guide pin on the tender, it takes just a little upward finger pressure on the plug to seat it firmly into the socket. I have to say, the look without the heavy wire tether is a great improvement. It immediately added to DCS and starting it up brought all the sound and light to life. Slow speed performance both forward and back is very smooth, with a factory preset four chuffs per driver revolution. The synchronized CHUFF! n'PUFF! is always a pleasure to watch. Firing the rear coupler and backing it up to couple to its train, this not-overly-large locomotive easily hauled fifty Atlas reefers around the layout. The freight yard sounds are good, as is the banshee whistle and bell. All in all, it's a great looking, great sounding, great looking model of one of the PRR's workhorse locomotives and a very welcome addition to my roster of PRR steam locomotives.

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07-Aug-2007 -- MTH Premier PRR B28 Six-Coupled (0-6-0) Steam Locomotive

The B28 is a World War I era Six-Coupled (0-6-0) steam locomotive, designed by the United States Railway Administration (USRA) and used by many railroads during that time in which the railroads were nationalized. It was designed as a switcher whose primary job was to move cars around rail yards. That it remained in service for many decades even though it wasn't an original PRR design is a testament to just how good a design it was.

Opening the box and unwrapping the locomotive reveals a model that quite literally blows the old RK B6 out of the water in terms of detail, even with the detail that I added to the B6. Comparing it to photos of the prototype B28 shows it to be right on the money. It is loaded with cast-in and added-on detail, such as footboards, handrails, lanyards, valve handles (picked out in red), brass bell and whistle, sand lines coming from the TWO sand domes (quite unusual), complex valve gear, red painted sliding cab windows, a fully detailed backhead, sliding roof hatch, and all the other accouterments that I've come to expect from a Premier steamer. The tender is a flat design with a real coal load and opening hatches that conceal the charging port and the conventional mode smoke and sound controls. The trucks feature safety chains. Given that this is a switcher, both the front and rear couplers are ProtoCouplers that operate via remote control. One of the neat features is a hinged deck plate on the locomotive that lowers to bridge the gap between the locomotive and the tender.

This locomotive features the new MTH wireless tether, whereby the electrical connections between the locomotive and the tender are made via a circuit board concealed in the drawbar. When you connect the drawbar, you press up on a plug at the end of it, seating it into a socket on the underside of the tender. It's an easy connection to make, it goes on in only one way, and visually it's an improvement over the former tether wire, though that never really bothered me.

Placing the locomotive on the track, it easily added to DCS. Slow speed operation in both forward and reverse is excellent, with smooth motion at 3 scale mph (smph). The sound volume is quite good, especially given the relatively small size of the tender where the speaker is located. The whistle however is the same old PRR banshee whistle found in all PRR Premier freight steamers. Though it's undoubtedly the prototypically correct whistle, it's time and past time that MTH at least plays with it, varying the timing and pitch. I can almost guarantee that not all PRR banshee whistles sounded exactly the same; it's time for the model whistles to lose their monotony. Another disappointment with this locomotive is the smoke level. It puts out but a thin wisp of smoke, a far cry from all previous MTH steamers (you can see it in operation in a video I've posted on my Multimedia page). Though it uses the same smaller smoke unit as is used in other small steamers such as the PRR A5, the level of smoke is well below their level and is something that MTH needs to address. My particular locomotive has a misapplied firebox door assembly on the backhead, giving it a slightly cockeyed appearance. It's been established that other specimens of this model do not have this defect so I'm chalking it up as a rare one-of-a-kind factory error -- any collectors interested? . It runs very smoothly and quietly and has, for such a small locomotive, good pulling power, easily hauling a long string of Atlas reefers.

In short, this is an absolutely gorgeous model of an unusual small steamer. It runs well but could have benefited from an improved whistle and better smoke performance.

21-Aug-2007 Postscript: MTH was not at all pleased to hear about the crooked firebox door assembly and asked to examine the locomotive.  I sent it to them and, after verifying the defect, they replaced it with a new one.  The new locomotive not only has the firebox door applied correctly, it also has good smoke output that's on a par with the other small steamers, so the low output on the original also appears to have been a peculiarity associated with that one locomotive.  Therefore, I withdraw my criticism of the smoke output on this model -- the new one is just fine.  I have to hand it to MTH -- their drive to keep their customers happy is second to none!

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19 August-2007 -- MTH Premier GN Z-6 Challenger (4-6-6-4) Steam Locomotive

Every time that I think MTH has gone about as far as they can with their Premier line models, another one comes out to prove me wrong. This past Friday, I stopped by the Model Railroad Shop to pick up a few magazines and was shocked to find out that a new toy had arrived for me. When they brought out a huge box, I was more shocked still. Opening it and unwrapping it revealed the MTH Premier Great Northern Z-6 Challenger (4-6-6-4) Steam Locomotive. This is a full 1:48 scale model of the two Challengers that GN rostered (it obtained them from the SP&S) which were assigned class Z-6. They are quite different from the Challengers that most people are familiar with, those rostered by the Union Pacific. After a quick run at the store to make sure everything was working OK, I took it home so that I could examine it in detail, photograph it, play with it, shoot a video, and finally write this review. :)

This is a massive locomotive, measuring 32" long, a full inch longer than the UP Challenger. The pumps on the face of the locomotive quickly distinguish it from other Challengers while showing its kinship to other GN steamers such as the R-2 and the S-2. The fit and finish is flawless and the glacier green is a good match for the previously issued R-2 and S-2. There is detail all over this locomotive, from the picked-out-in-red valve handles near the front-mounted pumps to similar valves all over the locomotive to the handrails to the quantities of added-on piping to the sliding cab windows to the four opening roof hatches on the cab to the fully detailed backhead with engineer and fireman figures. There is a hinged deckplate that flips down to cover the gap between the locomotive and tender. This locomotive is equipped with MTH's new wireless tether that has the electrical connections between the locomotive and tender embedded in the drawbar. I find that it works flawlessly. The tender is an oil tender, quite similar to those that came with the R-2 and the S-2. The tender trucks are equipped with safety chains and the various hatches on the tender open, revealing the charging port as well as the conventional mode smoke and sound volume controls. This locomotive is equipped with MTH's ProtoScale 3/2 system that enables it to run on both 2-Rail and 3-Rail track; the 2-rail/3-rail and DCS polarity switches are on the underside of the tender.

Placing it on the track, it added smoothly to DCS in position #68. Starting it up brought the usual engine startup sounds including the generator whine and the smoke unit began to produce copious amounts of smoke. Starting it up, it smoothly moved out at 2 scale mph, hauling 50 AtlasO reefers as though they weren't there. The synchronized CHUFF! n'PUFF! is excellent, factory set to four chuffs per driver revolution and since this is an articulated locomotive, the chuffs (and puffs) from the two sets of drivers move in and out of synch as the locomotive moves and as you change speed. Sound volume is excellent, deep and rich, and the whistle is not one that I've heard before and is a multichime whistle that sounds very at home in this locomotive. The volume of smoke at the MAX smoke volume setting is quite literally on the borderline of choking. Performance is excellent, smooth at 2 smph, both forward and back. Doubleheading it with the R-2, I found that the speed of each was such that they stayed happily coupled through several loops around the layout. They are quite awe-inspiring when running doubleheaded (I've posted a video of them in action).

In short, this is yet another superb model of a massive articulated prototype, extremely well done, beautiful to look at and yet another example of operational excellence.

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21-Apr-2008 -- MTH Premier SP Cab Forward (4-8-8-2) Steam Locomotive

Way back in 1998, MTH brought out their Premier model of the Southern Pacific Cab Forward locomotive. The hulking 4-8-8-2 behemoths were the locomotives that SP used to get their crews through their long tunnels and snow sheds in the Sierra Nevada mountains without suffocating on the exhaust steam and fumes. The original model was equipped with Protosound 1 which was pretty good for its time. Time marches on however, and the current Protosound 2 puts the old PS1 to shame in terms of sound and control with DCS. MTH has also made great strides in the level of detail of their models so it should come as no surprise that, a decade later, their reissue of the Cab Forward is a real gem.

The original model was based on the as-built AC-6 Cab Forward with a flat fronted cab. That was offered again, but this time MTH offered an alternate front representing the locomotive as it appeared after rebuilding, with a more rounded front reminiscent of the later model Cab Forwards, such as the one remaining locomotive on display at the California State RR Museum in Sacramento. It's this latter model that I got and its appearance is superb! Opening it at the train store, both the owner and I were impressed by the level of detail on the locomotive. The fit and finish are flawless. Picking it up to put on the test track, the weight of it was also very impressive. It started right up and an improved sound package with altered chuffing and a new whistle were immediately noticed. Needless to say, while it was sounding off, everyone in the store came over to have a look and everyone was suitably impressed. Back it went into the box and I brought it home and put it on the track. Visually, it's a gem with many improvements over the first model such as opening hatches on the tender (which conceal various controls) and an opening roof vent on the cab. I set up my lighting and shot the photos that are available on my Cab Forwards page.

It was then time to start running and testing it. It added immediately to DCS, becoming my 71st DCS/PS2 locomotive. Slow speed operation was impeccable, smooth down at 3 scale mph both forward and back. It came from the factory set to a prototypical four chuffs per revolution; since it's an articulated locomotive, the double-chuffs come into and out of synch. The smoke unit provides puffs of smoke in perfect synch with the chuffs and the smoke is voluminous! Sending it around my outside loop (O-72, which is the absolute minimum that this locomotive can take), it immediately found the the one curve out of four where I had pulled the screws so that locomotives stopped giving a noticeable jump when I was shooting videos -- it found it by promptly derailing on it. Nothing that I did seemed to help (I've had trouble with this curve before), so I called my friend Bob who brought over some Gargraves flextrack and, between the two of us, we carefully redid that one curve (that lies between the turnout to the engine ready yard and the turnout to track 2) and the Cab Forward now passes over it with no problem, which gives me confidence that my previous problems with that curve are now over and done with. This is NOT a knock on the locomotive but rather on my poor tracklaying skills. It should be noted though, that Cab Forwards on the whole, because they have the fixed drivers (attached to the chassis) in the front instead of in the back like other articulated locomotives and because they are so heavy, tend to find flaws in the trackwork like no other locomotives.

What more can I say about this behemoth? The photos are here on the web site (link up above), a video of it in operation is available on my Multimedia page and on YouTube, and you can pretty much judge it for yourself. I think it's a super model of a very unusual prototype and it makes a great addition to my collection.

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22-Apr-2008 -- MTH Premier 19th Century Woodsided Passenger Cars

This is a long overdue review.  At the beginning of 2008, MTH brought out a set of absolutely exquisite woodsided passenger cars which were designed to complement their late 19th century steam locomotives.  One set was designed specifically to go with the NYC #999 American locomotive (the 999 and the cars together make up the Empire State Express) so, having the locomotive, I of course had to have a set of the cars.  They came in a set of three and one additional car was available which is fine, since the small locomotives of the late 19th century wouldn't usually be pulling more than four cars in any case.  As you can see in the photos below, the workmanship on these cars is exquisite!  The first photo shows one of the cars broadside.  Note the clerestory windows, the gold filigree work, and the detail at the end platforms including the steps.

woodsided passenger car

Here's a better view of the end platform.  Note the spaces between the steps and the carefully simulated wooden side of the car, as well as the pot-belly stove at the end of the car.  The trucks are some of the most highly detailed that I've seen on any O-gauge trains and are fully sprung.

woodsided passenger car

From this angle you can see the handrails on the car platform.  They are all separately added components.  Also note the added details on the roof, including the chimney for the pot belly stove.  There are more details on the underside of the car including the prototypical truss rods.

woodsided passenger car

With the car internally lit, you can see that the clerestory windows in fact have green tinted "glass" inserted to very accurately simulate the prototype.  The detailing on these cars is some of the best that I've ever seen.

woodsided passenger car

Here's the entire car with internal ighting, in broadside ...

woodsided passenger car

... and in a detail shot.  Looks quite real, doesn't it?

woodsided passenger car

MTH also brought out a set of these cars in Pennsylvania livery and since I have both the H3 Consolidation and the D16d American locomotives that date from the same time period, I also got a set of the PRR cars.  Here's one of the cars broadside.

woodsided passenger car

Here's a detail shot showing the end platform.

woodsided passenger car

And here's the car with internal lighting.

woodsided passenger car

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Last updated: 28 Nov 2014

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